I wish I could tell you how to BBQ like a champion from personal experience: building the fire, tending the grill for hours, juggling a variety of meats and cuts so that they are all cooked exquisitely, and timing it all perfectly. Thanks to a trip to Aspen sponsored by Terrazas de los Andes (a winery in Argentina), however, I can give you a trio of tips via firsthand witnessing of some grilling mastery. The art of the asado, the BBQ tradition of Argentina, was ably, skillfully, and memorably on display via Chef Manuel Debandi, who made the trip from the Andes to Aspen for this purpose.
A couple of things I learned:
- You've got to use wood, not charcoal.
- Throw some fresh herbs like rosemary on the fire. Since your meat will be cooking for hours, the herb-tinged smoke with penetrate the meat.
- Don't glop BBQ sauce all over your meat while it's still on the grill! Keep the seasonings simple and, after the meat has had a chance to rest, bring out the chimichurri or a similar vinegar and oil sauce with a tomato rather than an herb base.
The third tip is also key when it comes to pairing wine with your asado. Not going wild with seasonings and sauces allows the true flavor of the slow-cooked meat to be the star, and makes wine pairing much more direct. You'd think that when it comes to BBQ and wine from Argentina, Malbec would be the slam-dunk choice. And while I wouldn't disagree with you...wait, OK I will. I actually preferred the Cabernet Sauvignon. And while I enjoyed the 2009 Single Vineyard "Los Aromos" Cabernet from Terrazas, I think my real go-to asado red wine would be the basic (but not basic tasting) 2010 Reserva Cabernet. From vineyards located at over 3,200 feet, the high-altitude preserves freshness and liveliness as the grapes get a chance to cool down in the evening thanks to their elevated perch. There's still plenty of Cabernet power to handle a grill chock-full of every kind and cut of meat you can imagine, and some real green olive character that is the hallmark of the kind of classic, old-school Cabernet that I prefer. It's like having a touch of tapenade flavor on your steak.
Longtime readers of my blog posts on Foodista might note that these photographs are a giant leap forward in quality. And they had absolutely nothing to do with me. I was fortunate that we had the talents and good humor of Shawn O'Connor Photography on hand to capture an astonishing amount of images of every moment of the trip. Leaving us free to have a plate of food in one hand and a glass of wine in the other. Yet as professional food writers we managed to Instagram with our noses, or something like that.
Not stressing about photos also gave me a chance to think a bit more about Argentina beyond Malbec. From Cabernet Sauvignon, to a Late Harvest Petit Manseng, to a seafood-loving white wine grape, Torrontes, there's certainly diversity to sip and savor. Cowboy hat optional.
For a taste of Wine Without Worry, check out jamesonfink.com. From Syrah to Sherry, I've got something interesting for your wine glass.