The Best Wines for Summer Grilling

published Jul 3, 2014
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(Image credit: Jayme Henderson)

If you are one of those rare ones who can drink a dry, dusty Cabernet Sauvignon in the dead heat of summer, more power to you. As for me, sign me up for a wine paired perfectly with my cuisine, as well as the season. Here are some interesting, alternative wines to the commonly suggested, tannic, heavy-hitters often paired with grilled meats in the summertime.

Pairing wines with grilled cuisine is about to become a little more exciting and a lot easier.

What Does Grilling Do to Food?

Grilling is one of the most intense means of cooking food. It is usually performed under high heat, searing the surface, while still preserving all of the available juices and ripeness within.

→ Takeaway Tip: The char is the big factor to consider when pairing wine.

What Else Should I Consider When Pairing Wine with Grilled Cuisine?

  • Consider the weight and texture of the food. Think of a spectrum from “most delicate” to “richest and most savory.” To elaborate even further, think halibut to rib-eye.
  • Consider the ambient temperature. It’s hot outside. Yes, big, full reds are a traditional match for this preparation; however, the summer heat also comes into play, when deciding which wines to pair.
  • Think about refreshment. Tannins in wine are mouth-parching by nature.
  • Consider the sauce or seasoning. Cajun rubs, chimichurri sauce, and barbeque sauces are all forces to be reckoned with when pairing wine with grilled cuisine.
(Image credit: Jayme Henderson)

3 Common Grilled Foods: And What to Drink with Them

1. Shellfish, Vegetables, and Lighter Fish – Of course, crisp, sparkling wines or high-acid, un-oaked whites are the traditional pairing for this cuisine. What you need to consider, yet again, is that the char created from grilling allows you the opportunity to try more robust, oaked styles or light rosés with these foods, when grilled, like this oaked Sauvignon Blanc from Mondavi.

2. Richer Fish (like Salmon), Pork, and Chicken – One of my most memorable experiences in Oregon was enjoying grilled wild salmon with Pinot Noir. The slightly earthier tone and lighter style of Willamette Valley Pinot Noir married perfectly with the robust seafood preparation. Another great option is pairing a fuller-bodied, darker-toned rosé.

3. Savory Meats, like Lamb and Beef – I approach this pairing from two different directions during the summer months. If I am really feeling like a full-bodied red, I tend toward something with a softer finish. My favorite option is California Zinfandel, but Australian Shiraz or Argentine Malbec substitutes nicely. If I am feeling like a drier red, I tend toward wines lighter in body, most commonly European, like Sangiovese from Tuscany or Tempranillo from Spain.

(Image credit: Nealey Dozier)

Great Grilling

There are plenty of grilled recipes at The Kitchn. Here are a few of my favorites:

I know, I know. As you can see from the top photo, my grill needs a deep clean and a tune-up. If you’re in the same predicament, here is how to prepare your grill for the summer season. What other wines do you enjoy, while grilling on a hot summer day? Do you have any suggestions for pairing wines with interesting and different sauces? Any adventurous options for pairing wine with grilled fruit?