Wines to Pair with Your Summer BBQ

By Madeline Blasberg

There is no better aroma than grill smoke lingering in the sultry summer air, and no better beverage to pair with your summer BBQ than a glass of a carefully selected wine.  No matter what you’re throwing on the grill, with these tips you´ll be able to select a delicious bottle to complement your flame-kissed recipes.  To find the wine that best complements the food, the setting, and the easy-going pace of a summertime BBQ, here is what you need to know.

When it comes to finding the perfect wine to pair with your barbeque, all the old school food and wine pairing rules apply.  White wines pair best with lighter fare and milder flavors, and can make an excellent accompaniment for grilled shrimp, seafood, veggies, and chicken.  Medium to full-bodied reds tend to complement red meat items, such as burgers, steaks, ribs, and lamb.  High fat content items (such as salmon, swordfish, ribs) require wines with slightly higher acidity or tannin, that way the wine can cleanse the palate of the unctuous fatty texture and refresh you for the next bite.  Play matchmaker when it comes to flavor profiles, spice intensity, and weightiness – all the while ensuring that neither the wine nor the food completely overpower the other. 

But these old school rules tend to leave the grill master in a lurch.  After all, he is working with two powerful flavor elements: the meat and the sauce that’s slathered on top.  A plain old chicken breast might be an excellent match for a Chardonnay, but brush it with Memphis style BBQ sauce and suddenly it screams out for something entirely different.  Don’t throw the classic pairing principles out the window just yet, but take a look at these tips for finding the perfect wine to pair with your BBQ based on the sauce. 

Barbeque Sauce

Barbeque sauce is the epitome of the culinary trinity: heat, sweet, and acid.  It powers across the palate and coats the mouth with different dimensions of flavor: not at all an easy opponent for a wine to take on.  Mild barbeque sauce can pair nicely with a bottle of Zinfandel, which offers black pepper notes, medium acidity and firm tannins that can go toe-to-toe with your red meat BBQ. 

On the other hand, BBQ short ribs pair spectacularly with a more aggressively tannic Cabernet Sauvignon.  The tannins are tempered by the high fat of the short ribs while the lush fruit and slight spice of the Cabernet complement your homemade sauce. 

Note: When it comes to toning down a seriously spicy sauce, reach for a slightly sweeter wine - your tongue will thank you for putting out the fire. 

Spice rubs

Cool climate Syrah tends to capture the inherent spiced quality of this grape variety, while still contributing meaty notes and zesty fruit flavors.  Poultry spice rubs pair especially well with pinot noir, a wine widely considered as the most food-friendly pairing option.

Citrus Marinade

Sauvignon Blanc is an excellent choice to pair with citrus sauces, lemony marinades, or to accompany fish grilled with slices of citrus fruit.  This grape varietal has lemon, lime, and herbaceous qualities that also make it an excellent companion for herbed marinades, including parsley, dill, cilantro, rosemary, or basil. 

Smoked meats

If you’re planning to enjoy smoked meats this summer, you´ll want a wine that pairs with the smoke but doesn’t overpower the subtle nuances of its flavor.  Red zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon echo back the smoky notes and weave in sweet notes of lush red fruit and gentle black pepper and cardamom flavors.

In the end however, all the rules, tips, and reading can’t guide you better than simply following your gut.  Choose the wines and flavors that you find delicious, then pour yourself a glass and enjoy making your summer grilling a little more glam.

Madeline Blasberg is a Certified Wine Consultant currently working as an Official Wine Commentator & Reviewer for Etching Expressions, a company specializing in personalized wine bottles. She has spent time living in Mendoza, Argentina where she was surrounded by wine, both personally and professionally.

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