From the depths of the backyard, you hear beer worshippers’ emphatic cries that brew is the quintessential grilling beverage. People mechanically reach for a brew when lighting up the charcoal, especially when glazing meat with spicy, tomato-based sauces, but wine has earned some cred for pairing with food.
Just look at the rest of the world to see how food respects wine. Even brew-loving Germans sip wine with their meals, saving the heavier, carbonate-laden beverage for brau haus visits. Italians consume wine with every meal, as do the French and Swiss. And although Americans tend to do it Our Way, we might learn some things from cultures that have been drinking us under the table for hundreds of years.
The main rule of thumb in food and wine pairing is “match the sauce.” Grilling chicken with a lemony, herb marinade needs something equally as tart but with some body, like French White Bordeaux or California Sauvignon Blanc. If you slather a fruit-based glaze on your bird, even better because fruit loves the fruit in a slightly chilled Australian Shiraz. Anything spicy begs for a peppery wine like Syrah, Zinfandel or Riesling to stand up to the heat. Cheeseburgers, steaks and other protein-rich dishes help to smooth out the rough edges of tannic wines like Cabernet or Syrah. And a cool, crisp white wine like Sauvignon Blanc counterbalances the oiliness of grilled salmon or shrimp. For some freaky wine-geek fun, slosh down smoky-sweet ribs with a highly acidic Italian Pinot Grigio.
Think outside the keg. Just because Big Beer has brainwashed all of us, including me, into thinking beer is the only accompaniment to grilled meat — it doesn’t mean we have to agree. Explore a little and you just might find a new grilling heaven.