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Published:  23 July, 2008

The Brits can claim credit for elevating outdoor eating to the art form known as a picnic', but Harpers' South African representative, Joanne Simon, thinks they still have a thing or two to learn when it comes to barbecues or braais. Here, she looks at the pick of the barbecue wines on promotion this summer

In Britain, barbecuing all too often seems to mean huddling beneath umbrellas and burning burgers, before scurrying indoors to dry off and pick edible shreds from charcoal crusts. And for someone like me, weaned on Karoo lamb chops braaied' to perfection in the great outdoors of my native South Africa, this phenomenon is rather distressing, simply because I know there is much more to cooking over fire than the vast opportunities it provides to ruin good food. For starters, there's the smell of the fire, never mind the sound of food sizzling over coals. And even before you light up (and, no, you do not need chemical accelerants), there's the rigmarole of what model of barbecue to buy, what type of coals to use, what to cook, what to put in the marinade... Above all, though, barbecuing is a social event like no other culinary affair, practised by an estimated 6.5 million enthusiasts across the globe. (And at this point, I should acknowledge that many Brits have seen the light and are out there with the best of them, marinating real meat in red wine or lemon juice, rubbing it with spices and garlic, massaging it with olive oil, slathering it with sauces, even if they still have to scurry indoors after cooking.) In the UK, it is perhaps the Aussies who are most famous for their outdoor culture of grilling food quickly over a hot barbie'. For the North Americans, barbecuing means slow-cooking large cuts of tough meat over wood coals for several hours to ensure tenderness, while South Americans have perfected the art of the asado (spit roast). And nowhere is the multicultural nature of South African cuisine more apparent than at a typical braai, with its boerewors (spicy farmer's sausage), Malay-introduced sosaties (lightly-curried kebabs) and the African staple of pap en sous (a stiffly-cooked maize porridge, served with a dollop of tomato and onion relish). Wherever you are, no barbecue is complete without beer, at least to douse flames or to trickle over the meat to retain moisture (an old braai trick). But when it comes to the serious business of watching food sizzle and then washing it down, nothing serves so well as a glass or two of wine. Can it be mere coincidence that all the great barbecuing nations also happen to be great wine producers?

