Grab your charcoal and your corkscrew, grilling season has arrived


On a warm sunny, summer afternoon, the big red winess that most of us would normally match with red meat are about as refreshing as a hot cup of coffee. Sometimes pairing wines with grilled food in warm weather just needs a bit of consideration regarding the flavors that outdoor (or indoor)grilling can bring to the plate: smokiness and charcoal. These alone can overwhelm less robust wines and make them appear wimpy next to your perfectly served rib-eye.
Zinfandel, Merlot, Shiraz and Malbec are always mentioned as the preferred wines to go with grilled red meats, because they each bring a few desired characteristics to go with that sometimes spicy and charcoal blend of flavors.
Zinfandel is a bold red wine that really bellies up to meaty, smokey flavors. This varietal’s black pepper spice, acidity and ripe tannins balance the fat and brings the texture to a new dimension. Zinfandel with it’s big, bold fruitiness is a natural when it comes to sauces and mild salsas especially sweet and spicy barbecue sauces. Butif your sauce is  heavily spiced, it could compete with this juicy wine and both could come up as losers.  In cases like this, the best spicy sauce/wine combination is often Merlot, because of its characteristic fruit-forward flavor profile. Merlot will support the spice and not aggravate it. Grilled pork chops, chicken and garden-variety salads with lighter dressings also mingle well with Merlot.

Another varietal that always seems to make the grill-friendly wine list is Shiraz (Syrah) As with the previously mentioned wines, this varietal is delicious with just about any red meat. Shiraz is dynamic, offering some aggressive fruit flavors, more mellow tannins and a softer-fuller body than a Cabernet. In fact, Shiraz absolutely shines with burgers, steak and hot dogs.

Quite a few wine lovers reach for an Argentinian Malbec to pair with those same burgers, steak and hot dogs, especially if they are smothered with onions sauerkraut and relish. Malbec has dark, plummy fruit flavors and a peppery spice edge that just works beautifully with grilled meat. Besides, it’s hard to argue with the value-for-money equation offered by this cheerful red with a lot of fruit intensity but not a lot of tannins.
If you want to be sophisticated or are a little unsure if what wine to choose, Pinot Noir will be your best safe bet. Pinot Noir a flexible varietal that is known for being extremely food-friendly. Pinot Noir with its hints of smoke and cherry can go from a juicy burger or grilled chicken to grilled fish —especially salmon—in a single sip.

One of the more versatile red grapes in the world, Grenache (Garnacha) from the rugged, rocky area in Spain’s Catalonia region is a favorite when grilling. These wines offer unmistakable candied fruit roll-up and cinnamon flavor tinged with both sweetness and spice. Grenache and Grenache- dominated blends are delious when paired with grilled meats.

Of course, you can’t only drink red. If you find it’s just too darn hot for red, you will find Riesling to be the perfect varietal for grilled brats, shrimp, barbecue chicken, and a variety of grilled veggies or pineapple.Besides, grilled fish and vegetables often generate a thirst for summer white wines. The important key point is to look for a wines with a savory character. Sauvignon Blanc has an herbaceous quality that supports marinades and sauces with similar attributes. Many fresh and lively Sauv Blancs are pungent, with nuances of dried herbs, and a slightly vegetal note that will highlight grilled veggies, roasted peppers and grilled.

Thick cuts of fish, particularly the richer salmon or tuna, are good with robust whites. Instead of reaching for a California Chardonnay, why not try a Torrontés from Argentina? Torrontés is Argentina’s white wine answer to malbec and offers enticing aromas that are strikingly similar to Viognier, with hints of peach pit, flowers, and orange citrus fruit, yet it is quite dry. This crisp white almost seems a little a bit like Viognier with the combination of soft stone and citrus fruits, floral oils and hints of spices, but is often much less expensive thanViognier—in fact, a good bottle of Torrontés is often under $15.  Although blackened Mahi Mahi, or grilled Cajun chicken with fresh mango salsa will work with Torrontés, you might want to pair it with a bit of Gewürztraminer. Gewürztraminer often offers a balance to spiciness with its slightly to moderately sweet character and honied hints of musky cinnamon, rose petals and citrus peel spice.

When it comes to pairing wine with the grill, it’s all about the sauce. Almost everyone who grills chicken or beef either marinates it or slathers it or something, so a simple rule of thumb is if it’s barbecue sauce, go red; if it’s citrus-tangy, go white; if you’re uncertain, go Pinot Noir—I’d go Rosé, but that’s just me.  No matter if it’s red or white don’t forget the 20/20 rule to give the wine a chill. If you don’t know the 20/20 rule, it’s simple: If the wine is white take it out of the fridge 20 minutes prior to serving; if the wine is red, put it in the fridge 20 minutes prior to serving.

Here are several delicious value-priced wines for the grill or any warm weather get-together:

Ravenswood Winery Old Vine Zinfandel, Lodi, 2010  (about $12)
This is a classic example of Lodi Zinfandel with plum, strawberry jam, blackcurrant jam and earth aromas and extreme fruit-forward flavors of thick, rich, concentrated blueberry fruit and soft spice. This medium-bodied wine offers minerals, decent acidity and easy mellow tannins to pair well with grilled meats.

