There’s something about the outdoor setting, the open fire, and the masculine image of the grill that, for many, says this is no time to be foolin’ with corkscrews and wine glasses. The casual setting aside, wine is no doubt the greatest barbecue beverage. I have never understood how wine became associated with pretense, because it can be the perfect accompaniment to a barbecue—not so filling as beer, nor so potentially embarrassing as multiple margaritas.
Let’s face it, wine pairs with anything that you want to throw on the grill — from burgers to barbecued chicken sandwiches to leg of lamb—wine is the ultimate condiment, working like a spice, helping to enhance the flavors of grilled food.
Wines for barbecue must support succulent slow-cooked meats and not be overwhelmed by or compete with the piquancy and sweetness of the sauce. An overly tannic, tight red is probably not the best choice. Casual wines with no pretense may be the norm for a barbecue, but don’t hesitate to pull out wines with pedigree either. Both styles will shine around the grill.
When selecting wines for barbecue, the ideal choice is a medium-bodied wine with enough personality to stand up to the myriad different flavors. You may want to try one that is fruitier or less dry one than you might normally drink.
A good rule of thumb for any barbecue wine is BBQ:
- Big, full-bodied, with plenty of fruit extract and an alcohol content of around 13%.
- Bold and assertive with forward fruit flavor, spice, and pepper along with good acidity.
- Quaffable—smooth, delicious, easy to drink— in other words, gulpable.
The best barbecue reds are big, well-balanced, smooth and not over the top in alcohol, with great fruit and balanced acidity. Think luscious, ripe berry flavors and complex spice and you have an interesting counterpoint to barbecue. Try to avoid wines over 14.5%, as they are often “hot” and they open your taste buds up wide and then the heat from the spice becomes very prominent and overwhelms other flavors.
Sometimes, I think people only invite me to barbecues because they know I’ll bring the wine.
So, what do I bring? This time of year, an all-purpose barbecue favorite: dry rosé, it truly is a summertime treat.
Rosé is an ideal barbecue wine. Good rosés combine the crispness and refreshment of white wine (serve chilled) with intriguing flavors—some of the red fruits typical of red wine, but also notes of tea, orange rind, strawberries and watermelon. Too long out of fashion because of their association with cheap, sweet blush wines, the new generation of rosés are stronger, darker, drier, more intensely fruity and, for me, perfect summer wines.
Look for rosés from the southern Rhone, Languedoc, and Provence in France, Rioja in Spain, or such American examples as King Estate’s Acrobat Rosé of Pinot Noir.
One thing about barbecues: almost no one brings white wine! Everyone thinks about the meat; but who thinks about the heat? It’s hot outside! You may not like to drink white wine with red meat, but how much time do you spend eating as opposed to time spent chatting and waiting for the meat to be ready? So, it’s a good idea to bring a bottle of white that’s crisp and lean and lower in alcohol. Muscadet, Albarino, Vermentino, or Assyrtiko from Santorini are all good candidates for higher temperatures. These same wines often have the added benefit of being inexpensive.
Crisp, intensely aromatic high-acid white wines, like my old stand-by favorite, Sauvignon Blanc, work very well with grilled flavors. If you know me, I always have a Sauvignon Blanc on hand, it’s so versatile: great with grilled vegetables and shrimp, and is the best wine with tomatoes. Off-dry (slightly sweet) Rieslings and Gewürztraminers pair nicely with spicier and sweeter barbecue flavors, as sweet wines are particularly good at taking the heat out of spicy foods. Chardonnay, however, is probably best left for another day.
Try Cru Beaujolais
Okay, you may not want to eat burgers with a bottle of white wine. Then, think cru Beaujolais. Asking for cru Beaujolais is a polite way to say, “I want a better Beaujolais,” because basic Beaujolais covers a lot of ground and you could end up with a mediocre bottle. Cru Beajoulais comes from one of ten specific villages and being specific can help you get what you want. Morgon, Fleurie, and Moulin-a-Vent are village names to look for on the label—they combine accessible fruit with a refreshing acidity that pairs beautifully with barbecue.
