Lane Nieset
July 01, 2011

Summer entertaining is supposed to appear effortless, but it can be tricky navigating the wine aisle when preparing for a barbecue or summer soiree. Wondering which wine pairs well with a side like potato salad? Belinda Chang, the Wine Director at The Modern in New York City, suggests trying a white wine blend, also called an Edelzwicker in Alsace.

I caught up with Belinda to find out more summer wine pairing tips a few days after she won the 2011 James Beard award for Outstanding Wine Service at The Modern. To celebrate, they traded in Champagne for “an ocean’s worth” of Cremant d’Alsace. “Everyone thinks of Champagne as a really great celebratory wine,” she says. “But there’s nothing that really speaks to us at The Modern than a bottle of Cremant d’Alsace.”

What is your favorite wine for summer?

I love anything that’s really bright and has great acidity. I find myself reaching for any white wines that have that really great refreshing quality to them. So I think Pinot Blanc, Riesling, [and] Pinot Gris are the greatest things to drink right now, especially since we’re going from all the great spring green vegetables and all those incredible seasonal ingredients into summer ingredients. Those are sort of the wines of those two seasons. They’re the perfect thing for all the things we want to eat based on what’s local and what’s in season.

What are some of your favorite food and wine pairings for the summer?

One of my favorite things to make is gazpacho and this comes from the days when I lived in San Francisco. There are some great winemakers like Brian Talley who are not only winemakers, but they also grow tomatoes and limes and peppers. He would always bring me a box of produce…so I would have the fresh flavors of right-off-the-farm produce and throw it into the blender and make it into gazpacho. I love those really bright flavors of things like Riesling and Muscat. I think those wines so beautifully showcase all the fresh produce flavors and really show the ripeness of all this great bounty we get during the spring and summer.

Do you have any suggestions for wine pairings at a barbecue?

At a barbecue, you can have all kinds of seafood, meats, and vegetables, but what everything does have in common is that you get a little bit of this char—this grilled flavor. You either want to echo that smoky flavor, which you can do with a lot of different styles of wine, or you want to add a sort of fruit flavor. A fruity flavor with that charred, grilled smokiness is a really nice counterpoint.

What do you suggest pairing with summer sides, like potato salad?

All of these things (corn salad, tomato salad, and succotash) tend to have really good assorted flavors. People use vinegar-based dressings that have good acidity. You want to make sure you’re choosing wines that have really awesome acidity to them as well. When you’re dealing with some kind of vegetable salad that has a lot of different components and you have a lot of different flavors to deal with, it’s good to use a white that likewise has a blend of different grape varietals, so you have something to deal with every one of the flavors in your salad.

Do you have any summer entertaining tips?

It’s always good to keep it pretty simple. If you have a lot of different wines, put out one at a time. You want everyone to get to try what you’re trying to highlight. Choose one great red that you think will be awesome with everything you’re serving and maybe one great white.

What are some of the challenges when choosing a wine for the summer?

Your palate is very seasonal. You want really fresh, clean flavors in your whites. You might want to stay away from white wines that have a lot of oak. In the summer, you want naked white wines—really fresh and clean.

Is there anything you would never pair together?

If I learned anything in my 15 years in practicing this game of food and wine pairing, it’s that you never know. Sometimes you have the greatest epiphanies and most exciting discoveries when you go totally outside of your comfort zone and try something that you don’t think will work.

Check out MyRecipes for more summer wine pairing tips.

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