Smoking: the top brands For red meats, not only do the tannins in red wines cut through any fat, but the exterior char gives the meat a little bitterness, which makes even bitter tannins in a very young wine seem softer. But while you might want an excuse to sample that mouth-puckeringly youthful Hermitage, chances are you'll select something better suited to the occasion. Barbecuing is often not all that sophisticated, so the wine has to be able to stand up to a bit of charring,' said Orlando Wyndham chief winemaker, Phil Laffer, on a visit to London. We're not selling Jacob's Creek as a cellaring proposition. People who buy it are buying wine to go with food; they're not buying food to match with Jacob's Creek.' Either way, they're buying a lot of it, with sales up 16% last year to 100.46 million (AC Nielsen). Laffer says 2001 Jacob's Creek Grenache/Shiraz (4.99) is a perfect barbecue wine, because you can chill it. There's nothing worse than drinking warm red wine - in the Australian sun, people soon start rolling around! You can even put an ice block in this wine because the flavours are so strong. And it has lots of perfume and sweet fruit, so it goes well with anything that has some heat in it, like a chilli-based barbecue sauce.' Last year, sales of the UK's top wine brand, Ernest & Julio Gallo, were up 15.8% to 106.02 million (AC Nielsen). Its biggest summer success story has been the performance of blush' wines, namely White Grenache and White Zinfandel from the Wine Cellars range, which saw a 69% increase in sales last summer, compared with the previous year (AC Nielsen). Meanwhile, Garnet Point - Gallo's adventurous' range, now consisting of four Californian and two Australian dual-varietals - was the official wine sponsor of this year's National BBQ Week (27 May-4 June), a deal which was expected to substantially benefit the brand during the crucial summer period', supported by in-store theatre, sampling activities, media competitions and in-store promotions. Gallo's Rivercrest range is also being promoted as the perfect wine to enjoy at informal summer parties', with the introduction of four new varietals - Chenin Blanc, Colombard, Ruby Cabernet and Barbera. Launched into the retail sector at RRP 3.99, they are described as smooth and approachable, appealing in particular to a younger audience who may otherwise choose beer or spirits'. The UK's third best-selling wine brand is Stowells of Chelsea, which saw sales rise 47% by value last year to 72.75 million (AC Nielsen). According to Matthew Clark, the bag-in-box format is particularly popular for barbecues, as it keeps wine fresh while catering for large groups of people. Stowells consists of over 20 different styles from around the world, and the range is priced from 11.99-14.99. In particular, the three-litre Stowells White Zinfandel is highlighted as a delightfully refreshing medium-sweet ros'. Sales of 75cl bottles of Stowells, meanwhile, now top a million every month, according to Matthew Clark. This summer will also see the launch of the Stowells Cellar Selection range, a more premium offering' (RRP 4.99-5.99) in six varietals: Pinot Noir, Merlot and Viognier from France, Shiraz and Chardonnay from South Australia, and Chardonnay from Chile. Grants of St James's Wines is spending 1 million on Black Tower this year, having recently launched Black Tower Rivaner in a three-litre box format to encourage sales for summer parties and barbecues'. The bag-in-box sector is booming,' says Simon Halliday, managing director of Raisin Social, which imports South African bag-in-box Namaqua, the UK's top-selling South African bag-in-box wine. (In fact, the white is the UK's biggest selling bag-in-box overall in the multiple retail sector.) Recently listed in 490 branches of Kwik Save, the wines are also available in Safeway, Tesco, Morrisons and the Co-Op. Namaqua's bag-in-box wines represent excellent value for money,' says Halliday. They are non-pretentious, easy-to-drink and adapted for the UK consumer - perfect for those summer parties and barbecues.'

Marinating: it's in the bag Talking of bags, a UK spokesperson for South Australia's Yalumba gave me a good tip recently: Outside of your native South Africa - which wins best overall meat prize - barbecued or any other way, the best meat I have eaten is in Australia. They have an interesting approach to barbecuing: the meat is marinated in sandwich bags, so it can soak up the dressings on the journey to the beach. Australian Shiraz works really well with red meat treated in this way,' he added, and a great example is 2000 Yalumba Y Series Shiraz - it has hints of pepper and liquorice to power barbecued peppered steaks.' The sunny South Australian climate is well suited to producing rich, full-flavoured reds of outstanding quality,' agrees Libby Nutt, marketing manager at D&D Wines International, whose 2001 Tatachilla Breakneck Creek Shiraz is a good example of a soft, smooth red to go with red meats. Jonathan Stevens, marketing manager for New World wines at Mentzendorff & Co, recommends a colourful wine with a colourful history' for the more unusual barbie - 1999 Knappstein Chainsaw Sparkling Shiraz, a big, serious, fruit-driven' sparkling red to be slurped enthusiastically, chilled, at any time of the year', according to winemaker Andrew Hardy. And he should know: it was he who took a chainsaw to a 2.8 hectare stretch of Chardonnay that had been grafted on to Shiraz rootstock in response to market demands in the 1980s. To his joy, the original Shiraz (planted in 1969) flourished, and the wine is now ready for drinking. Still in Australia, Mark Denison at Hallgarten Wines recommends White Pointer, which are easy-drinking, commercial styles from Australian family winemakers Miranda Wines. The red (Shiraz/Cabernet/Ruby Cabernet/Merlot) is particularly recommended for barbecue quaffing, as it can take a light chilling (Tesco, 4.49). Virgin Wines currently has a pre-mixed barbecue case' of 13 bottles discounted from 80 to 60. Buying director Lee Middleton says the wines have been selected on the basis of customer ratings and the general style of the wine, which is mainly easy drinking with full-on fruit'. Throughout the season, other Virgin wines on offer include 1999/2000 Mount Langi Ghiran Cherry Tree (8.99, a big mouthful that will stack up to most meats'), 2001 Palliser Estate Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc (7.99, you just can't beat a bottle of Kiwi Sauvignon when you go alfresco') and 2000/01 Mornington Estate Chardonnay (8.99, the perfect wine for chicken off the barbie').