Go Cab Franc
If you desire wine with more heft, then consider the Cabernet Franc grape variety from Chinon and Bourgueil in the Loire Valley. Or go local with Monmouth County’s own Four JGs Cabernet Franc. These wines are full of steak-friendly flavors. Meat that is charred and just off the grill goes great with the firm tannins you find in most Cabernet Franc wines.
More critical than the color of the wine, however, is how you serve it. Any wine—even red wine—benefits from being chilled in hot weather which explains why it’s not worth opening a wine of any great age or complexity for the average barbecue.
So chill them down to around 56° and have a good time in a casual relaxed atmosphere of someone’s backyard, and remember, I’ll bring the wine.
Eight Great Barbecue choices:
King Estate Acrobat Rosé of Pinot Noir, 2011, Oregon, USA
This Rosé is the color of pink lemonade. Aromas include kiwi, watermelon and lychee. Fruity flavors of raspberries, pomegranates and plums accompany a viscous round mouth feel with a long, dry finish.
Chateau Routas Rouviere Rosé, Provence, France 2011
A blend of 55% Cinsault, 23% Syrah, 14% Grenache and 8% Cabernet Sauvignon, Rouvière Rosé is the quintessential, estate-produced Rosé. All of the Syrah and half of the Cabernet Sauvignon go straight into neutral barrels for primary and malolactic fermentation. The remaining Grenache and Cinsault are fermented in stainless steel tanks and blocked from malolactic fermentation. The two different lots are aged separately for five months and blended prior to bottling.One sip and it’s easy to see why this wine was rated 90 Points and given a 100 Best Buys of the Year Selection from Wine & Spirits magazine .
Paco & Lola, Albarino, Rias Baixas, Spain, 2010
Clean and textured. Seductive exotic palate of pineapple and mango intermingled with refreshing citrus flavors amplified by minerally accents. Silky, but yet full bodied, with long lingering finish. Round and very tasty.
Chateau Ste. Michelle Eroica Riesling, 2011 Columbia Valley, Washington, USA
This Riesling exhibits aromas and flavors of white peach, grapefruit and sweet lime with subtle mineral notes. The mouth-watering acidity is beautifully balanced by beautiful bright fruit and flavorful Washington Riesling fruit with crisp acidity and enhanced mineralilty.
Potel Aviron Fleurie Vieilles Vignes 2009
Ripe, gorgeously feminine, silky and pure, Fleurie is the quintessential Cru Beaujolais. This wine is very fruity and floral while keeping great structure. Berry and flower aromas are followed by strawberry, black raspberry, mineral and dried flower flavors with a meaty savory character and gritty tannins.
Guy Saget Chinon Marie de Beauregard 2009, Loire Valley, France
Marie de Beauregard Chinon is a deep ruby wine that offers black fruits (blackberry, blueberry, blackcurrant) delicately shaded by leather and vanilla. Powerful and racy, it offers modern-style toast, with dark cocoa and graphite notes folowed by a core of sweet plum, cassis, bitter cherry, with smoldering tobacco and tapenade notes.
Four JGs Cabernet Franc 2008, Outer coastal Plain, Colts Neck, NJ, USA
Four JGs Cabernet Franc 2008 has a spicy aroma reminiscent of plums and spices. The grapes were grown during the dry, hot summer of 2008 on the Four JG Vineyards in Colts Neck, New Jersey. After fermentation, the wine was stored in American Oak barrels for 9 months adding a hint of chocolate
Tir Na Nog Old Vines Grenache 2008, McLaren Vale Australia
This medium- to full-bodied Grenache has intense aromas of mulberries, figs and kirsch over touches of baking spices, game and Ceylon tea. Fleshy black raspberry and boysenberry preserves are followed by cola flavors show a good backbone of medium level silky tannins and crisp acid. Finishes velvety and sweet, with lingering spiciness.