Wine at a barbecue seems a little out of place, kind of like the guest who shows up in knee-high leather boots when everyone lazing around the pool is in flip-flops. When we think of those brawny meats charring away on the grill, our immediate thought is to quench our thirst with a PBR from the ice chest. Sometimes, we might be handed a disposable cup filled with a friend's latest sangria experiment, or their too-boozy whiskey lemonade.
If there is a round of enthusiastic wine sipping happening on the patio while the potato salad is being made, typically that rapidly draining bottle will be rosé. There is perhaps no wine more emblematic of summer than this chilled, blush-colored beaut—make mine bone-dry, please. At the first glimmer of a hot day, along with the excitement of slipping into sundresses and shorts, comes the confident purchase of rosé. As soon as the nights grow cold again, it gets unfairly shunned, much like iced coffee, for warmer, toastier counterparts. I'll save the merits of sipping rosé on even the most frigid of January eves for another time. Right now I'd like to point out that while rosé will be welcome at any alfresco fête, at least if you are hanging out with the right people, there are plenty of other bottles, white and red alike, that should be opened with relish as the steak sizzles in the background.
The Best Wines for Grilled Veggies
Easy-to-sip Grüner Veltliner, Austria's star grape, snaps with grassy and apple notes. All those green overtones make it a good fit for any skewers stacked with vegetables, or a blackened ratatouille salad.
You may not immediately think washing down eggplant or grilled zucchini with Chardonnay is a good thing. After all, so many of them are heavy-handed with the oak. Yet many surprise, unfurling lovely flavors of lime, cantaloupe, and pineapple. Extend the farmer's market theme by looking for a Chardonnay that retains fresh fruit flavors by doing time in stainless steel.
Grüner Veltliner to try: Forstreiter 'Grooner' Grüner Veltliner 2012, Austria ($11); Thiery Weber Animo Grüner Veltliner 2012, Austria ($13).
Chardonnay to try: Crew Wine Company Sawbuck Chardonnay 2012, California ($10); Corvidae Mirth Chardonnay, Washington ($12).
For Grilled Seafood
Marrying a seafood dish with white wine has long been tradition. For a piece of grilled fish, naked save for a few squirts of lemon and a light brushing of olive oil, seek out something complementary that ratchets up flavor instead of masking it.
A meatier fish, like say, a swordfish steak, does need some backbone, and that's when fresh, fragrant Grillo—Sicily's little known but delicious white grape—gushing mango, should be sought out. Traditionally, Grillo was used for the production of Marsala, Italy's famous fortified wine. On its own, Grillo is full bodied and bright. When it gets paired with, say, a bit of oak-aged, floral Viognier, as in the case of one favorite, Dalila, it pops.
If you're grilling up a side of salmon or other softer-flavored fish, think of Pinot Gris. Unlike its usually flabby, one-dimensional cousin Pinot Grigio, the ones from Oregon's Willamette Valley tend to have more gumption thanks to a lively blend of citrus and mineral flavors.
Grillo to try: Stemmari Grillo/Viognier 'Dalila,' Sicily ($14); Stemmari Grillo "Baci Vivaci," Sicily ($10)
Pinot Gris to try: Montinore Pinot Gris 2012, Oregon ($14); Elk Cove Vineyards 2013, Oregon ($19).
For Grilled Chicken
Often deemed a blah substitute for the array of smoky meats favored on the grill, chicken can be its most flavorful when seared over coals. While an everyday roast chicken goes well with, say, a delicate Cabernet Franc or Pinot Noir, a bird's time on the grill provides intriguing contrast to easy-drinking whites. A yeasty Verdelho from Portugal, with aromatic peach and pear flavors, will do the trick. Typically a base for the country's impressive fortified wines, Verdelho now spawns some well-balanced whites wherein creaminess is offset by racy acidity. Another Portuguese alternative: lighter and leaner Vinho Verde—unfussy, floral and a killer value.
A Greek Moschofilero is another good bet. Walk into any of those blue-and-white tavernas slinging tzatziki, and hunched over plates of chicken souvlaki you will find many a diner sipping the white wine. Moschofilero, from Greece's Peloponnese, is fruity and floral, crackling with orange and grapefruit flavors. Pleasant acidity makes you happy to have it in your glass all dinner long.
Verdelho and Vinho Verde to try: Herdade do Esporao Verdelho 2013, Portugal ($10); Casa de Vilacethino Brazao Vinho Verde 2013 ($9).
Moschofilero to try: Semeli 'Mountain Sun White' 2012, Greece ($12); Troupis Fiteri Moschofilero 2012, Greece ($12).
