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Grillin’ and Chillin’ with Style

Originally Posted: July 26, 2006

Lenn Thompson

Most Americans drink beer, lager or ale with grilled fare at their weekend BBQs — and with good reason. It's cold, refreshing and a great thirst quencher on a hot, sticky summer day. If beer isn't your mug of tea, you might serve margaritas or maybe even sangria, but wine rarely makes an appearance.

Maybe it's the outdoor setting, the primitive pleasure of open fire cooking, or the macho image of grilling that pushes wine into the background. But, remember, wine isn't a snobby, pretentious luxury item, and it can be an ideal match for grilled food. Plus, it's not as filling as beer, or as potent as a margarita.

Okay, I've convinced you to try wine the next time you grill — but which ones?

Like any other meal, it really depends on what you're grilling. Generally though, you should never serve delicately nuanced wines with foods from the grill. The wine needs to stand up to the bold, fresh flavors found in most rubs and marinades and the charred flavor of grilled meat can overpower a wine's complexities. Most of the time, it's best to stick with flavorful, aromatic wines that are fruit forward and generally not heavy on the tannins.

First let's start with the basics – hamburgers and hotdogs. There's no reason to spend a lot on wines to pair with these simple, but delicious, foods. A unique and interesting blend of cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, merlot, pinot noir and syrah, Jamesport Vineyards 2003 Cinq ($15) is a good option, with black cherries, figs, smoky oak, black tea and herbs all with a silky, velvety mouthfeel. Other Options: Sherwood House Vineyards Oregon Road Merlot, Lieb Family Cellars Bridge Lane Merlot.

If you don't like red wine, try a Rose. Roanoke Vineyards 2005 De Rosa Rose ($14) is a well-balanced blend of cabernet franc, merlot, cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay. The ripeness of the 2005 vintage shines through here, with intense strawberry aromas and while not bone dry, this rose shows nice balance between ripe red berry flavors, acidity and subtle sweetness. The finish features a refreshing lime note and is anything but white Zinfandel. Other Options: Shinn Estate Vineyards 2005 Rose, Channing Daughters Winery 2005 Rosati of Cabernet Sauvignon.

Serving grilled pork or chicken? Try Macari Vineyards 2002 Cabernet Franc ($23). It's drinking extremely well right now with berry aromas and flavors accented with cedar and spice with super smooth tannins that are great with smoky-spicy grilled foods. Other Options: Pellegrini Vineyards Cabernet Franc, Corey Creek Cabernet Franc.

Steak is considered by many the ultimate in grilled meat, and while you could drink the aforementioned Cabernet Francs with it, Roanoke Vineyards 2003 Blend 1 ($30) a Meritage-style blend of 48% cabernet sauvignon, 30% merlot and 22% cabernet franc, it a bold option. Full bodied and rich, intense fruit flavors are balanced by oak, fine tannins, a black pepper note and a lengthy finish. Other Options: Lenz Winery Cabernet Sauvignon, Diliberto Winery Tre (Meritage blend).

Here on the Island, we're lucky to have ready access to ultra-fresh, just-from-the-water shellfish and it's wonderful on the grill with light sauces or marinades. Lieb Family Cellars 2004 Pinot Blanc Reserve ($17) offers a floral nose with peaches, pear and citrus on the palate and is great with grilled lobster or shrimp. Channing Daughters Winery makes several seafood-suited white wines, but their 2005 Pinot Grigio ($18) is practically made for scallops and white, flakey fish. If you think you don't like Pinot Grigio, think again. This is nothing like the bland, lemon-water Pinot Grigio you've had in the past. Other options: Macari Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc, Shinn Estate Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc.

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