As the sun sets later and the evenings grow warmer, everyone gathers out on the patio or in the garden, soaking up the aromas of barbecued specialities that are cooking. With spice rubs and a profusion of sauces to fill the air, it’s no wonder we’re drawn to the barbecue like bees to honey.
But the BBQ serves up such a wide range of treasures that pairing them with wine can be seen either as a challenge or an opportunity to stretch your imagination. Driven by flavour accents from sauce and spice, each grilled meat could develop from one side of the wine spectre to the other. Luckily, the spirit of outdoor dining—including the tendency to serve lighter beverages—simplifies the choice.
Sparkling wines beat the heat and work well with almost any grilled food. Stick to the lighter wines like Prosecco, or maybe a light-bodied California bubbly, or a Romanian sparkling wine; leave the vintage Champagne in the cellar.
White wines are clearly suited to grilled fish and chicken, and some pork recipes, even those that call for blackened preparations. The high acidity in Sauvignon Blanc—pairs perfectly in this role. Choose a Chardonnay for the fattier fish, like tuna, trout. Chardonnay is also the best pick for veggie burgers, and sometimes regular beefburgers that have a vegetable sauce.
There is no question that rosé wine will add lift and ‘spirit’ to casual outdoor gatherings. Served spry and cool, these wines have a bit more acidity than white wines to battle the grilled flavours of the food.
When pork or salmon is on the menu, Pinot Noir is best. The richer flavours rely on the Pinot Noir for weight and texture though they would get blotted out by heavier wines like Cabernet, Petit Sirah, or Barolo. Smoked meats—especially those with a bacon hint—are also best served with Pinot Noir, playing off the smoky, tea-leaf flavours of the wine.
If you are serving hamburgers, steak, barbecued ribs, or beef tenderloin, only the big red wines will do. Bordeaux and Cabernet, are perfect matches, but if the spice turns the dish hot, hone in to a Zinfandel. When throwing your steak on the BBQ, it is also good to serve it with a Shiraz or Malbec.
The key to successful wine-food pairing for outdoor dining is simplicity. Don’t choose a wine that requires too much thought because the setting doesn’t call for that. The wines should fit the food, but they should also fit the casual mood of the gathering.