Braai: Barbecue, Wine, and Cultural Spirituality

Ideal ingredients for a get-together: Barbecue, wine, friends and family.

The latter few — BBQ, and those closest to you — pair so naturally that South Africa has turned them into a year-round tradition known as braai (which rhymes with “eye”). Mix in wine, and you have all the makings for a memorable occasion, as I as a recent enjoyed at the home of Cape Classics President Robert Bradshaw.

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Steak braaing in the egg grill outside the home of Cape Classics President Robert Bradshaw.

In its basic form, “braai” means cooking meat over flame. The term is a synonym for “barbecue,” both as a noun and a verb, as in “the chicken is braaing.” And like its American counterpart, braai can also mean “cookout” as a social event.

But braai extends one step further. More so than the American terms, it’s culturally rooted. It transcends seasons or holidays, and is a go-to custom for any South African celebration.

Cape Classics recently released a dark red blend named Braai, intended to match the bold flavors of grilled steak, sausage or lamb. Since Cape Classics is America’s largest importer of South African wines, it makes sense that the company’s president would know a thing or two about braai. Bradshaw is a serious devotee.

The braai I attended at his home last week (as part of my forthcoming story on wine/protein pairings) contained three courses. Each of the first two included a traditional and nontraditional pairing. And none of the five wines featured topped $20 in price.

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The wine pairings for the steak course.

The first course was chicken (pictured atop). Bradshaw paired Lemon Thyme Chicken Breast with DMZ Chardonnay, and Peri Peri Chicken Thighs with Indaba Mosaic.

The lemon chicken and chardonnay shared light, pleasant flavors, a traditional match. As for the second pairing, people do not normally think of chicken and red wine together. But the peppery kick of the Peri Peri recipe was a natural partner for the black ripe fruit and similar pepper spice of the Indaba red blend.

Steak was served next. Here, we think of red wine. The Kanonkop Kadette red blend paired perfectly with the Old School Steak House Porterhouse.

But what about steak with white wine? Bradshaw served Chimichurri Flank Steak Tacos with Beyond Sauvignon Blanc. “I always say that you have to match subtle with subtle, and power with power,” he explained. And so it was that the Sauvignon Blanc rose to the occasion of matching the steak, with a pronounced minerality and strong flavors of herbs and fruit.

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Custom Made Boerewors farmers sausage, a South African favorite.

The third course was about braai tradition. A spiral of Custom Made Boerewors farmers sausage, a South African favorite, came out with a bottle of the Cape Classics Braai. (Before you think we’re mad carnivores, the dinner also included pasta and green salads.) The meat-forward flavor of the Boerewors — which traditionally contains beef, plus pork and lamb — was well met by the boldness of the red blend.

“Braai is a religion in South Africa, a spiritual experience,” Bradshaw said. It’s easy to see why. There’s something about grilled meats matched with the right wines or beverages that brings out the best in conversation and camaraderie among those souls lucky enough to be present.

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