What else is cooking? Staying in the Southern Hemisphere, Maisons Marques et Domaines' brand manager, Chloe Wenban-Smith, says Majestic Wines is running a summer promotion on Drostdy-Hof Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinotage, Shiraz and Merlot from South Africa. Usually priced at 4.99, the wines will be on promotion from 3 September, with 15% off. Somerfield is promoting several wines under 5 this season, including 2002 Somerfield South African Cape White at the introductory low price of 2.99, and 2001 Cape Red at 3.29, from 27 July-20 August. The 2001 South African Limited Release Chardonnay and 2001 Pinotage are reduced from 4.99 to 4.49 during the same period. Across the ocean, 35 South wines from San Pedro in Chile continue to prosper in the UK's wine charts', as the top Chilean bottled wine brand (AC Nielsen, January-December 2001). 2001 35 South Sauvignon Blanc goes well with salad, fish or chicken (1.50-off promotion at Safeway, 3.29-3.49, 15 September-12 October), while 2001 35 South Merlot matches well with summer salsas, juicy steaks and barbecued burgers or chicken (Roberson Wine Merchant, Safeway, Winemark, 4.79-4.99). Moreno Wine Importers has a couple of sizzlers' from Argentina, says Christopher Payne. These include ba Buenos Aires Brut, to greet your guests', (4.99 from Majestic, or buy six or more for 3.99 each); La Boca Torronts/ Chardonnay from Medrana Estate, for spicy chicken and pork' (Tesco, 3.99); and Poema Vias Viejas (Morrisons, 4.99) and La Boca Malbec/Syrah (Tesco, 4.49) for red meats. The 2001 Malbec, Anubis, represented in the UK by Liberty Wines, is another good Argentine match for lamb and beef dishes, while Tittarelli (ex-Liberty, now looking') says the spiciness and concentration of its Malbec make it the perfect partner for beef, or even spicy chorizo. Tannat, so bitterly tannic in Madiran, comes into its own in Uruguay, where it perfectly complements the famous asado spit roast. The Tannat made by the Pisano family since 1924 is a prime example (HwCg is the UK agent).

