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Thursday, July 19, 2012

Best wines for grilling

It's summertime and that means the grill should be getting used often. You might be grilling burgers, a steak, pork chops, ribs, chicken, salmon, sausages, or vegetables. That's a lot of different things that can be prepared with a BBQ sauce, a dry rub, or maybe just a bit of salt and pepper. So is there a wine that goes with a variety of grilled fare?

My vote goes for Zinfandel first with Syrah and Pinot Noir getting honorable mentions. Yes, many people often grab a Chardonnay or Pinot Gris in hot summer weather and that's okay while you're grilling, but once the food is on the table I want a hearty, but not too heavy, red wine.

Some characteristics of a wine that goes with grilled food:

Spiciness - Many of the seasonings on grilled food are a bit spicy and you want a wine that won't be overwhelmed by this. A flavorful BBQ sauce on your chicken means Zinfandel (so much for the "white wine with white meat" mantra).

Smokiness - As grilled food will have a smoky character so can many Zins and Syrahs.

Red fruit flavors (raspberry, strawberry) - Rich meats and rich sauces and a Zinfandel with bright red fruit flavors work well.

Heavier meats - This is where a Syrah will shine.

Lighter meats, fish or veggies - Pinot is usually a good choice especially one that shows a bit of a tobacco/cigar box characteristic--it goes with that smokiness of grilled food.

Fattier foods, such as ribs - Zinfandel works best with fatty (or spicy).

If the grilled food is really spicy or really salty even a Zinfandel or hearty Syrah can be overwhelmed. This is where you break out the bubbly. A good, off-dry sparkling wine stands up best to spicy hot foods best. Or, of course, you could always go for a beer--probably a hoppy Pale Ale such as Sierra Nevada or an IPA.

One caution - Many California Zinfandels have high alcohol levels that I find don't match so well with foods. For me, I usually stay away from anything labeled over 14.5% alcohol.

Nothing wrong with a cold one while you're slaving over a hot grill