Want to try new wines for summer, but aren’t sure how to find the right style for you? Look no further than our “Drink How You Live” series. In Part 1, we featured “Retro” wines like Soave and Asti Spumante. In Part 2 we are highlighting wines for those who subsist on grilled meats, fish, and veggies all summer long. If you have a well-seasoned grill, oodles of charcoal (or several propane tanks), and neighbors who shut their windows and curse your smoke nightly, then we have some suggestions for you, Grill Master.
First things first, this isn’t the time for delicate or subtle wines. All grilled foods - even fish and vegetables - tend to have strong flavors from marinades, spices, and smoke. This is food that is good with “big”, flavorful wines; these will stand up to the food and flavors without being overwhelmed. For specifics, look to the places where barbecuing is king; I think of the US, Argentina, and Australia.
For reds, each of these countries has a “grilling” grape: Zinfandel (particularly from CA), Malbec, Shiraz. The common characteristics in many resulting wines are ripe and overripe fruit (e.g. berries that almost taste like compote or jam) and high alcohol. Additional, typical flavors are black pepper, plum, cedar and, for shiraz, leather. Does it sound like something you might make into a marinade? It does to me, and that is part of what makes these wines great with grilled chicken, beef, lamb, pork, etc.
While other grapes also produce great wines for grilling, these have the added bonus of being consistent, relatively inexpensive and readily available in the PLCB stores!
But, if you are feeling more adventurous and have a bigger selection from which to choose, there are many others that fit the bill. Sticking with Argentina, Bonarda is a great grape for a barbecue. It offers a brighter (less “jammy”) fruit than do many of those listed above, with all of the spice and earthiness. Some have a nice “smokey” quality that goes particularly well, in my opinion, with grilled meats. Speaking of smoke, one of my favorite grapes for barbecue is Pinotage. Pinotage is a South African hybrid of Pinot Noir and Hermitage (Cinsault). It is not universally loved - in part for its propensity for tar and burning-tire aromas. But, its strong earthiness, ripe berry, and cassis notes make it perfect for grilled meats. Xinomavro comes from one of my favorite wine regions in Greece, Naoussa. The fruits aren’t as pronounced as some of the other wines listed, but has spiciness and acidity to cut through some of the fattier meats on the grill. Xinomavro can be drunk young or aged, but just remember to pair it with a simpler dish if aged.
What if you are putting “another shrimp on the barbie” and would rather have a white wine? No problem. Again, the US, Australia, and Argentina have a plethora of standards. First to mind is that big, buttery Chardonnay that you keep skipping over in the back of the refrigerator. The chardonnay grape is exceptionally “neutral” in flavor and it is the oak that makes it big and flavorful enough for grilling. This is NOT the time for a refined Chablis. Viognier may also work, thought the heady, flowery aroma can be a bit much in the heat. That stand-by, Sauvignon Blanc, is also appropriate for these foods. It has fruit, acid, mineral, and herb that are perfect with grilled shrimp and salads.
What about some less-typical offerings? There are plenty. Sicilian Grillo can be quite full in body, with flavors of apple and pear, citrus and brine. It often has “cheese” on the nose - and a bit in the mouth. Pardillo, from Spain, produces wines a bit like Chardonnay - slightly neutral but with a bigger body. They typically have citrus and acid, and a pleasant bitter nuttiness (think raw almonds). Greek Retsina - wine to which pine resin has been added to grape must during fermentation - is not for everyone. It has a lemony, Pinesol aroma that is not universally agreeable. But, a good retsina has a compelling flavor of pine needles and lemon with acid that cuts through juicy, fatty meats. It also pairs exceptionally well with grilled seafood and shellfish - to which lemon is nearly always a welcome addition.
Of course, there are MANY MORE wines that go well with grilling - including a bevy of rosé wines. Just pick one and relax - its summer!