Red, White, and Pink! The Best Wines for Summer Barbecue Pairings

grilling and wineGrilling season is upon us, and for some of us, a Bud Light, potato salad, and burgers with American cheese are perfectly acceptable.

If, however, you’re like us, and prefer a bit classier of a menu, here are a few tips on how to pair wines with barbecue.

Although red wines are normally drunk during cooler months, they can pair well with grilled and smoked dishes. If you take the time to consider what those foods taste like, choosing the right wine will become an easier process.

Here is a list of barbecue inspired flavors that will pair with wines:

  • Smoky – grilled and smoked meats, as well as vegetables like zucchini, peppers, and onions
  • Sweet – brown sugar based barbecue sauces, caramelized onions, and desserts
  • Salt – will enhance tart fruits and citrus notes in wines like chardonnay or chenin blanc
  • Fats  – butter bastes, bacon, cheese, sausages, kielbasas, salmon, and some shellfish
  • Spicy – roasted poblanos, horseradish, and some high acid vinegars
  • Earthy (umami) – beef, game, mushrooms, asparagus, and cheese fall into this category
  • Tart/tangy – mustards, vinegar and citrus bastes, as well as citrus based desserts

If you’re working with steaks on the grill, think about pairing those earthy, smoky notes with a big bold red. A Malbec from Argentina, or a Chilean Cabernet will pair well. Grilling fish, or vegetarian dishes? Try a lighter pinot noir, an unoaked chardonnay, or a South African chenin blanc. Grilled eggplant is also simply delicious with an aged merlot.

Big reds to pair with barbecue meats:

Los Vascos Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 ($11.99) from Colchagua Valley, Chile

From the Bordeaux vineyards of Baron de Rothschild, this winery produces many of the highest rated (and still affordable) wines in Chile. A 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, this ruby red wine has a medium body, and high acid, pairing well with red meats and game. The nose is fruity and fresh, with notes of black pepper, nutmeg, and spice. It is juicy and full-bodied, a very easy to drink summer red wine.

Pair this wine with angus beef burgers topped with Gruyere swiss and portobello mushrooms, or even a bleu cheese and arugula burger with grilled red onions.

Aruma 2011 Malbec ($15.99) from Mendoza, Argentina

This big, dark red wine complements both savory and sweet dishes with its complex palate of red fruits, raspberries, and plums. You’ll notice hints of vanilla, with a smoky, cocoa bouquet, and a round, juicy finish. This wine is highly concentrated, and will pair with everything from a medium rare steak on the grill, to barbecued ribs, and even dessert, like a dark chocolate flourless cake (we love this chocolate olive oil cake from Nigella Lawson). It’s 100% Malbec grapes, and will cellar well for the next 2-3 years.

Cakebread Cellars 2009 Merlot ($54) from Napa Valley, California

This highly acclaimed wine pulls out all the stops, and will impress even the most particular of dinner guests. This aged merlot is full bodied, and deeply complex, with notes of black fruits, vanilla, and black tea. Flavors of cocoa, spice, and tart red fruits are present. A blend of 95% Merlot and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon, the slightly higher alcohol content and high acidity is a perfect match with grilled lamb or tea smoked duck. 90+ points, cellar now through 2015.

Whites to pair with poultry, fish, and vegetarian:

Les Charmes Mâcon-Lugny Chardonnay 2010 ($14.99) Burgundy, France

Fresh & crisp in the mouth, this white wine has floral and fruity aromas with citrus and aromas reminiscent of muscat grapes. Rich, and full bodied, Le Charmes is an unoaked Chardonnay with great structure and a bit of spice, complementing everything from sausage dishes, to sea bass, and crispy grilled chicken. Well balanced and very drinkable, you’ll want this wine poolside all summer long.

Kopke Douro Vinho Branco 2010 ($15.99) from Douro Valley, Portugal

This  bright, citrusy white from Portugal will shine with anything from scallops and grilled calamari, to asparagus with lemon, and grilled peaches or nectarines with ice cream for dessert.

A blend of Arinto (a high acid grape varietal), Gouveia, and Rabigato, this dry white wine is medium bodied, bright, and perfect for a warm summer evening. Palate shows hints of citrus and peach with a touch of sweetness, and a crisp finish.

Arnaldo Caprai Grecante Grechetto 2011 ($18.99) from Umbria, Italy

High in minerality and made from 100% Grechetto grapes, this wine is one of our favorites for pairing with oysters and salads. A grilled peach and goat cheese salad with shallot rubbed croutons would pair well. Perfect for drinking after dinner on the patio with a simple fruit and cheese plate, this wine is one of our top choices for summer barbecues.

And then there was pink!

Most rosé wines aren’t exactly meant for pairings with smoky, red meats or heavy fare, but unlike their confusing non-counterpart, the ‘other pink wine’ (aka, white Zinfandel-this is fortified wine, people-read: leftover stuff they sweetened and bottled), rosé wines can be a tart, refreshing, and quite brilliant pairing for hot weather foods. Pair them with fish, chicken, and lots and lots of vegetarian options for a very happy, and entirely impressed, guest list.

Our top summer rosé wine picks include:

Seasonal availability – l’escargot rose 2012 ($12.99) from Côtes de Gascogne, France

Made from 70% Grenache and 30% Syrah blend, this is a seriously sexy wine. It’s color is pale, and elegant. Profile is structured, dry, and crisp. Flavors of limestone and clay provide great minerality-an indicator for French grown Grenache grapes (the main varietal for this wine). This pale rosé is the result of very delicate handling-from picking to pressing, followed by cool fermentation in stainless steel.

Color is a delicate, pale salmon pink. Nose is citrus with small raspberries and herbs. Soft, seductive, and fresh. A perfect wine for summer and outdoor weddings.

Halter Ranch Rose 2011, ($19, $15.20 for wine club members), Paso Robles, California

On the other end of the color spectrum is this bright, juicy rosé from California. Unlike other California rosé wines that can be rather sweet and cloying, this summer sipper is balance with a blend of Grenache, Mourvèdre, Picpoul Blanc (to add a crisp, zest finish), and Syrah (for depth of flavor). Staying within their typical Rhône style, this Grenache-based wine immediately reminds us of wild raspberries or strawberries, melon, as well as guava and tart cherry notes. It’s refreshing, juicy, and finishes dry. A perfect wine to pair with grilled veggies and cheeses, this is our go-to pink for summer!

No matter what your choice of wines this summer, remember that there are no set rules, you can drink what you like, and that like any meal, a summer barbecue is a perfect time to pop open a bottle and try something new with friends.

Wine samples provided by Pasternak Wines, Cakebread Cellars, Arnaldo Caprai, Kopke and Halter Ranch.

About Editor

Cassandra Rosen is the co-founder and Editor for Crave Local Media Network, an internationally recognized food, wine, and lifestyle blog. With a diverse career including international finance, design, and architecture, Cassandra has put her expertise at understanding buyer purchasing patterns and strategic partnerships to work for highly successful startups, as well as Fortune 500 brands. As a food and wine expert and judge, she has consulted on industry topics and cocktail trends for Bravo TV, Shape, Prevention, Reader's Digest, Swaay, Brides Magazine, and more. Along with her husband, she is now co-founder and lead partner at FK Interactive, a wine and spirits brand consulting and product development agency, located in Winter Park, Florida. She specializes in consumer analytics and strategic partnerships, and volunteers in the community each weekend as an educator.


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