When you think of summer, the crackling of a grill and the aroma of BBQ probably aren’t far behind. What you’re probably not immediately drawn to considering, however, is how to pair delicious wines with that summer treat. Beer is the typical choice, right? Wine absolutely has a place at your BBQ, and with a little know-how, you might find it’s an even better summer libation than that pilsner beer. Here’s how to pair with flair this summer.
If You’re Grilling: Steaks or Hamburgers
You’re Serving: No surprises here, red meat loves red wine. The problem arises when you consider pairing a heavy meat with a heavy wine, like the always on call Cabernet Sauvignon, when it’s oppressively hot outside. Too much heavy substance in the stomach can put a real damper on the mood and on your BBQ in the hot summer months. For this reason, we suggest pairing red meats with a non-traditional red. While a homemade sangria or red blend may work just as well, we’re loving the Chilean Carmenere or Spanish Tempranillo this summer. Both give you a rich bouquet of earthy flavors and fruits with a one-two punch of tannins and acid, but without the heavy filling of a standard red wine. Want to try something new? Opt for a sparkling red Lambrusco. The dancing bubbles are an unexpected twist that just feels like summer.
Opting for the leaner veggie burger or turkey burger? Swap out your red for a crisp Sauvignon Blanc.
If You’re Grilling: Chicken
You’re Serving: Zinfandel
Hold on. Bear with us. Before you think we’re recommending only the syrupy sweet White Zinfindel you downed in college, let us explain. Not all Zinfandel is created the same. While it is a sweet wine, the exact sweetness tends to be paired to the alcohol by volume. Hanging out around 14% keeps the sweet-factor in check while allowing the light flavors of Zinfandel to complement the robust BBQ sauces that we all drench our grilled chicken in.
If You’re Grilling: Seafood
You’re Serving: Pinot Gris or Grillo
First of all, if you’re unfamiliar with what a Grillo is, it’s time to expand your personal wine cellar. This delicate white grape, best grown in Italy, is an explosion of Mango and full bodied fruit flavors. This white, while not expressly sweet on its own, brings out the delicate flavors of softer, flakier fish. If the fish needs only a touch of olive oil and spice to grill, Grillo is your new best friend. For meaty fish dishes --think swordfish, salmon, or shark steak-- you need a white with a little more structure. Pinot Gris is your go-to pick for thicker, more robust fish. It has more body than Pinot Grigio, and the citrus flames will compliment most seafood beautifully.
If You’re Grilling: Vegetarian fare
You’re Serving: Chardonnay
A crisp, oak infused Chardonnay might not be where your head goes first, but it’s actually the perfect complement for grilled eggplant, zucchini, onions, and peppers. It works because of the strong fruity essence found in most Chardonnay. The lime, apricot, and pineapple notes wind up creating a nice fruity flavor to go with your savory vegetables without overpowering it. If possible, try to find a Chardonnay that is aged in stainless steel as opposed to oak. It will cut down on the oak essence and create a smoother pairing between the fruit, vegetables, and wine.
If You’re Grilling: Pork Sausages
You’re Serving: Riesling
Another summer surprise comes when you pair pork, typically paired best with a hearty red, with a delicate and often sweet Riesling. Here’s the trick—make it a dry Riesling. Dry Rieslings (noted on the bottle, or any variety from Oregon or Washington State’s Yakima Valley) work well with sausages because the act of grilling brings out spices and a sort of “snap” that is different from indoor cooking. That means that the dry, light bodied Riesling can blend wonderfully, so long as it’s not too sweet.
Not buying it? Don’t worry, your familiar reds will still work with pork sausages outdoors just as nicely as they do inside. Your best bet is to find a thick, fruity red low in tannins.
For standard, run of the mill hot dogs, a dry Rose works best.
One Last Word: Because it can be overwhelming to provide a bottle of wine for everything on the grill, sometimes it just makes sense to choose a “one size fits all” wine. When it comes to BBQ, that wine is any Rose. Typically a drier Rose will pair better than a sickly sweet one, but either will work. If you’re feeling adventurous, stock the bar with a sparkling red called Lambrusco. It’s packed with fruit flavor, dances lightly across the tongue, and pairs well with almost anything.