Barbecues and outdoor cookouts have their own special challenges when it comes to pairing wines with the meal, especially if the outdoor heat index seems to match the inside of your grill.
STORY: Mary Ann DeSantis PHOTOS: Fred Lopez+Matthew Gaulin
Red wine lovers unite! Just because it’s hot outside doesn’t mean you must give up red wines and replace them with crispy whites or summer sparklers. In fact, now is the time to try some new wines with that juicy, sizzling steak hot off the grill.
“Red wine sales fall a little in summer but not as much as you would think,” says Jerome Brouhard, sommelier and manager for Maggie’s Attic in Mount Dora. “There is still a huge demand, and people do love their cabernets.”
Brouhard also recommends Argentinian malbec to complement grilled beef.
“Argentina is known for its beef,” he says, “so it’s not a surprise that malbec pairs well with beef dishes any time of year. Malbecs also have a lot of the same characteristics as cab and merlot.
For rich barbecue dishes, Brouhard is a fan of shiraz (Australian) or syrah (American). This varietal has both savory and sweet spices that come through and often echo the spices found in barbecue sauces.
Red zinfandel — with its deep fruit and bold spice flavors — is another excellent choice to pair with anything barbecued, blackened, flame-broiled, smoked or sizzled. The spicy complexity of zinfandels brings out the flavors of the grill. Affectionately considered “America’s grape,” zinfandels began their journey as California jug wines shortly after Prohibition ended in 1933. They were used mostly in generic red blends but today have almost achieved cult status among oenophiles. It’s not unusual to find wine clubs completely devoted to tasting zins only, and many top producing zinfandel regions, such as Sonoma’s Dry Creek Valley and Russian River Valley, are making cellar-worthy zinfandels.
The secret to pairing wines with summer fare is to match the texture and intensity of the food with an equally complex or simple wine. For example, chardonnay is the right choice for a basic shrimp scampi. Throw in a little red pepper and garlic to the same dish, however, and zinfandel might be a better match; the spicy notes in the wine complement the pepper in the scampi.
Of course, there are summer menus when only a light and refreshing wine will do. Personally, I think a chilled, crisp sauvignon blanc is the perfect poolside wine with or without food. If you do need a snack, try it with a tangy and light goat cheese for a classic combination.
Other flavorful summer pairings include cerviche and sauvignon blanc, lemon chicken with Pouilly-Fume, and fried green tomatoes with French Sancerre. In fact, Brouhard recommends Sancerre with grilled fish, shrimp or chicken. Named for their growing regions in France’s Loire Valley, both Sancerre and Pouilly-Fume are really sauvignon blancs, although the grape is not usually listed on the label. Sancerre tends to be more delicate and have a mineral taste while Pouilly-Fume is smoky and earthy.