The idea of wine pairing is to match the flavor intensity of the food with the wine you drink. A lightly flavored piece of fish is complemented by a mildly flavored wine. This way the flavor of one doesn't overpower the flavor of the other. For example, those who enjoy a real barbecue can understand; imagine that you've been smoking a brisket for the better part of a day. You have the perfect rub and just the right amount of smoke. Now you want to match a sauce to your brisket. If you pick a barbecue sauce that is too strong you'll miss out on the flavor of the meat and the smoke. If on the other hand, the sauce is weak and watery it won't add anything to your barbecue. Wine works the same way.
So how do you pair BBQ with wine?
Drink Wines You Like
After all, why drink a wine you don't like. Sounds obvious there are people so obsessed with wine pairing that they take any expert's opinion and choke down wines they can't stand. The best way to find those wines you like is experimenting. You've been doing it for years with barbecue, now start picking up wines and give them a try. Remember to keep notes on the wines you try, because you know you are going to forget; after all, you might be drinking later.
Save Your Money
The basic theory of wine pairing is the match the intensity of flavor of wine with the flavor of the food. If you are dealing with subtle flavors then you want a delicately flavored wine. Delicate and sophisticated wines tend to be expensive. By no means, do not buy the cheapest wine you can find, but the heavy flavors of barbecue are well-matched by less expensive wines.
Reds Go Better With Barbecue Than Whites
The other side of the wine pairing equation is called body. In simple terms, this refers to the "thickness" of a wine. A light Pinot Grigio may not hold up next to a heavily smoked rack of ribs with a spicy sauce but it would be excellent with grilled fish or vegetables. On the other side of the scale, a Cabernet Sauvignon complements a nice thick grilled steak or smoked brisket but would kick a lightly seasoned chicken breast off your plate.
This rule can be overridden by Rule 1, so don't be afraid to break it.
Sweet Wine for Spicy Foods and a Tart Wine for Sweet Foods
Another aspect of wine is the flavor itself surprisingly enough. Some wines like a Pinot Noir are sweet while others can be more tart like a Chardonnay. It sounds like barbecue sauce to me but I tend to have a one-track mind. You want to try and balance the flavor of the wine with the food where possible. Of course, this is easier said than done and tends to be the most subjective part of wine pairing.
This really is a rule made to be broken but give it a try. Sweet wines are particularly good at taking the heat out of spicy foods.
When in Doubt, Ask
There are a lot of people who know more about wines than the average consumer, who can provide specific advice about vineyards, vintages, and varietals.