Wine Pairings for Grilled Foods
Bring out the best in your summer menu by serving the perfect wine with grilled chicken, seafood, steak, and more.
Sara Schneider, Wine Editor for Sunset Magazine, Wine, Food & Friends by Karen MacNeil ©2006 Oxmoor House, Inc.
Tips from the Expert
When it comes to summer, everything is more relaxed, including the tried-and-true rules for red and white wines. Flavorful rubs and zesty marinades are made to add flavor, especially when cooked on the grill. Sara Schneider, Wine Editor for Sunset Magazine, shares what wines to pair with your grilled fare.
Steak: Gin and Spice Flank Steak
This dish calls for both berries and gin, giving it a double-dose of juniper that makes it a natural for a dark, cedary Cabernet Sauvignon. A straight, young Cab can have pretty firm tannins that would make all the black peppercorns involved taste mighty hot, so go for a slightly rounder Bordeaux-style blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and any of their Bordeaux cousins that come along for the ride (Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, and Malbec).
Tuna: Grilled Tuna with Chipotle Ponzu and Avocado Salsa
The combination of avocados and chipotles has a distinct flavor that can make this dish hard to pair with wine. But there's one that can handle it beautifully: Riesling. The light and fragrant fruit flavor of the wine echoes the orange and lime in the dish's sauce, and the rich texture of the wine stands up nicely to the meaty tuna. Make it a barely off-dry one (Riesling ranges from bone-dry to quite sweet), and even the chipotle chiles won't faze it.
Ribs: Sweet-Hot Baby Back Ribs
Zinfandel is a rib's best friend, hands down. Jammy, dark, and fruity–often with loads of black pepper and spice–it can seem sweet without really being sweet, and that helps with a tangy 'cue sauce. Just make sure the Zinfandel isn't too tannic or high in alcohol, which might push the heat in the sauce over the top.
Pizza: Grilled Salad Pizza
Jump on a great trend with this one: Pour a dry rosé. Pink wine got a bad rap in this country, what with the sweet white-Zinfandel swill that was our first foray into pink territory. But the rest of the wine-drinking world sips dry, crisp rosé all summer. It's a style of wine with enough acidity and enough fruit to go well with vinaigrettes on salads, spicy greens, maybe even artichoke hearts (although that's pushing it for wine; find an herbal, minerally rosé of Syrah and see what you think).
Salmon: Grilled Salmon with Apricot-Mustard Glaze
Pinot Noir is a go-to wine for salmon. It's almost a visceral reaction to the pugent flavors and silky textures of the fish. The wild card in this match is the tangy glaze, but if you choose a New World-style Pinot–in broad strokes, ripe and fruity, in contrast to lean and earthy Pinot Noir from Burgundy–you should have a winner.
Portobello: Grilled Stuffed Portobello Mushrooms
When you're talking about matching wine, mushrooms act a lot like meat; they call for a wine with serious texture, if not flamboyant tannins. In this case, the high-acid tomato stuffing demands that the wine have good acidity too. A mushroomy Pinot Noir would be great–Pinot Noir generally has higher acidity than most other reds, making it the most versatile red wine with food. For more of an adventure, try a Tempranillo. Earthy, often loamy, with deep berry fruit, great textures, and good acidity, Tempranillo is the main red grape in Spain (especially the Rioja and Ribera del Duero regions), and now more and more winemakers in California and Washington State are producing great versions.
Chicken: Grilled Chicken With White Barbecue Sauce
With the herb rub on the chicken and the spicy layers in the sauce, you need a bright, zippy white wine that has layers of citrus and herb flavors, plus a rich enough mouth-feel to match the mayo in the white barbecue sauce. Pinot Gris is the ticket. It's the same grape as Pinot Grigio, but when it's called Pinot Gris, it's generally made in a slightly richer, rounder style than steely Italian Pinot Grigio.
Hamburger: The Classic Burger
Syrah is a favorite burger wine–especially West Coast versions, which tend to be layered with fruit (juicy plums and berries) but smoky at the same time (great for grilled meats of all kinds). Some even have a hint of bacon flavor, which is infinitely healthier than tucking real strips on your burger. Be daring and try a Sparkling Wine. Almost every style of sparkling wine (blanc de blancs, brut, blanc de noirs, rosé) is fabulous with burgers. Just steer clear of the sweet varieties.
Shrimp: Mojito Shrimp
How do you pair all the mint and lime in this marinade? Pour a racy Sauvignon Blanc from California or New Zealand. You need a wine with great acidity, an herbal quality, and citrus flavors–good fruit in general, in fact, to add a fun match for the rum.
Lamb: Apricot Grilled Lamb Kabobs
The sweet fruitiness of the marinade here would kill a wine that didn't have sweet-seeming fruit too. But a dark-fruited, jammy, peppery California Zinfandel would be just right.
Beef Brisket: Texas-Style Smoked Brisket
Smoky brisket might call for smoky beer, as the Jamisons note in their recipe, but it's awfully good with smoky wine too–a lean, spicy cool-climate Syrah; an inky, brooding Malbec from Argentina; or a dark, peppery Merlot from Washington State.