Fire up your imagination

04 May, 2007

National Barbecue Week (May 28-June 3) is this year focusing on the stylish and sophisticated side of outdoor grilling with a Gastro Alfresco theme. So what should you recommend for outdoor feasts?

Beers have flexibility to refresh palates

Say what you like about a refreshing rosé or a cool Chardonnay (I'm sure they're really rather nice on a hot summer's day), but let's face it, beer is the more flexible friend when it comes to flame-licked food.

Hops give beer the bitterness to slice through rich flavours; its charred and caramelised malt character complements grilled meat; the carbonation can gently lift everything from the palate and prepare it for the next juicy bite, and beer can refresh the most rapacious of thirsts.

But when the coals are glowing and the sun is shining, don't just reach for something cheap, chilled and cheerful. Try to match what comes off the grill with a beer that either contrasts with or complements (but enhances) the food's flavour.

A Vienna-style lager, with its malt-driven sweetness and thirst-quenching quaffability, makes an ideal partner for juicy burgers and sizzling sausages.

Golden ales shine alongside shrimps and seafood, wheat beers work with all salads and fish, hoppy English bitters stand up to spare ribs and kebabs; chargrilled chicken calls for a crisp pilsner, while a sweet fruit beer is deliciously indulgent with melted marshmallows.

Best outdoor beers

Duvel, 8.5 per cent abv. Golden abbey beer - with stunning clove and ripe pear flavours - is a revelation with seared scallops or garlic-buttered prawns. Remember, though, it's strong.

Budweiser Budvar Czech Dark Lager, 4.7 per cent abv. Magnificently refreshing and crisp despite its sinister hue. Bequeath its mocha notes, roasted character and beautifully-balanced bitter finish to spare ribs, Jamaican jerk or, frankly, anything char-grilled.

Bitburger Pils, 4.8 per cent abv. Whether it's for rolling across your forehead while slaving over a flaming grill or for simply quenching a parched palate, every barbecue requires a first-rate pilsner. Bitburger successfully balances a fruity malt base with a grassy, herbal hit on the palate and a finish drier than a German's cheek after a World Cup penalty shoot-out.

Daleside Morocco Ale, 5.5 per cent abv. Dark, strong and delightfully spicy, this unusual Yorkshire ale is extremely drinkable and incredibly dynamic when matched with red meats. Try lamb kebabs with onions and peppers.

Goose Island IPA, 5.9 per cent abv. Wrap a Camembert in foil with some sun-dried tomatoes , plonk it on the barbecue and take it off after five minutes. Open it up and devour with the help of a fresh French baguette and this seriously hoppy and delightfully herbal India Pale Ale from Chicago.

Liefmans Kriek, 6 per cent abv. With the dryness of Champagne, this Belgian beauty makes a perfect aperitif. Alternatively, serve it at the end of the evening when it will prove itself a fine sweet cherry-flavoured cohort to melted marshmallows, chocolate and other decadent desserts.

Fresh wines complement smoky flavours

Thanks to an unseasonably warm spring, this year's outdoor eating season kicked off early. Traditionally, however, most of us don't spark up the barbie until early June. Savvy retailers have just enough time to stock up for the alfresco rush that should hit their shops any day now.

Choose reds with relatively high acidity and lots of fruit, and try to keep alcohol levels around 14 per cent or under - anything higher will send you staggering to the nearest shady corner to sleep it off.

Look for fresh, juicy wines from cool-climate or high-altitude vineyards and consider chilling the bottles for half an hour or so before serving.

If you're marinating your meat in ­something hot and spicy, steer clear of tannic reds.

When it comes to whites, you want something with lots of flavour as this will allow the wine to stand up to the punchy, smoky flavours of barbecued food. Do bear in mind, though, that you also want the wine to have a fair degree of acidity and freshness , otherwise it may seem soupy and overly alcoholic. Barbecued food can work well with a bit of oak (but don't go overboard), and it's worth bearing in mind that a touch of residual sugar can work well with the chilli kick you often find in barbecue marinades.

Rosés are incredibly versatile outdoor wines: with their ripe fruit and crisp acidity, they can handle all kinds of outdoor meals, from pork ribs and chilli chicken to char-grilled salmon or prawns.

Perfect barbecue wines for under a tenner


Alain Chatoux Les Trois Collines, Vieilles Vignes, Beaujolais 2005 (£7.75, Berry Bro s & Rudd). Lots of fruit, nicely balanced with good acidity. Great with salmon , tuna , chicken, lamb or pork.

Castello Monaci, Salice Salentino 2004 (£7.34, Bibendum). This southern Italian red has the grip and personality to cope with chargrilled meat, but at 13 per cent abv it won't knock you for six.


Turkey Flat Rosé, Barossa Valley (£9.99, Mentzendorff). A blend of Grenache, Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz and Dolcetto makes up one of Oz's most consistent rosés. Terrific with bangers.

Château Saint Baillon Rosé, Côtes de Provence 2006 (£8.96, Bibendum). This classic rosé should slip down easily as an aperitif, but will also work with robustly-flavoured fish and salads.


Tesco Finest Ken Forrester Chenin Blanc, Stellenbosch 2006 (£6.99, Tesco). Ripe, honeyed fruit and crisp acidity would make this a terrific match for dishes with a touch of spice as well as the more obvious seafood partners.

Martin Codax, Albariño, Rias Baixas 2005 (£8.49 - or two bottles for £6.99 each, Majestic). Lots of lovely peachy fruit, but plenty of zippy acidity too. Perfect with seafood or white meats.

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