Fire, food and wine have been part of our Western culinary consciousness practically since Western civilization was born.
Roman armies began planting vines throughout Europe about 27 B.C. for health even more than for evening happy hour. They knew that people who soaked food in wine before cooking lived longer. Today we know that wine marinades reduce both food spoilage and the carcinogens created as meats cook over flame.
Ross ChoiceSauvignon Blanc "Te Muna Road Vineyard"
Martinborough, New Zealand
• Suggested retail and availability: $22 at wine and liquor stores (distributed by Wirtz Beverage Illinois)
Like a squeeze of lemon on your favorite seafood, this bright white highlights food flavors while refreshing the palate for the next bite. While New Zealand's cool climate often expresses seering acidity, Craggy Range's careful selection of grapes from parcels throughout the stony Te Muna Road Vineyard yields gentle texture and accents of flint, dried herbs and exotic fruits, perfect for herbed marinades or tropical salsa on fish, veggies, poultry and the lightest meats.
The following tips will guide you to a wine that's delicious for barbecue, whether it comes sizzling from a backyard fire pit or one of area's many grill-centric eateries.
Oak and smoke: Richly-oaked wines meld with simply seasoned grilled dishes.
For seafood, such as grilled bacon-wrapped scallops, serve a Chardonnay with rich oak, balanced by ripe fruit and palate-cleansing acidity, such as Talley "Estate" (California, $26). Columbia Crest offers consistent enjoyment for less than $15; look for the "H3" label.
Simply-seasoned grilled red meats long for earthy flavor, integrated oak and firm tannin of Old World reds from France (regions including Cotes du Rhone and Languedoc), Italy (Chianti and Valpolicella), Spain (Navarra and Rioja) and Greece (Nemea).
Soy and spice: Oaky wine disturbs the intricate balance of spice in Asian grills and barbecue. Opt instead for wines with little-to-no oak, ripe fruit and refreshing acidity.
Korean kogi gui, for instance, includes soy, ginger, apple and garlic, with foods wrapped in lettuce leaves for nibbling. An off-dry Riesling, like Washington State's King Fu Girl or Chateau Ste Michelle's "Cold Creek Vineyard" (both about $12) is finger-lickin' good with exotic spice.
More elegant Asian grills, such hoisin duck, pair with the silky texture, forest floor aroma and soft, cherry flavor of Pinot Noir from the U.S. or France. Try Talbott "Kali Hart" or Faively Bourgogne Rouge (both about $20).
Green grills: When rubs, marinades and sauces rely on herbs, like Latin America's parsley-based chimichurri, turn to a red or white with herbal flavors.
For poultry, seafood or vegetables smeared with chimichurri, pair with the bright green flavors of unoaked Sauvignon Blanc, including Robert Mondavi "Private Selection", about $10 (to this palate, a better value than Mondavi's Fume Blanc.) Also see Ross' Choice.
Follow the irresistible logic of pairing chimichurri-slathered meats with the firm, herbal flavors of Argentine Malbec. So many good ones are available at less than $10 (including Altos Las Hormigas and Andeluna), up to $20 (Archaval Ferrer "Reserva") and more than $20 (Cantena "Alta") that it's a buyer's market.
Made in the U.S.A. South Carolina uses mustard, Alabama mixes mayonnaise and vinegar, but most Americans have warm-weather attire dotted with tomato-based barbecue sauce.
Pair the sugar, fruit (tomato is a fruit remember!) and spice of tomato-based sauces with a full-fruit, all-American red Zinfandel, including Cline "Ancient Vines or Foxglove (about $12), Frog's Leap or Green & Red (about $20) or Frank Family or Seghesio (less than $30).
• Write to Advanced Sommelier and Certified Wine Educator Mary Ross at email@example.com.