The warmer weather – between the thunderstorms – over the past week and the excellent forecast for this weekend will have tempted many of us to, finally, clean up that encrusted black metal grate in the corner of the garden and start searching around the shed for bags of charcoal, perhaps take the cover of the state-of-the-art, gas-fired outdoor cooking machine or stoke up the outdoor pizza oven. Yes folks, barbecue season is finally here.
And it’s pointless to bring out our finest wines because a) that smoky, charred taste is never going to work with delicate, subtle, wines and b) it may end up being be cool and rainy anyway.
Very different wines are called for, which you might want stock up with for our brief spells of barbie-friendly weather – the kind of unpretentious bottles often best drunk out of a tumbler, and not just because you don’t want to risk your finest crystal glasses in the garden.
For me the smoky aromas of lamb grilling on an open fire are synonymous with summer evenings and so, while I would normally recommend a pinot noir for the nuanced flavours of spring lamb, if you are whacking a marinated and butterflied leg or some cutlets on the barbie, then a good, robust rioja, such as the Marques de Caceres Reserva (2015: £10.33 thedrinkshop.com; 2014: £12.95 kwmwine.com) will suffice very well, the concentrated, black fruit flavours a lovely counterpoint to the grilled lamb.
That would probably be the top of my budget for a normal barbecue. For a cheaper, but more intense, full-bodied, blacker Spanish wine which would work with all kinds of barbecued meats, the Tapa Roja Yecla (£7 marksandspencer.com) made from old vine monastrell grapes, is a good bargain and a great wine for when the company and conviviality of the garden might be more important than the specifics of a vintage.
Another good bet is the Domaine La Provenquiere Malbec Petit Verdot 2017 (£9.50 errawines.co.uk; £10.75 h2vin.co.uk), which ticks all the boxes for being both juicy and succulent, but robust enough to match some black-on-the-outside, bloody-on-the-inside kind of meats as well as some simple grilled aubergines or courgettes. Even more of a bargain is the peppery, herby, packed with dark brambly fruits Les Jamelles Syrah 2018 (£7 Co-op stores), which is fit for similar purposes – both are infinitely pleasing wines, the kind of thing the Languedoc does best. And they are the kind of wines I’d probably be tempted to buy a pizza oven for, just because they are sublime with that Italian staple, baked outside, with the neighbours climbing the fence just get a sniff.
If the day is particularly warm, you might want to try a red that can take a slight chill, which perks up the flavours enormously. Lighter beaujolais wines are ideal for this, such as the toothsome, velvety, elegant, red-fruit flavoured Maison Loron Beaujolais 2017 (£11.49 or £9.49 if bought as part of a mixed six bottle purchase Majestic.com), or the massively gluggable Organic Nero d’Avola Sicilia (£5.99 Aldi.com). No more than 30 minutes or so in the fridge for both and great with a butterflied and spiced chicken, or tuna steaks.
For grilled vegetables or whole grilled fish, whites with a bit of body and substance are needed. Try the Co-op Irresistible Gavi Broglia 2018 (£8.50 Co-op stores) from a very reputable Piedmont estate, which has refreshing almond and orchard fruit flavours with a hint of smoke that matches barbecued foods, or the Dourthe Roqueblanche Bordeaux Blanc (£6.99 normally £9.49, until 9 July, waitrose.com) which is a vibrant, zesty, grapefruit flavoured sauvignon blanc with more than a hint of the New World about it, and fabulous with grilled asparagus, if you can catch the last of the domestic season.
Normally, I’d be recommending roses for barbecues, but check out my very recent rose picks from France here and from the rest of the world here and so today, for something slightly out of left field, I’m going for a stunning orange wine made by the Cramele Recas concern in Romania, which is run by an Englishman and produces a terrific and wide range of wines. Its Orange Natural Wine (£6 asda.com) has to be one of the bargains of the year – made from a combination of sauvignon blanc, chardonnay and the local feteasca alba and tamioasa romaneasca grapes, this is a great introduction to orange wines. While perhaps not as oxidised or challenging as some orange wines, this is dry, complex, and has full-bodied flavours of quince, tangerine and nuts and, lightly chilled, is brilliant with grilled cheese, lighter roasted meats or full flavoured mackerel and sardines on the griddle.
Let’s just keep our fingers crossed for the sunshine...