European options For dining alfresco, Jane Hawes at Laymont & Shaw highlights the sumptuous deep pink' 2001 Merlot Rosado, made from ripe Merlot in Navarra by Castillo de Monjardin. The barbecue may be inevitable at this time of year, but [this wine] also works wonders with salmon, chicken and tuna dishes,' she says. (Villeneuve Wines, J&G Wines, Laymont & Shaw, 6.75.) Clem Bennett at Morris & Verdin says that Alvaro Palacios' 2001 Vendimia from Alvaro's home estate, Bodegas Palacios Remondo in Rioja, is perfect' for summer drinking with barbecued meats. This wine is made for early drinking and has exuberant juicy fruit, with a freshness that doesn't make it too heavy for drinking in the heat of an afternoon. And our RRP of 6.80 means that this wine is seriously good value for money.' In addition, Bennett describes Herencio Remondo's Placet, a white Rioja (RRP 8.90), as a beautifully refined and balanced wine, with enough body to match with grilled chicken and slightly spicy Thai-based sauces'. Lisa Grimley, marketing manager at United Wineries International, recommends the 2000 Berberana Dragon Tempranillo VdlT: it is full of ripe red fruits and backed up with plenty of oak' (newly launched in Sainsbury's for 3.99); while Berberana Marino Red, White and Ros are fresh, ripe, fruity wines, ideal for summer drinking' (Tesco, two bottles for 5 until mid-August). Pippa Allenby, assistant brand manager at Freixenet, claims there's no better partner to the English summer barbecue than the new mini Freixenet Rosado Brut, a single-serve unit with a screwcap. It requires just a straw for drinking - no need for glasses or washing up,' she says. Still in Spain, Berkmann Wine Cellars has been appointed as the exclusive UK agent for the Riojan Bodegas Martinez Bujanda. Casa Rural Tinto, Copa Real Blanco and Copa Real Tinto (all 3.99 at First Quench) are described as perfect for those balmy summer evenings on the patio', while Conde de Valdemar Blanco Fermentado en Barricas (7.49), Conde de Valdemar Garnacha Reserva (11.99) and Conde de Valdemar Rioja Gran Reserva (14.99) are a step up in the range for those weekend birthday BBQ bashes'. Another interesting suggestion from Berkmann Wine Cellars is chilled Manzanilla - fresh and crisp, dry and light, with a delicate yeasty bouquet and salty tang. Spain's market-leading La Guita brand is available from Berkmann in 20cl, 37.5cl and 70cl sizes. Back in Europe, Paul Boutinot suggests uncorking a bottle of Fruits of France' Chardonnay (Sainsbury's, Booze Busters, Right Choice and independent retailers, 3.99), or italia (sic) Pinot Grigio (Waitrose, Safeway and independent retailers, 4.99). Although different grape varieties, both display crisp, aromatic qualities which make them the ideal partners for salads, chicken and fish, especially when combined with the stronger, smokier flavours of barbecue cooking.' From the south of France, Guy Anderson Wines' 2001 Wild Pig Syrah is great with sausages, as well as seared breast of chicken and Caesar salad' (Oddbins and Safeway). Meanwhile, aiming to become the market leader in wines from the south of France, Les Vins Skalli's refreshingly modern' Fortant de France range of indigenous varietals is ideal for easy summer drinking (Waitrose, Majestic, Co-Op, 3.99). Somerfield wine buyer Angela Mount describes 2001 Ctes Sauvage Cinsault Ros as the perfect' summer drinking wine (down to 2.99 from 27 July-20 August), while Somerfield Syrah Vin de Pays de l'Ardche is great' with barbecued meats and is reduced from 3.49 a bottle to 2.99 from 7 August-3 September. Jo Wilson of Bottle Green says 2001 La Rectorie Ctes du Ventoux (Waitrose, 3.99) is an ideal accompaniment' to barbecued meats, and the August promotion will enable consumers to buy two and save 1.50'. Also on promotion are the French Connection dual-varietals (Grenache/ Sauvignon Blanc and Grenache/Syrah), which Asda is selling for 2.98 (down from 3.98) until 11 August, along with seven single-varietal French Connection Reserve wines (down from 4.98 to 3.98). Finally, Wilson says First Quench customers can buy a gift box (RRP 11.97 from mid-August) containing three Riverview wines that are ideal for barbecues'. Produced by Akos Kamocsay at Hilltop Neszmly in Hungary, the wines include a fruity' ros, a zingy' Sauvignon Blanc and a Kkfrankos/Merlot. Another Hungarian wine for the barbecue is Nagyrde Cabernet Sauvignon Ros, which Clive Hartnell of importer Myliko Wines is promoting as an ideal refreshing wine style to accompany barbecues on warm summer days' (Waitrose, Booths, 3.99). Fruit flavours leap from the glass, which is important if wines are to be drunk outdoors,' he says.

Come rain or shine This season's barbecuing (so far) has been mainly of the huddling beneath umbrellas' variety, but it's some consolation that we live in the world's biggest wine importing market, with over nine billion litres flooding in each year from all corners of the globe. Of that amount, the total volume of red, white and ros English wine is less than 0.5%. But rain or shine, New Wave Wines believes its Curious Grape range of 11 varietals can offer a serious summer-drinking alternative (available at major multiples and specialists, 4.49-12.99). For grilled meats, it recommends 2000 Epoch 1, made from 60% Pinot Noir plus Rondo and Dornfelder, or 1999 Epoch Reserve, made from Rondo and described as a wine to knock Shiraz off its perch'.