Throw Another Wine on the Barbie!

By Sunny Brown on July 8, 2005

Category: Food and Wine Pairing

So the dog days of summer have arrived and folks everywhere have donned Hawaiian shirts and headed out to the back forty. The charcoal has been laid, the lighter fluid sprayed and more than a few arm hairs have been singed. Burning flesh aside, its time for the Barbeque! Across many a sun-drenched vista beers that are buried in buckets of ice will glisten in the hot summer sun. Fruity drinks will call out from their homes beneath parasols stuck in coconuts and pineapples for patio dwellers to come and quench their thirst. Even Gatorade has a home at the picnic table. But what about the wine? Must we wait until the sun has set and another season of bad golf behind us before we can enjoy our delicious, grape-flavored beverages?

No way, grill master! There are plenty of wonderful wines that pair well with foods that have seen the mesmerizing dance of an open flame. So which wines to choose? What pairs well with descriptors like "charred," "smoky" and "just plain burnt?" While this last one may be a bit tough (just like your steak if this is how you like it) the rest can be easily accommodated with a wide range of wines, including the most American of wines paired with the most American of pastimes: BBQ and Zinfandel.

There can be no greater pairing in the back yard than that of BBQ and Zinfandel. While Zinfandel may be able to trace its roots back to Croatia, it is in the United States that it has found a home and fortune. The same can be said for the trusty old Weber that sits perched on the back patio, just waiting to ingest a few briquettes and spit back some grilled goodies. Man may have found fire long ago, but Dad is the one who has truly mastered it.

Zinfandel has often been described as having flavor components that range from peppery to sweet to smoky. Sound like anything else you know? How about a good BBQ sauce? The savory and beautiful flavors of perfectly-done BBQ chicken or ribs calls out for a bold and brash wine. Zinfandel can answer the bell. Try this recipe with a big but balanced Zin like the Fritz from Dry Creek Valley.

Best Ribs
Fritz Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley 2002

But what about all the other tasty treats that come with perfectly parallel grill marks? There are as many wines to try as there are recipes to hone, but let’s start with a few of the best and easiest.


The Ultimate Bruschetta
Cosumano Inzolia Sicilia IGT 2003

The operative word here is fresh. Fresh garlic, plum tomatoes and basil work wonderfully with the savory feel of the grilled bread. Add to this the full flavors of the Inzolia mixed with a zippy finish and you have a lovely summertime combo. The acidity in the wine is the key — in addition to the acids bringing out the flavor in the food they also convey a light and lively feel, great for a warm afternoon.

Citrus Grilled Jumbo Scallops
Josef Leitz Riesling Spätlese Rheingau Rüdesheimer Berg Schlossberg 2001

While the scallops would make an excellent entrée they would be delicious as a first course when paired with the Leitz Riesling. The Riesling may have lots of fruit, but with all that snappy acidity and earthy minerals there is no way it can be called fruity.

Grilled Asparagus with Garlic and Parmesan
Domaine de Saint Laurent de l'Abbaye Pouilly-Fumé 2001

Normally a tough veggie to pair a wine with, here the asparagus receives a touch of natural sweetness that is brought out by the grill. The herbs and grass of the Pouilly-Fumé are a natural match to the bitter flavors of the asparagus.

Main Courses

Grilled Pickerel Fillet with Warm Ontario Fall Salad
Frank Family Vineyards Chardonnay Napa Valley 2000

For a fish dish with this much going on a wine of equal complexity is called for. The Frank Family Chardonnay in this case is a fine combination of Old World and New, with hints of ripe tropical fruits that have been balanced with a lighter texture and a steely frame.

Angie's Sweet and Wild Bourbon-Grilled Salmon
Morgan Pinot Noir Double L Vineyard 2003

The secret to this song and dance is the blend of a heavy and rich fish with an elegant and silky red wine. Red wine with fish? Absolutely, especially if you can find a nice Pinot Noir that has the grace of a Volnay, the fruit of a Napa Pinot, and the earth of a Pommard. Not easy to do, but sublime when successful. For an added treat give your Pinot a slight chill before serving. The drop in temperature will enhance the flavors while taming the tannins.

Garlic and Oregano Grilled Pork Tenderloin
Step Rd. Shiraz Langhorne Creek 2002

Always a great match for the grill, here the ripe and rich flavors of the Step Rd. Shiraz can turn the two-step with just about any pork-flavored product you like. Pork tenderloin is one of my favorites as the meat is lean and flavorful, yet usually priced at a fraction of the cost of a filet of beef.

Grilled Lamb Chops Scottaditti with Pom Pom Mushrooms
Château Berliquet Saint-Émilion 1996

Lamb and Bordeaux go together like tongs and bratwurst, or whichever cliché you prefer to denote a happy couple. The elegance of the lamb needs a wine that is silky yet strong, and the Berliquet is just the quaff to discuss Mozart from the back of a horse. The garlic may be a tad much, but the mint, smoke, and mushrooms found in the dish can also be found in the vino.

Charcoal Grilled Porterhouse with Achiote Potato Gratin
Kuleto Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2000

The Granddaddy of the grill needs a wine that can be called the “head of the household.” Cabernet and a large piece of grilled beast is one of the best examples of the harmony between foodstuffs from the grill and fine wines. The proteins and fats in the steak tame the tannins in the wine and bring out the full flavors of the Cab. Conversely, only a wine as big and tannic as the Keluto Cabernet will stand up to the dense and meaty flavors of the porterhouse. Any lesser wine would be lost.

When in doubt, drink beer! Just kidding. Wines have their place in the backyard as much as any other beverage, as the complexity of a nice glass of wine can match the layers of flavor from the grill better than any beer could in its wildest dream. The savory and smoky flavors that accentuate your feast can do just as much for a fine bottle of vino. Like all wine and food pairings, a combination of similar weights and flavors can elevate an excellent dish and a great bottle of wine to heavenly heights of gastronomy. But what it all boils down to, no pun intended, is whiling away a lazy afternoon on the lawn or by the pool with some friends, some grub and some wine. Now that doesn’t sound half bad. Who needs a beer anyway?