Chances are pretty good that you’ll find yourself at a backyard bash, barbecue or picnic in the park this Memorial Day weekend. And, while cold beer is a no-brainer for cookouts, wine selections can be a bit trickier. The average backyard barbecue offers a wide array of flavors and wine-pairing opportunities, from smoked and grilled meats to buttery corn on the cob, creamy potato salad and coleslaw, tangy barbecue sauce, grilled veggies, watermelon and much more. So, the way I see it, you’ve got two options when serving wine at a cookout: You could always take the path of least resistance and just serve one all-purpose white wine and one versatile red. Or, even easier, simply buy a few bottles of Rosé and call it a day. The second option is to try to match a range of different wines to specific dishes. Obviously, this is a rougher road, but one that will give you the chance to turn your outdoor holiday fÃªte into an enjoyable and informative wine-tasting experience.
There are no wrongs or rights here. As always, you should drink whatever you like with whatever you’re eating. Don’t overthink the simple pleasures of a holiday get-together with family or friends. Having said that, here are some suggestions for cookout food and wine pairings featuring some wines I’ve been tasting lately.
For grilled meats, tomato-based barbecue sauces, burgers, pizzas and such, I often turn to inexpensive, light and fruity Garnacha from Spain. Spanish Garnacha seems to take especially well to foods with a bit of smoke. There’s a wide assortment of good Garnacha available in the wine stores here, and you might even decide to turn your barbecue into a Garnacha-tasting opportunity. Some specific ones I like include Tres Picos ($18.99), Zabrin Atteca ($16.99), Gardacho Vieja ($11.99) and Lo Brujo ($8.99).
American Zinfandel is another good barbecue wine, although I’d seek out lower-alcohol versions; you don’t really want to be drinking wines that are 15 percent alcohol-by-volume in the hot holiday sun. A solid, go-to California Zin is Ravenswood Vintner’s Blend ($12.99), which is big enough to stand up to smoky ribs, grilled steaks and the like, but has rich fruit flavors and smooth tannins. Or, if you’d care to spend more for one of the best Zins you’ll ever uncork, I’d suggest treating yourself to a bottle of Bucklin Old Hill Ranch Zinfandel ($29.99), from gnarly old Sonoma vines that predate the American Civil War.
Rosé wines are a slam-dunk for barbecues and other outdoor outings. And again, I’d turn to Will Bucklin and his outstanding Old Hill Ranch Rosé ($20), a bone-dry blend of Grenache, Zinfandel, Mourvedre, Syrah and Carignane. I really like Rosé with chicken dishes, whether cold chicken salad or chicken from the grill with barbecue sauce. I also recently had the opportunity to taste Atrea Skid Rosé ($15.97) in Sonoma. It’s a substantial wine made from 86 percent Malbec and 14 percent Grenache. It’s a perfect burger buddy. Other good Rosé choices include Zepaltas ($13.99) and ChÃ¢teau d’Aqueria Tavel ($18.99).
Crisp Sauvignon Blanc is especially suited to salads, grilled chicken or fish, vegetables and even asparagus or artichokes, which are well-known wine enemies. I’ve been enjoying a couple of South American versions lately: Mapema ($12.99), from Argentina, and Chile’s Santa Rita Medalla Real Gran Reserva ($15.28). For grilled pork or lamb kabobs, I suggest a delicious Greek white wine that is well off most wine lovers’ radar: Santorini Sigalas Assyrtiko ($21.91). It’s fruity with good mineral underpinnings, and acidic enough to cut through creamy or buttery potato salad.
Time to fire up the grill!