Wine Pairings for Summer Grilling

Barbecue time is finally here—and BBQ means summer entertaining. Yahoo!

Wondering what libations to serve with your grilled goodies? When you pair wines with BBQ and grilled foods, many of the usual principles of pairing wine and food apply, but being summer, the rules lighten up a bit. It’s time to kick back and relax!

With barbecued and grilled foods, the perfect wine is as much about creating balance and synergy of flavors as it is about the intoxication of hot lazy summer days. You don’t want one taste element to dominate another, yet you also want to soak in the sun, fun and friends, rejoicing that summer is finally here. If you move through the brief lineup of wines below, from lightest to fullest, you’re sure to find a few that’ll enhance not only your food, but also your mood.

One big tip: When it comes to grilling and barbecuing, remember that the dominant flavors are often found in the rubs, sauces and glazes, not in the specific meat itself.

Whites and Lights

One of the most adaptable wines for summertime grilling of any kind is sparkling wine. With its charming acidity and sprightly flavors, it’s a great way to get the party started. Try a Cava, such as the Anna de Cordiniu Cava , a Spanish sparkling wine that’s lovely and reasonable, generally under $10, and bursting with refreshing citrus flavors. A barbecue doesn’t necessarily warrant expensive Champagne, but bubbles are always welcome.

Moving along to a starter, such as a salad with grilled peppers or scallions, I generally reach for a white or rosé. Riesling is by far the most versatile white and I adore those from Alsace, but a rosé or light red is also a great choice. A dry rosé, like the Sonoma Coast’s Crossbarn by Paul Hobbs 2013 Rosé of Pinot Noir , is an incredibly fruity but restrained wine that pairs easily with anything from summer salads and grilled chicken to smoked pork. I also recently enjoyed the Clif Family Grenache , a lighter red with nice minerality and a bit more body than typical, helped by a dose of Zinfandel added for structure.

Fichimori  from Puglia, Italy is another fun wine for lighter grilled dishes and is meant to be served chilled. It’s a tasty blend of primarily Negroamaro grapes (native to southern Italy) with a touch of Syrah. Flavors of pomegranate, tart cherry and rose make it a lovely summer sipper and the cool temperature is a bonus. Akin to a Beaujolais, the Fichimori is bright enough to stand up to a moderate barbeque sauce but can also work as a rosé alternative.

Reds With Stamina

Now let’s talk about the real barbecue—ribs, steaks and chops—that defines the technique for many. Never fear, the fruit bombs are on their way. The robust flavors of these dishes certainly call for big wines, but also for wines that are wonderfully silky and velvety for maximum enjoyment. One of my picks in this category is the small batch Cenyth , an elegant Bordeaux-style blend (predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon) from Sonoma. Made by famous French winemaker Pierre Seillan’s daughter Hélène, it’s deep ruby in color, with intense flavors of rich plums, cherries and currants. It’s a crowd pleaser to be sure.

Another lesser-known category of bolder reds hail from Umbria, Italy, made from the Sagrantino grape. These grapes grow in the scenic hills of Montefalco in this stunning part of Italy. Thanks to the opening of Eataly Chicago, with their enormous selection of handpicked Italian products, we now have a range of these wines to choose from: Antonelli San Marco, Perticaia and Scacciadiavoli, to name a few.

Remember, it’s not always about the food. Keep in mind all the things you’re doing at a barbecue, i.e. socializing, laughing and otherwise enjoying a lovely day. The wine world is your oyster. Pop a cork and enjoy your next barbeque with friends and family—and good wine, of course.