Patio Party Series- Wines that Pair Well with Grilled Food

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Spring has finally sprung! When the temperatures rise and the flowers begin blooming, the outdoor living season kicks into high gear.  

Now that patio grills are being dusted off and primed for the season, we decided to reach out to Vicki Miller, Founder of Vinocity, to solicit her expert opinion wine griled food pairingson wines that pair well with grilled food. Her company offers a fun and interactive wine tasting experience that unravels the mystery of wine selecting for guests by weaving the facts, figures, and scientific aspects of wine making into interesting stories.

While most folks know that hotdogs and beer go well together, we wanted to learn what types of wines pair best with grilled foods. Since the outdoor living trend has brought full-fledged kitchens out onto the patio these days, it’s taken the typical patio fare from hamburgers to halibut. Gourmet burger recipes include everything from whipped feta to Jalapeño-Cilantro Mayo; so we were excited to learn from an expert what wines to serve or bring to a backyard barbeque this season.

Not so Red and White:

Why wine pairing rules are more complicated than we might realize.

“Whites with seafood and Reds with meats!” Most of us have heard these “rules” for pairing wine with food, but in reality it’s not quite that simple. As we enter wine and grilled food pairingsthe outdoor entertainment season and prepare to fire up the grill, I’ve listed 3 basic rules for pairings and a list of specific examples for pairing grilled foods to help you navigate through your summer party menus.

Rule 1) Match the Body

The most basic guideline for pairing food with wine is to match the body and flavor intensity of each. Heavier, fuller-bodied foods will pair better with fuller-bodied wines. Conversely, lighter-bodied, more delicate-flavored foods should be paired with lighter-bodied wines. For example, Dover sole is lighter than salmon; chicken is lighter than steak. Remember that not all white wines or all red wines have the same profile – a crisp, light Chardonnay from Chablis in France is a lighter-bodied wine than an oaky Chardonnay from California (even though they are both white wines).

Rule 2) Match your Flavors

Certain flavors in foods will pair best with certain wines. Foods high in umami or with heavily spiced seasoning should be paired with fruitier, low tannin wines. Umami is the taste we find in meats, soy sauce and shiitake mushrooms for example, and will pair best with low-tannin, fruitier wines such as an Australian Shiraz or California Merlot. Spicy foods will also pair more favorably with fruitier, low-tannin red wines or with the sweet/acid combination of a Riesling, for example. Sauces and garnishes that are very acidic (think citrus, tomatoes) will pair favorably with higher acid wines such as a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc.

Rule 3) Beware of the Grill!

Wines we normally think of as pairing with a certain food may not work when that same food is grilled. Grilling tends to intensify a food’s flavors and result in a fuller-bodied dish, both from the cooking technique and from any marinades or sauces that are used. For example, poached salmon will be a lighter dish than grilled salmon because of the effect of the grilling heat on the fish, plus the likely addition of a sweet or savory rub or marinade.

Here is a list of sample dishes and suggested pairings for grilled foods.

  1. Grilled shrimp prepared with:
    • Garlic, onion, lime marinade – Dry, slightly acidic rosé
    • A sweet and spicy marinade or sauce – Rich, fruity white, such as Pinot Gris from France or the New World
    • As part of a green salad with acidic notes – Sauvignon Blanc
  1. Grilled Salmon prepared with:
  • A sweet/savory glaze – Crisp rosé
  • Spice and acid (e.g. peppers and tomatoes) – Full-bodied rosé
  • Bright pasta salad with lemon/oil dressing – Sauvignon Blanc
  1. Grilled chicken, prepared with:
  • A simple citrus and sweet marinade – Rosé
  • Savory seasoning (e.g. rosemary) – Full-bodied Chardonnay
  • Sweet and savory (e.g. Southeast Asian dishes) – Riesling
  • Bold spicy flavors (e.g. Jerk seasoning) – Zinfandel from Sonoma County or California Cabernet Sauvignon. If very high, spicy heat, beer.
  1. Grilled beef, prepared with:
  • Spicy marinade or sauce – Merlot from Argentina or California, Australian Shiraz
  • Barbecue sauce (ribs) – California Cabernet Sauvignon, Australian Shiraz
  1. Classic hamburger or cheeseburger – California Cabernet Sauvignon or Cabernet blend from California, Australia or South America
  2. Highly salty foods – Sparkling wine

We hope these suggestions help you with your choices, but remember the most important point when you are out on the patio this season – drink what you like, and don’t be afraid to try something new. Bon appetit!