(This story originally appeared in 5/27 issue of Dan's Papers)
Beer. Lager. Ale. It’s what most Americans serve with grilled fare at their weekend BBQs, and with good reason. It’s cold, refreshing and a great thirst quencher on a steamy summer day. Beyond beer, you might serve margaritas or maybe even sangria, but wine in its pure state doesn’t make much of an appearance when we fire up our grills.
Maybe the outdoor setting, the primitive pleasure of open fire cooking, and the macho image of grilling pushes wine into the background. But why not serve it? Wine isn’t a snobby, pretentious luxury item, and wine can be the perfect match for grilled food. Plus, it’s not as filling as beer, or as potent as a margarita.
So now that you’ve decided to serve wine at your next barbeque, which ones do you choose? Like any other meal, it really depends on what you’re grilling. Generally though, you shouldn’t serve delicately nuanced wines with foods from the grill. The wine needs to stand up to the bold, fresh flavors found in most rubs and marinades and the charred flavor of grilled meat can overpower a wine’s complexities. Most of the time, it’s best to stick with flavorful, aromatic wines that are fruit forward and generally not heavy on the tannins.
First let’s start with the basics – hamburgers and hotdogs. There’s no reason to spend a lot on wines to pair with these simple, but delicious, foods. Macari Vineyards Collina 48 Merlot ($10) is a juicy, light-bodied red that begs for a burger. Made 100 percent in steel, it is extremely fruity up front with red cherries, raspberries and almost no tannins. Channing Daugthers Winery’s 2004 Fresh Red Merlot ($14) is another soft, fruity red that would work well.
If you don’t like red wine, try a dry Rose. Wolffer Estate Vineyards 2004 Rose ($13) is an excellent example of what Rose can be. It’s crisp, refreshing and interesting on the palate with flavors of strawberries, cherries, apricots and a little grapefruit. Dry but a little creamy at the end because of the addition of a little Chardonnay, it’s well balanced and anything but white Zinfandel.
Serving grilled pork or chicken? Try Jamesport Vineyards’ 2002 Cabernet Franc ($24). Not as complex as their award-winning 2001 Cab Franc, it’s filled with berry aromas and flavors accented with cedar and spice with super smooth tannins that are great with smoky-spicy grilled foods. Broadfields Wine Cellars, Lieb Family Cellars and Peconic Bay Winery also make tasty, grill-worthy Cab Franc.
Steak is considered by many the ultimate in grilled meat, and while you could drink the aforementioned Cabernet Francs with it, Macari Vineyards 2001 Bergen Road ($40) a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec, deep and rich with berry and chocolate flavors has more noticeable tannins that stand up well to charred beef. While many Long Island Cabernet Sauvignons tend to be light, everyday reds, the Lenz 2000 Cabernet Sauvignon ($30) is an exquisite exception. It’s ripe, full-bodied and overflowing with blackberry, raspberry and toasty oak flavors. It would be great with grilled lamb or venison.
Here on the Island, we’re lucky to have ready access to ultra-fresh, just-from-the-water shellfish and it’s wonderful on the grill with light sauces or marinades. Lieb Family Cellars 2003 Pinot Blanc Reserve ($17) offers a floral nose with peaches, pear and citrus on the palate and is great with grilled lobster or shrimp. Channing Daughters Winery’s 2004 Pinot Grigio ($18) is practically made for scallops with its pear, lemon and lime flavors with mineral notes and fresh crispness. If you think you don’t like Pinot Grigio, think again. This is nothing like the bland, lemon-water Pinot Grigio you’ve had in the past.
Finally, if you’re serving light fish like halibut or flounder, a zesty, ultra-aromatic white is what you want. Macari Vineyards 2003 “Katherine’s Vineyard” Sauvignon Blanc ($16) fits the bill perfectly with a fresh, clean nose of lime and lemongrass and lively acidity on the palate with lime and kiwi flavors. Other producers of top-flight Long Island Sauvignon Blanc include Raphael, Channing Daughters and Shinn Estate Vineyards.
Keep in mind that any wine, regardless of quality, is going to lose aroma and character if you leave it out in the sun all day. Always keep white wines on ice and red wines in the shade.