14 Hands Vineyards Merlot, Columbia Valley, WA.  (about $12)
The wine is actually a blend of 78% Merlot, 14% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Syrah, 1% Grenache and 1% Cabernet Franc, making it a perfect grilling blend. The aromas start dark and earthy, slowly revealing notes of cherry. The palate offers lush flavors of mocha, black cherry and blackberries, followed by a bit of oak. It is smooth and silky with firm tannins that will pair well with just about anything on the grill. This is the perfect wine to bring to a cookout.

Hope Estate Shiraz The Ripper 2009, Western Australia  (about $14)
The ‘Ripper’ Shiraz has notes of crushed blackberry, cherry and mulberry over cedar, dried Provence herbs, lavender and a hint of mint. Full-bodied, ripe, rich, fruit-forward and concentrated, the blueberry  and blackberry and spice flavors blend with vanilla oakiness and are supported by definitive tannins and refreshing acidity, finishing with long lasting notes of toast and cedar. Bring on the steak!

Colores del Sol Malbec Reserva, Lujan de Cuyo,Mendoza, Argentina (about $9)
Colores del Sol, means “Colors of the Sun”  shows excellent balance with an opulent, full-bodied mouthfeel and ample fine grained tannins. Spice flavors lead into a rich, fruit-driven palate, dominated by flavors of raspberry and black cherry, currant and tea. Smoke, spice and caramel lead to the smooth finish. This wonderful red wine would pair well with grilled red meats,.

Castle Rock Pinot Noir California Cuvee 2011 (about $10)
This medium-bodied red is elegant, offering aromas of cherry, tea and herbal spice. Its smooth, silky-textured palate offers mild tannins, and flavors of black cherry, plum and spice,all the way through the long finish.  Brooding and savory, green, fennel-like edges feel refreshing and honest, avoiding the dried fruit flavors that mar many value-priced California Pinot Noirs. Perfect to set up for chicken or pork sausages.

Altovinum Calatayud Evodia 2011, Calatayud, Spain (about $10)
Evodia is an exciting project in the Denominacion de Origen Calatayud, hailed as one of Spains most progressive and promising wine growing regions. This savory wine has concentrated black cherry and cola on the nose, followed by raspberry notes with a bit of pepper and heat. This medium-bodied wine is slightly dry and a very much fruit-forward the with herbal notes of dried oregano and tobacco blend beautifully with black pepper spice for a good grill pairing.

Bodegas Juan Gil Monastrell Honoro Vera Organic 2012, Jumilla, Spain (about $10)
Monastrell accounts for 85% of the grapevines planted in Jumilla. Monastrell is known as Mourvedre in France, Mataro in Australia and is the M in GSM.  The nose is full of blackberry, bitter dark chocolate, raisin spice and licorice aromas. The boldness carries over to the Monastrell flavors, blackberry and fig compete with Australian black licorice. The mid-palate brings dried strawberry, raisins and a stiff brush of tannins, making it a nice organic favorite to grilled meats and vegetables.

William Cole Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc Albamar 2012, Casablanca Valley, Chile (about $10)
William Cole Vineyards lies deep within Chile’s prestigious Casablanca Valley—often called “Chile’s Burgundy.” Albamar pays homage to the Casablanca Valley’s foggy sunrise (“alba” means sunrise) and the cooling breezes of the ocean (“mar” means ocean). This wine offers excellent fresh citrus fruit flavors of Meyer lemon, lime and crisp apple. Dry, light and crisp with the right amount of acidity and minerality to compliment the vibrant fruit and mild herbal flavors. It is bone dry and very food friendly. Ceviche is just one dish that would match the acidity and mineral freshness of this Sauvignon.

Ruca Malen “Yauquen” Torrontés, Salta, Argentina (about $11)
“Yauquen” is a word from the Mapuche language that means “to share a drink with a friend”.  The bouquet is bursting with aromas of white flowers and citrus fruits. It is fresh on the palate with crisp stone fruit flavors, fresh dill, delicate herbs and good mineral and acid on the finish. The acidity makes it a perfect pairing with spicy cuisine, particularly Thai and Tex-Mex grill. Favorite pairings include: grilled or sautéed pork chops, pork tenderloin and grilled or sautéed veal.

Hugel & Fils Gewürztraminer, 2011, Alsace, France (about $23)
This white is very floral offering fresh aromatic notes of fruit and spice, rose, lily of the valley, mango, lychee, pineapple, passion fruit and cardamom.Fresh and dry on the palate, it sparks flavors of citrus, crystallized ginger and mango before becoming  floral on the high-acid finish. Very stylish with spicy dishes, grilled lobster, crayfish tails or grilled veal and pork.

Blue Fish Riesling Dry 2011, Niederkirchen, Pfalz, Germany (about $9)
Blue Fish Riesling has amazingly seductive aromas of ripe apricot, peach, pear marked with a lovely floral accent. This wine is dry with a a slight effervescence, pleasing structure and underlying acidity. Not overly sweet or dry, the smooth fruit flavors start with Granny Smith apples followed by lemon, raspberry, aloe juice, pineapple, sweet red apple and a hint of lime. This is a very crisp, tart, clean and refreshing wine would pair well with a  grilled ribeye steak or pork belly with scalloped potatoes.

Enjoy!

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