Shiraz: Elderton Command 2002 – Pairing Rating: 9.5 out of 10.0
Zinfandel: Ridge Lytton Springs 2009 – Pairing Rating: 8.0
Pork may be the reigning king of barbecue, but for us, Smoked Beef Brisket defines the art of barbecue: breaking down the collagen to create moisture and tenderness, developing a smoke ring and creating burnt ends. More food science and complexity than pulled pork.
Brisket is essentially the pectoral muscle of a cow, cut from where the front leg joins the body. And because cows have no collarbones, these muscles have to support a ton of weight, and, therefore, hold a network of connective tissue. The main component of this tissue is collagen, a protein that must be broken down (gelatinized) in order to create a tender, flavorful barbecue experience. And that’s where the slow and smoky cooking process becomes essential. OK, animal anatomy lesson is over. Let’s get to cookin’ and sippin’.
Our son, Adam, joined us in Vermont for his birthday celebration and brought a 10+ lb brisket from a Fleisher’s Craft Butchery in Greenwich. This was the “full” brisket, meaning it had the lean “first cut” or “flat cut”, as often seen in grocery stores; plus the “point” or “fat end”. Massive. The brisket was so big we had to cut off a portion of the thinner “first cut” in order to get it into our electric smoker. We estimated the “fat end” would take about 12 hours in the smoker at 225˚, allowing the internal temp to get to 190˚. That temp is key in order to get the collagen to break down. We then needed another 3+ hours to allow the fat end to “rest” at about 180˚. The “flat cut” piece was done in 8 hours, pulled and wrapped. The entire ordeal made the electric smoker essential. Staying up all night to baby sit a traditional wood smoker is well beyond our ability to reason.
Our “rub”. . . 2 parts salt and paprika and 1 part pepper. . . provided the spice and the crust. For smoke, we used pecan wood chunks; and we threw into the smoker box one chunk of hardwood charcoal to insure we had a smoke ring just inside the crust. Saving the smaller “flat cut” piece for another dinner of burnt ends, we easily served 9 people with just the “fat end”. That’s the photo above. Melt-in-your-mouth delicious!
I think it was The Donald who said “Always go with the first thing that comes to into your head”. On this occasion, it happened to be good advice in selecting a wine. We thought that a Shiraz from Barossa, AU, would pair perfectly with the brisket. Our selection was a 2002 Elderton Command Shiraz ($81). The wine delivered sweet red and blue fruits on the nose, with a perfectly balanced palate offering of moderate acidity and sweet tannins, due to its bottle age. The spicy notes of the Shiraz (Syrah outside of AU) stood up nicely to the peppery crust of the brisket. But the key for us in the pairing was the moderate viscosity and mid-weight of the wine. Its texture didn’t overpower the brisket. Rather, the aftertaste was of both wine and food, not just the wine. Perfect.
As a double-check, we opened a bottle of 2009 Ridge Lytton Springs from Sonoma, CA ($54). This red blend is composed of 74% Zinfandel, 21% Petite Syrah and 5% Carignane. This is our go-to wine for Kansas City-style Pork Ribs, with its flavor profile of black fruits, plums and licorice. There is a hint of sweetness from the Zinfandel that works perfectly with the tomato-based KC-style BBQ sauces. But the wine lacked sufficient spice for the peppery brisket, and the finish was too light – again a consequence of the Zin as vinified in the Ridge style. A very nice wine, but not for this dish.
If you are wondering: 15 hours – would we do this again? Sure. A beef cut this massive, smoked in this fashion, is celebratory! Like serving a double magnum of wine at a party. Furthermore, it gives us a chance to serve an aged Shiraz like the 2002 Elderton Command. If your preference is to let some other pit master cook your brisket, at least you know the wine to bring to the party. Enjoy!!!