Wines for the Memorial Day Barbecue

This time of year, states north of Florida lead the good life. Just in time for the Memorial Day holiday, Mother Nature ushers in mild weather up there while she shoves torrid 90 degrees/80 percent humidity down my throat. But it signals the official beginning of grilling season and that’s always a good thing. So grab what you got in the fridge and get cooking.

Which might be chicken sausages and microbrew, if my current fridge contents are any indication. When it comes to beer versus wine, though, carb-laden ales might slake a sweaty brow but wine bests it in the food-pairing department (yeah, yeah, I’d love to throw down with a beer geek on this topic). There’s something magical about the natural fruit acids and tannins that harmonize strong seasonings, especially sprinkled or spread on meat. Another bonus: No burping or bloating with wine.

Lighter whites, such as sauvignon blanc and albariño, start the party but also pair up with seafood items like grilled shrimp and fish. Dry rosés — far from the sweet and wimpy rep they unfortunately suffer from — quench under the hot sun, but also dance happily with shellfish (or anything else, for that matter).

But, geez, who eats fish on Memorial Day? That’s denying your inner carnivore.

Burgers rock with rosé, but if you’re grilling chicken, pork or beef, remember to match the wine with the sauce on the meat, rather than the meat itself, since it will be the dominant flavor component. The smoky-sweet stuff we slather on grilled protein is far from wimpy, so your drink shouldn’t be either. Choose something that sings with fruit, with plenty of pepper and spice — without overwhelming oak and tannin to cloud flavor — to stand up to all the brawn. Mmmm … zesty zinfandel. Or smooth syrah/shiraz. If you’re feeling exotic, pop open a smoky Spanish Rioja or garnacha. For those wanting to stay closer to their comfort zone, medium- to full-bodied merlots also complement BBQ fare, especially brats and other delicious, fat-full sausages.

Quick tips for the summer barbeque scene: 1) To avoid drinking warm reds that might not be so tasty, chill them in the fridge for 30 minutes to an hour before opening (sure, why not?). The tannins might taste astringent at first but don’t judge until you try it with food; 2) to keep it cold, use a nifty neoprene envelope that fits around the bottle — tried and tested reliable; and 3) if you don’t want to risk glassware breakage, use plastic cups, but shun Styrofoam, it leeches a chemical flavor into the juice.

So wherever you celebrate the holiday, be it in mild weather or hot, start summer the right way — with great wine and grill.


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