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What’s the Best Wine to Drink With Smoky Foods?

The best wine recs for when you’re downing peppery, saucy, or charred summer meals

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Welcome to Ask a Somm, a column in which experts from across the country answer questions about wine. Today’s installment: What wines do you pair with smoky or grilled summer foods?

Scarecrow & Co. is former New York chef Damon Wise's new 7,500 square foot multi-concept space that took over an 1850s train depot in Charleston, South Carolina. The building is now home to three separate eateries: Scarecrow (slated to open next month), Feathertop, and Wise-Buck Smoked Meats. Each venue offers a unique dining experience—Scarecrow being the most formal of the bunch, with Wise-Buck Smoked Meats the most casual—but the group’s overall theme is whole animal cookery, and sourcing ingredients from small local producers. Overseeing beverages and service for all spots is Noah Singerman, who is especially adept at pairing smoky foods with wine. Below, he shares some tips.

“I would answer the question over what to pair with grilled or smoky summer food the same way I would answer the question, ‘What is your favorite wine?’ With the only honest answer being: It depends. Smoky and wood-fired foods can come in many different forms, and can be used as an accent in many different styles of food. From Texas, St. Louis, and Carolina barbecue, to Middle Eastern, southeast Asian, and Indian cuisine. As the beverage director for Scarecrow & Co., which houses Wise-Buck Smoked Meats, Scarecrow, and Feathertop, I have the good fortune to pair wine with many different flavors.

At Wise-Buck Smoked Meats, the team — lead by chef/owner Damon Wise — is using smoke as the guiding light, with an Ole Hickory Pits smoker as the main facilitator. At Scarecrow, chef Wise’s formal restaurant in the same building, fire is the focal point, with an open wood-fired grill and wood oven on center stage.

Smoky, spicy, saucy meat

When many people think of barbecue, they think of ribs slathered in a sweet, tomato-based spicy sauce, also known as either Kansas City, ‘wet’ Memphis, or St. Louis-style barbecue. With this kind of fall-off-the-bone pork ribs, you need a wine that will stand up to those bold flavors. The combination of smoke and spice leads me to a bright, dry rosé such as Ameztoi Rubentis, Txacoli de Getaria, a zippy, slightly effervescent rosé from Spain’s Basque Country. Or, maybe try a sparkling rosé, like Patrick Piuze Val De Mer Brut, a blend of pinot and chardonnay from both Burgundy and Champagne in France.

The Wise-Buck team wanted to do something a little different with their pork ribs. Rubbed with harissa, the ribs are then smoked and slathered again with the sauce. With an emphasis on the spices, this dish is screaming for an aromatic white wine like Stolpman Vineyards L’Avion Roussanne. If you are a little more adventurous, try an off-dry riesling from Selbach-Oster, with a hint of sweetness but balanced by acidity, the stone fruit and mineral flavors match up perfectly with the dish’s coriander, cilantro, and chili.

Smoky and black peppery

Known to many as Texas-style barbecue, this type of ‘cue usually highlights beef that has been loaded with black pepper and then smoked. Here at Wise Buck we make a Baltimore-Style Pitt Beef, which is cooked in the smoker until medium rare, and then sliced thin. This peppery, smoky meat wants to cuddle up to an earthy, medium- to -full-body red wine. Washington State has really put itself on the map as a great place to find value in the cabernet category, as well as other Bordeaux varieties. At Feathertop, we are pouring Hedges' CMS. It is a blend of cabernet, merlot, and syrah, full bodied, dry, with dark, dried berry fruits up front and pepper spice finish. If you are looking for a special occasion wine to pair with that beef, in Scarecrow’s main dining room we are offering Jean-Louis Chave Hermitage. A wine made of syrah that is dark, earthy, and savory with overpowering aromas of dried meat and herbs.

Smoked fish

Now, for smoked fish, which is a decidedly different type of smoked dish. At Wise-Buck, we offer a smoked salmon "snack boat," which features a house-smoked salmon puréed with capers, lemon, and shallots, and serve with house-made saltines. For this type of smokiness, I would recommend a glass of Matthiasson Tendu White, a crisp white wine made from the vermentino grape in Northern California’s Yolo County.”