“Do you want some cheese with that whine?”
“No, but barbeque sounds good!”
If I haven’t already lost you with that awful joke, then you are definitely ready to hear about the latest, newfangled couple on the block. When I contacted Tom Cosentino, the Executive Director of the Garden State Wine Growers Association, and told him that I was interested in doing an article on pairing wine and barbeque, he was well ahead of me. The GSWGA is an organization composed of New Jersey’s wineries that works to educate the public about its members and promote New Jersey wines. Not only does it help get the word out about each individual winery’s promotional events and products, but also holds a number of events all over the state that brings all of the wineries together for the public to meet and taste their products. The GSWGA Wine and BBQ Experience, held at Schooley’s Mountain County Park in Morris County, held last weekend, was one of those events, and was especially intriguing because it showcased the obscure relationship between wine and barbeque. I’m not sure how many times you have gone to a barbeque restaurant and ordered a glass of wine with your meal, but I can tell you how many times I have, and if you blink, you’ll miss it. Let’s face it, wine is not the first thing that I would think pairing with a heaping plate of smoked meat. Sure, I would go beer, and bourbon, or maybe a few shots and some water (and then a few more shots). Surely, not wine. Right? But when Tom challenged each of New Jersey’s wineries, based upon the knowledge of their own products, to recommend a few of their wines to go with barbeque, I have to tell you, they came out swinging and hit it out of the park.
I’ve never been to a wine festival (full disclosure of how uncouth I am), but I was damned impressed. Each winery set up a tent around the park, with plenty of varieties of wines. Armed with a wine glass and the prepared list that each member recommended to go with barbeque, I went from tent to tent to try each one, not wanting to miss a single one. While not schooled in the intricacies of wine tasting (it would have been good to take a course), I know what I like. But I know barbeque. So I was able to visualize and scrutinize each recommendation, allowing each wine’s taste to mentally complement my memory of some great barbeque dishes. And while not all of them hit the mark, in my opinion, I came away with a couple of insights.
First, New Jersey makes some damn good wines. While I did not like them all, I would be proud to serve most of them, with bold and crisp flavors at one of my events. New Jersey has three major wine growing areas, corresponding to the types of soil, elevation, and climate. Many are located in the southern region of the state, in the sandy soil and marine climate of the outer coastal plain. As you go more north, the soil gets less sandy, the elevation gets higher, and the climate gets more extreme, resulting in shorter and tighter growing seasons. These differences allows each of New Jersey’s wineries to put out very distinctive products, something for every one. The GSWGA puts together great resources on putting together a tour for people that want to explore the state’s wineries and, with each one, you will taste some very interesting and contrasting flavors.
The second insight is that their is no one variety of wine that goes with any one type of barbeque. Whether you are having beef brisket, or pork, or chicken, the wine that you have really depends upon your personal taste. It would be very easy to tell you to go with a red or white, or a certain wine like Chambourcin, which comes from a regional grape that is popular in New Jersey, or a Rose, which is popular on the list. But I can’t. And you shouldn’t. I think that you need to follow your personal tastes, just as each vineyard did in their list recommendations, and enjoy how the meat and grape complement each other to produce a richer experience. Have a number of bottles available during your barbeque and talk to each other about the tastes that the meal and drink bring out. With each conversation, you’ll get a better idea of which types of wine hit the mark with your friends.
The third insight is that there still needs to be more done to wed two growing New Jersey industries. In 1981, New Jersey relaxed some Prohibition-era rules that allowed greater expansion of wineries in New Jersey. Many wineries have chosen to focus on already established products such as apples, cranberries, blueberries, and other produce to help make high quality wines that have a very distinctive New Jersey quality and character. The result was and is a growing proliferation of wineries in New Jersey, that, along with other East Coast states, are stealing some attention from international and West Coast vineyards. Similarly, New Jersey barbeque is growing and evolving, still working to differentiate and distinguish itself from other national barbeque Meccas such as Texas and the Carolinas. Unfortunately, there weren’t many barbeque trucks at the festival, and talking to some of them on Saturday, they would have liked to have more people come over. Oink and Moo, Texas Smoke, Ben’s BBQ, and Lost in the Woods were there. The Oink and Moo’s pork and chicken tacos were good and Ben’s jerk chicken sandwich was great. It was cool to share some competition war stories with Ben, who had come back from the hospital during one competition to realize that he had won quite a few awards. Many of the people had bought bottles of wine, gravitated towards the shade beneath the trees, and hung out in their lawn chairs, drinking and eating together for a perfect day.
Like the wine industry, the growth and popularity of New Jersey barbeque relies on the sharing of ideas and the growth of the industry as a whole to expand its overall market and produce even higher quality products. The two are amazingly similar, sharing the need to get the word out that New Jersey wine and barbeque are high quality products that should be considered some of the best in the nation.
I want to thank Tom and the GSWGA for their hospitality and for the NJ wine/barbeque pairing guide that can be found via the “Barbeque Pairing” tab.