How To Pair Wine With Summer BBQ

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Barbecuing is a year-round event in California, however, nothing says summertime more than firing up the grill, donning your canvas apron, and whipping up a full menu of food fit for outdoor dining. Due to the bold flavors and myriad options of meat, dressings and side dishes, choosing that perfect wine can elevate your simple yard-based culinary skills to a whole new level. Here is our essential guide to pairing wine with all of your favorite BBQ elements.

The Meats

Let’s go ahead and assume all of your favorite carnivorous options are going on the grill or served in a way that’s fit for an outdoor party; potentially strong-flavored and ready to be devoured as soon as possible.

•Beef: As the quintessential red meat BBQ, you’re going to want to stick to wine with higher tannins. This compliments the fattiness of the protein and balances the heavy richness. If you’re preparing steak, definitely stick to a full-flavored red like a Napa Cabernet, but for something like a hamburger you can play more with what pairs well depending on your toppings and fixings.

Insider’s Tip: Napa’s own Louis M. Martini’s silky smooth Cabernet Sauvignon is what we would pick up for a perfectly cooked steak or even a slow-cooked shredded beef sandwich.

•Pork: This is a meat that tends to get a lot of seasoning, especially on the spicy side, which will balance nicely with a drier red. On the flip side, some chefs tend to flavor pork with a sweeter palate in mind to highlight the natural sugars in the meat. If this is the case, steer towards a low-tannin red or white wine with a punch of fruit and acidity to match.

Insider’s Tip: Inglenook’s 2015 Blancaneaux offers a palate of crisp flavors of tropical fruits. Notes of pineapple, guava, and passion fruit always go well with pork.

•Chicken: For the most part, the leaner the meat you’re barbecuing the lighter the wine can be. Since chicken is the go-to lean meat, you’re going to want a white wine. Nothing beats Chardonnay with perfectly cooked chicken from the grill. If you’re thinking about fried chicken then pick up a rose which will complement the greasier, but more savory style.

Insider’s Tip: With hints of vanilla oak and stone fruit, you’ll find that Bennett Lane’s Los Carneros San Giacomo Vineyard Reserve Chardonnay will bring out the herbal side of your chicken dish.

•Lamb: This is a more intricate tasting meat and should definitely be thought of in terms of sauce (see below). For the most part, because of this profile, it can be fairly versatile with pairing. A medium-bodied red is a safe bet if you’re leaning heavily into spices, like a Syrah or Malbec. Or you can pick up a classic California Cabernet Sauvignon for a perfect compliment to big flavors.

Insider’s Tip: With layers of mint and raspberry, the Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon is a bright selection for the complex subtleties of an elevated lamb dish.

•Fish: Enjoying a warm summer day, or sticking to dietary restrictions, fish is a fabulous option for the grill. For snapper and salmon, Pinot Noir is a fantastic option for grilled fish. Hints of oak work fabulously with the taste of fresh fish, so if you’re going to go white, lean towards a California Chardonnay. Other seafood (oysters or grilled shrimp anyone?) pairs very well with a Riesling or a Sauvignon Blanc.

Insider’s Tip: A nice medium-bodied Pinot from Domaine Carneros will add a delicate savory finish to grilled fish and be a light addition to an intentionally un-heavy meal.

The Sauce

The meat is a great place to start pairing, but it can end up in the spit bucket if you haven’t thought through to the end product on the plate. Knowing what you’re dipping those proteins in is a major factor in choosing the perfect wine for the meal.

•Spicy BBQ: Some of the hottest barbecue sauces, even though they’re delicious, can make choosing a wine hard. In this case, choose a semidry California Riesling or a chilled white Zinfandel. Plus it might take the bite off those five-alarm chicken wings.

•Tangy Sauces: If the base of your sauce has molasses, brown sugar, or Asian influences like Hoisin or Korean BBQ, then be sure to pair with fruity wines like a jam-packed Shiraz or a Sonoma Syrah.

•Green Sauces: More of the Middle Eastern and Mediterranean spices, sauces that feature mint, garlic rosemary or chimichurri can be a treat on BBQ favorites like kebabs or steak. Aim for a medium-tannin red with a smooth, fruity finish like a Malbec or other Spanish varietals.