For many Americans, barbecue is accompanied by a filling beer or a melted mixed summer drink, while the teetotalers stick to lemonade or soda. Few people may consider wine when they fire up the grill. What a shame. At your next barbecue, consider juicy, spicy red wines for burgers, smoky seared steaks and rubbed ribs. Or, how about zippy whites for jerk chicken, roasted brats, seafood and grilled veggies?
Keep in mind, good barbecue wines shouldn’t be pretentious, pedigreed or posh. Here are my picks for the perfect wines to pair with whatever you’re tossing onto those coals, as well as suggestions for some easy quaffing whites to sip on while you wait for those briquettes to get hot.
Cool Barbecue Picks
Crisp, intensely aromatic high-acid white wines work very well with grilled flavors. I recommend staying away from heavy, oaky chardonnays, as they don’t pair well with the smoky flavors of barbecue.
For starters, chill up a bottle of Cupcake Sauvignon Blanc ($10); it is one of my favorite dry, guzzling whites to keep you cool while the grill is heating up. This Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough, New Zealand, is your quintessential summer wine -- fermented in stainless steel tanks to keep the fruit bright and crisp. This wine has a penetrating citrus fragrance, with refreshingly crisp flavors of Meyer lemons, sweet Key limes, grapefruit and a hint of orange zest. This wine is a great value and above all – simply delicious. Try it with grilled salmon basted with butter, citrus and fresh dill.
Also refreshing to sip while your food is cooking is the Barton & Guestier Vouvray ($14). This French Chenin blanc from the Loire Valley is pale straw yellow and silver color. The nose is green apple, grass and pineapple. The soft flavors of this lush wine include honeydew, lemon, and peach with fresh grapefruit on the finish. I actually tried this wine in the Loire Valley back in 2004 with some fresh shucked oysters as an aperitif. It was the perfect pairing.
Burans Albarino Rias Baixes ($18) hails from Spain and the grape Albarino is a white grape grown in Galicia. This wine has good body and acidity to cleanse the palate. Its inviting and refreshing aromas include spicy apple, pear, passion fruit and peach. In the mouth, the wine is bright and balanced with mineral, ripe pear, pineapple, lemon and green apple. The finish is long and zesty and would pair wonderfully with blackened Tuna Steak, grilled shrimp with garlic sauce or a Cajun chicken with fresh mango salsa.
For Red Wine Lovers
Anything coated in barbecue sauce, with its smoky, spicy, and typically sweet flavors, admittedly poses a challenge for wine pairings. A good barbecue red wine is designed to show off young, succulent, ripe fruit and it should be acidic and tannic enough to cut through the fat in the meat, while providing lift to the smoke and spices and flavorings in your barbecue.
Matsu Tempranillo ($17). What I love about Tempranillo is its versatility to pair with almost anything. This particular Tempranillo from Toro, Spain, is fruit forward with intense cherries, dark berries and red currant on the palate. It finished with a nice edge of spice and toasty notes to round out the wine. This medium to full-bodied wine has plenty of ripe fruit to stand up to a hearty t-bone grilled over coals, Memphis-style baby back ribs or a juicy bacon burger with all the trimmings.
Bogle Petite Sirah ($10). This wine is a fruit bomb. Deep, dark purple, almost black in the glass, it has an attractive black cherry and dark boysenberry fruit aroma with traces of smoke, vanilla and cedar. This solid, medium-bodied wine with moderate tannins fills the mouth with jammy-roasted flavors of ripe fruit and juicy blackberries. The fairly long and pleasant finish maintains an easy drinking style wine offered at a very reasonable price. Pair this wine with slow-roasted Louisiana spare ribs in a spicy sauce, Gouda burgers with grilled onions, or honey and sriracha spiced grilled chicken wings.
Guigal Côtes du Rhône ($17). This gorgeous Rhone wine from the south of France is a favorite in my house and always on hand. It is made of 49 percent Syrah, 46 percent Grenache and 5 percent Mourvedre. Upon opening, this Rhone wine can be a little offensive to the nose with strong notes of gamey meat and green pepper. Give this wine some time to breathe after opening and you will come to find aromas of blackberry, cassis, cracked pepper and herbs. This compelling and round wine is full of dark berries, raspberries, ripe plums and a touch of chocolate. Showing a lovely balance with a strong toasty fruit finish, this wine would pair nicely with slow roasted vegetables and blackened salmon. Or try it will grilled flank steak marinated in olive oil, garlic and fresh herbs. Decanting this wine an hour or two before serving would allow this wine to open up and show better with your food.
Mendel Malbec ($22). I must admit, a part of me didn’t want to write about this wine, as I would like to hoard any bottles left in the Quad-Cities for myself. Made from a 100 percent Malbec, this Argentinean wine has intense aromatics of rich dark fruits, licorice and light floral on the edges. The wine has concentrated flavors of blackberry, cherry, violets, spice, smoke and caramel. The finish has gripping tannins with excellent structure and length, making it a perfect pairing with almost anything off the grill, even a hot dog. However, consider spice rubbed grilled lamb chops with a horseradish marinade, bison burger or a coffee-rubbed cowboy porterhouse.