Getting My Grill On

If these recipes and wine pairings don’t whet your whistle, it might be time to turn in your tongs!


Well, it's still not really Spring around here, much less summer, but that won't keep me from thinking about grilling under the setting sun. I love grilling, and BBQ. There are literally hundreds of variations on all of your all-time favorite recipes, which makes recommending wines to pair with BBQ and grilled foods even more challenging than usual.
There are so many things to take into consideration—ranging from spice levels to intensity of smoke to char and sauce—that one can only offer some general guidelines. I'll be working on a more specific grilling guide soon, but to get my mental juices flowing, I started taking a look at some of the recipes I might want to feature and came up with a few wine pairing suggestions to get you thinking about your grilling season. So as we heat our grills up, let me know about some of your favorite recipes and wine pairings for grilling—I'd love to share them with our audience!

Grilled Meat image via shutterstock

Grilled Spice-Rubbed Pork

Zinfandel tends to have a fair amount of alcohol, so it's best paired with mild flavors, as alcohol accentuates spice and vice versa. Many Zins can also tend to the sweet side which is perfect for most BBQ and its sweet edge, and the sweetness works to counter the effects of spice and alcohol. Zinfandel and pork makes for a very happy pairing to begin with, but the sweetness and moderate alcohol levels makes the pairing with spiced, grilled pork one of the classics.

Two to Try:


Barbecue-Braised Moroccan Lamb

Syrah is often quite spicy and peppery, making it a food match for moderately spicy or peppery preparations. But like Zinfandel, it tends to be fairly high in alcohol, so look for those with a more modest ABV. Syrah can also have a gamy edge, so if you're grilling up some game, say wild boar or lamb, Syrah would be my first choice. Grill it over grapevine clippings or other aromatic woods and think Northern Rhône, where the wines can have a wild herbs edge to them. For something really compelling (though obscure) I would serve a Château Musar from Lebanon with this dish. It's mostly Cabernet with the addition of two Rhône varieties: Cinsault and Carignan, but it has a distinct Rhônish quality to it. Their second wine, Jeune Rouge, even has a splash of Syrah added into the mix!

Two to Try:


Jerk Chicken

Petite Sirah is my favorite wine for BBQ pairing: rich, bold fruit with good acidity and relatively modest alcohol. You can find Petite Sirah in styles that range from rather light and friendly, perfect for burgers and Jerk Chicken, to deep, dark and bold wines better suited to BBQ beef ribs and brisket. Surprisingly, I eat more jerk chicken each summer than beef ribs or brisket, but fortunately I'm also partial to lighter style wines in the summer, so it works out to my advantage. 

Two to Try:

Grilled Fish with Tangerine and Marjoram

Chardonnay is a natural when paired with grilled fish, or should I say barrel-aged Chardonnay is a natural. The spice and smoky aspect brought to Chardonnay through barrel aging works perfectly when paired with the lightly smoky flavors of grilled fish. There's a natural bridge that connects the food and the wine and Chardonnay is rich enough to stand up to the flavors of the grill without overpowering the more subtle aspects of most fish.

Two to Try:


Grilled Chicken

Grilled chicken tends to be a tough match for wine. It seems like chefs often overload the chicken with the flavors of sauces and the grill, but when done well, you can really develop layers of nuance with grilled chicken dishes. Even then, those layers can make wine pairing a challenge. But since we're (optimistically) talking about summertime grilling, why not go for a rich rosé, even one with a hint of sweetness that can pair up with grilled and lightly spicy flavors. 

Two to Try:
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