It’s time once again to embrace, or conquer, the heat for Memorial Day. Not sure how this somber holiday got associated with grillin’ and chillin’ ’round the pool, but I’m cool with having the day off, slurping down wine and wolfing seasoned, seared meats. But it brings up the question of what to drink – red, white or brewed? When it comes to beer versus wine, wine kicks ass in the food-pairing department. Something about the natural fruit acids and tannins helps meld together and tame strong seasonings and flavors, especially on protein-laden grill goodies. And with no carbonation — except in sparkling — it should have been the original “tastes great, less filling” beverage.
Lighter whites, such as sauvignon blanc and pinot gris/grigio, can get any party started but also match seafood items like grilled shrimp and fish. Dry rosés, far from the sweet and wimpy rep they’ve been branded with, help quench the thirst built up under a sweltering sun, but also drink happily with shellfish. Move into oilier grilled fish like salmon, though, and you’ll want to pour a light red, like pinot noir.
Reds really enter the ring when eating barbequed vittles. Think bold and beautiful like The Rock. Also think how you should match your wine with the sauce on the meat, rather than the meat itself, since the sauce will be the dominant taste component. The smoky-sweet stuff we slather on grilled beef or chicken is far from wimpy, so your wine shouldn’t be either. Think something that sings with fruit, with plenty of pepper and spice (not tannic and oaky), to stand up to all that brawn. Zinfandel and syrah/shiraz are considered classic BBQ wines because they have lots of fruit and spice, without too much oak and tannin to cloud flavor. But if you’re feeling exotic, pop open a smoky Spanish Rioja or California tempranillo (the grape in Rioja). For those wanting to stay in their comfort zone, medium- to full-bodied merlots are also good matches for BBQ fare — especially brats and other delicious fat-full sausages.
A quick tip for the barbeque scene: it’s OK to use plastic cups, but avoid Styrofoam — all you’ll taste is wine-scented Styrofoam.
Although your first inclination might be to reach for a cold brew at your Memorial Day barbeque, resist the urge. Brainwashed though we might be, beer isn’t the best beverage for food. You don’t need fancy labels or discussions – only friends and a few favorite bottles to enjoy.
Recommended BBQ Wines
Sebastiani 1999 Merlot Sonoma County
Blended with 18 percent cabernet sauvignon, this wine has loads of flavor depth, with coffee, dark juicy cherry and lovely, even tannins. Great value at $15. 3 stars.
Geyser Peak 2002 Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley
Like walking barefoot across soft, green grass. Luscious tropical fruit, tinged with a touch of grassiness. $12. 3 stars.
Starve Dog Lane 2000 Shiraz Adelaide Hills
A bigger, more complex shiraz than the average Aussie bottle. Dark cherry cola mixed with some earthy soil and oak. Truly complex with layers of depth and elegant flavor. Nice price. $20. 3 stars.
Bell 2001 Syrah Sierra Foothills
Dark cherry, chocolate, full flavor, nice, even structure, elegant, sultry, long fruity finish is phenomenal. $22. 4 stars.
R Stuart 2002 Pinot Noir Willamette Valley
Lovely, lush pinot full of fruit: blueberry and strawberry, with cushiony tannins. Drinkable all day long, with or without food. Worth the price tag. $30. 4 stars.
Zaca Mesa 2001 Cuvee Z Santa Ynez Valley
A spicy, firm syrah blend begging for BBQ. Fruit highlights include blueberry, blackberry and delicious raspberry. $16. 3 stars.