At first, a hearty red seems like a boon with grilled sausage. But given the meaty coils' predilection for spice and snap, Riesling—especially a dry Alsatian—provides a rush of acidity that enlivens like no other. Just think of all the sauerkraut-laden choucroute these German-speaking French eat with their Riesling day after day.
Red is not verboten, of course. Just consider one that is soft and lush, devoid of overpowering tannins, like those from Jura. Sommeliers from around the country have an obsession with the wines from this burgeoning region in eastern France for a reason. Sausage of the lamb variety, say, a zesty Moroccan merguez, is an ideal match for Jura's light, bright Poulsard grape.
Riesling to try: Domaines Schlumberger Riesling Les Princes Abbés, 2011, France ($15); Domaine Zind-Humbrecht Riesling 2012, France ($24)
Poulsard to try: Bodines Arbois Poulsard, 2011, France ($24); Domaine Rolet Poulsard 2011 ($19)
For Beefy Burgers
No two burgers are made alike. Of course there is the basic version of the all-beef patty—that's going to get slid into a squishy Martin's potato roll and topped with cheese, (fresh-from-the-garden) tomatoes, and hopefully a smattering of raw onions and pickles. But your pals may have more gourmet hankerings, desiring to pile their burgers with a heady blue cheese or the sweet mango chutney they fell for at the Indian grocery. These tweaks set the agenda for what should be in your glass.
In general, though, burgers make a fine pair with Cru Beaujolais. Now, forget everything you think you know about the B word. Real Beaujolais is decidedly not Beaujolais Nouveau, an annual marketing gimmick meant for chugging and forgetting about until the following fall. Cru Beaujolais is a celebration of the thin-skinned Gamay grape that hails from France's south-of-Burgundy region of the same name. It is simultaneously earthy and bursting with red fruit, exactly what you want to wash down a pink-in-the-middle, protein-packed sphere redolent of charcoal. Cru Beaujolais is traditionally served slightly chilled, making it an even more appealing summer sip.
Cru Beaujolais to try: Nicole Chanrion Côte-de-Brouilly 2012, France ($22); Domaine Diochon Moulin-à-Vent 2012, France ($21).
And Other Burgers
Because not all diners are robust carnivores, you may be grilling up a turkey or veggie burger. The former does not demand a red, nor is a white the only option. This is when the season's ubiquitous rosé should make a cameo, adding much-needed fruity zing. If it's a veggie burger you're throwing on the grill, tangy Sauvignon Blanc, with its layers of puckering citrus, will invigorate a medley of veggies.
Rosé to try: Bedell Cellars Taste Rosé 2012, Long Island ($25); Bodegas Nekeas Vega Sindoa Rosado, Spain ($9).
Sauvignon Blanc to try: Mapuche Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Chile ($10); Uppercut Sauvignon Blanc, California ($12).
It's a familiar adage, one oft-repeated because it's true: steak and red wine make the best of buddies. It does not mean, however, that the red in question needs to be a powerful Cabernet Sauvignon. Not only does that varietal instantly conjure a roaring fireplace—which has no place in summertime daydreams—buying a good bottle is often a pricey investment. Remember, you're at a cookout eating off paper plates, not a white tablecloth steakhouse. This is a good opportunity, then, to savor the depth of more offbeat gems. Chilean Carménère, filled with violet and red cherry notes, is a suitable—and much more affordable—alternative to cut through a fatty, glistening steak. Or, reach for a bottle of Tempranillo. Spain's thick-skinned indigenous grape yields a ruby liquid both high on tannins and acid. The combination of earth and spice adds luster to each morsel of that melt-in-your-mouth meat.
Carménère to try: Baron Philippe de Rothschild 'Anderra' Carménère 2012, Chile ($10); Undurraga Sibaris Riserva Especial Carménère, 2012, Chile ($21).
Tempranillo to try: Flaco Tempranillo 2013, Spain ($9); Bodegas Volver 'Volver' Single Vineyard Tempranillo 2011, Spain ($15).
If You Had to Pick Just One...
Yes, rosé should be in your kitchen at all times. But so should Lambrusco. This subtly sparkling red from Italy's Emilia-Romagna region has loads of fruit and acidity and magically goes well with almost everything—from summer squash to German brats. Prosecco often overshadows Lambrusco, but the latter's roundness and versatility make it a season mainstay—whether you're just waiting for the steaks to flip or you want to linger on the porch all night.
Lambrusco to try: NV Lini 'Labrusca' Lambrusco Rosso, Italy ($15); NV Barbolini Lambrusco Grasparossa di Castelvetro, Italy ($14).