Does anything say summer dining more than grilled burgers and cold beer, with maybe a little potato salad on the side?
Of course not, but beer packs on the calories, as do burgers — which, unless you’re an experienced griller, can wind up dried out or underdone. And leaving mayonnaise-based potato salad in the sun too long can create more problems that most stomachs can handle.
It’s time to upgrade your grilling with more sophisticated fare and replace those tall, cool ones with wines that operate in concert with your menu. That principle works indoors, so why not carry it over to your al fresco dining?
Matching wine with food on your patio follows the same guidelines that you’d use in your dining room. Red wines work best with heartier fare, while white wines complement more delicate dishes.
But grilled foods, especially vegetables, have unique flavor profiles. Zucchini and eggplant slices, which you might smother in cheeses and sauces in your oven, come into their own when grilled. Smoke from the grill also imparts a heartier flavor.
That means the traditional wine pairings you’re accustomed to choosing should be reconsidered. White wines, served chilled and pulling double-duty as refreshing aperitifs, can handle bolder flavors when matched with picnic fare.
Following are some pairing alternatives for grilled dishes:
The Biohof Pratsch 2012 Grüner Veltiner ($13) is Austria’s version of the more familiar German Riesling, but not quite as lush and fruit-forward. This lighter-bodied organic wine pours with a nose of apple, peach and apricot, delivering flavors of fruit, spices and white pepper to the palate. Serve chilled as an aperitif or with more delicate fish dishes.
Torrontes, Argentina’s native white wine grape, comprises 100 percent of Michel Torrino Torrontes Don David ($17). The wine can be wonderfully heady and refreshing. Expect a nose that’s almost floral, with tropical fruit notes and a flavor profile of citrus, peach and anise balanced by light acidity and pleasant character.
Viognier originated in France’s Rhone Valley, but the grape’s popularity in producing wine that’s a smooth, creamy alternative to oaky Chardonnays and snappy Sauvignon Blancs is gaining ground worldwide. The Fess Parker 2012 Viognier ($18), produced by the heirs of the actor who played Disney’s Davy Crockett, delivers the goods. The oak-aged Santa Barbara County wine offers both a nose and palate of soft summer fruits — peaches, nectarines and honeydew melons — with a bit of citrus and vanilla on the back of the palate. It’s one of the nicest whites around.
Few wines are as uniquely refreshing as a well-crafted rosé. The 2013 Hecht & Bannier Languedoc Rosé ($13) fits the bill. The blend of 40 percent Syrah, 35 percent Cinsault and 25 percent Grenache offers essences of gooseberry and cherry with bright flavor highlights and a mellow acidity. It’s a great blend for outdoor dining.
Since grilling often involves red meat, red wines seem to be a natural choice. Those who like red wines will appreciate the following selection.
Francis Coppola’s Diamond Selection 2011 Petite Syrah ($17) has become a personal favorite. Its dry flavor profile neatly showcases aromas of berries, cloves and currants and a palate of plum, cocoa and toasted oak, the result of its 12-month barrel-aging process.
Zinfandel has always been a summer favorite due to the bold, rustic style of this more-or-less native grape. The Kenwood Jack London Vineyard 2011 Zinfandel ($20) contains aromas of raspberry and fig, with significant fruit and spice on its palate thanks to the 10 percent of Syrah in the blend.
Argentina’s Trivento 2012 Amado Sur Malbec ($16) blends 70 percent of its namesake grape with 18 percent of Bonarda and 12 percent of Syrah. The result is an intense, fruity wine. Think cherries, raspberries and plums with hints of spice and vanilla from its eight-month stay in French oak.
Chile’s Primus 2011 Carmenere ($19) capitalizes on a wine grape that was all but wiped out from European vineyards during the 19th century. The flavor and aroma profile highlights plum, blackberry and spice notes in a well-balanced wine with a touch of dried figs on the palate.
Australian winemaker Bruno Tait takes wine drinkers on a wild ride with his Tait 2012 The Wild Ride Shiraz ($19). The blend of 60 percent Shiraz, 20 percent Grenache and 20 percent Mataro results in a bold wine with intense cherry and floral flavors seasoned with spices and what the winemaker describes as a “sneaky sweetness” sure to please.
For something completely different, try the 2010 Painted Wolf “Guillermo” Pinotage ($17) from South African winemaker Jeremy Borg. The South African hybrid grape delivers favors of blueberry, mocha and spice with ripe tannins and a long finish. According to wine critic Robert Parker Jr., the wine is impressively focused, “a little aloof and masculine, but with style and class.”
Parker says nothing about the wine’s use in grilling, but that will be something for you to decide.