Best Wines for a barbecue

The official kickoff to summer has always been Memorial Day. I have written about summer wines in a previous post, but we have never gone over the best drinks to have on hand for a barbecue (or BBQ). If you haven't pulled the barbecue out of storage, dusted it off, loaded the propane (or stocked up on the charcoal) then this weekend is the time to do it.

I would guess that most of you throw hamburgers or hot dogs on the grill, and down that with an ice-cold beer. Not a bad pairing, but what if you are not a beer drinker? What wines go best with foods grilled over the coals?

If you look back at my article on food and wine pairings, there are a few tips to help you out:

Grilling adds a bitter charred taste to foods. We can take two different approaches to bitterness, 1)match that bitterness with tannic wines, or 2) we can contrast that bitterness with fruitiness.

Some of the more tannic wines are: Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese, Syrah, and Zinfandel. Notice they are all reds, as white wine does not contain tannin.

When we are looking to contrast, fruity wines can run all over the place. For reds, Gamay is definitely a fruity wine, as are some Pinot Noirs, but they are lighter wines, which might be overpowered by heavy meat dishes. Both Zinfandel and Syrah (particularly Australian Shiraz) can be fruity, with some tannin. White wines can also be fruit forward, but again, a delicate white wine might be overpowered by the meat. I would look for something with a bit more body, that can hold its' own against grilled foods. Riesling is always one of my "go to" wines, particularly for pork and sausages (the fat needs to be cut with some acidity, and Riesling does the job). You can also go to a Chardonnay, or maybe even a Chenin Blanc for Chicken. And...don't forget the Rose! One of my favorite summer wines, that pairs with most everything is a dry rose.

Beware of the barbecue sauce. Remember to add it to your meat towards the end, so it doesn't burn, and if it is spicy, choose a wine with lower alcohol, as the spice and alcohol combination will accentuate the heat.

My top choices for best wines to have on hand for the barbecue:
1. Zinfandel. Go for a lower alcohol (if that is possible) that is younger but with some tannin.
2. Syrah. Go for an Aussie version that is more fruit forward.
3. Rose. I like Bandol, Tavel, or some of the Roses coming out of California (usually Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre or Pinot Noir based)...sorry, not a big fan of the Zinfandel based roses.
4. Riesling. I love a dry version from Alsace, France, or a dry Auslese from the Mosel region of Germany. This is a great pairing with sausages, brats, or hot dogs....and even some pork dishes with fruitier sauces.
5. Beer. How can you go wrong with beer?

One last tip...if your BBQ technique includes marinates, dry rubs and sauces...don't open up your best bottle of wine. Great bottles should be served with simple foods, where the wine can be the star. With barbecue, we want the wine and food to work with each other. Overpowering spices, will over power your wine, and isn't the ultimate joy,  the blending of the two?

What are your favorite/best wines with BBQ?


  1. I favor making the marinade and BBQ Sauce yourself and tailoring it to a good Red Zinfandel. A one hour marinade lowers the carcinogenic properties of barbecued meats* and my favorite is simple:
    Two parts olive oil.
    Two parts Soy Sauce.
    One part white vinegar.
    A few drops to 1/16 ounce liquid smoke
    perhaps a teaspoon per cup of liquid garlic powder
    A few bay leaves.
    Marinade for one to three hours before barbecuing.
    Never marinade more than 3 hours or you lose the meat flavor.
    Memory trick: 3 liquids and 3 spices (counting the liquid smoke as a spice).

    * The Food Science Inst., Kansas State University, Manhattan, KS 66506, USA

  2. I meant to type less than 1/16 Teaspoon liquid smoke as it is very concentrated. Teaspoon NOT ounce.

    I've served filet mignon cubes marinated in this recipe to our wine club several times to rave reviews.

  3. I ordered Riesling from The Wine Bunker just wanna try it with my friesn and I really don't know what is a perfect pair for it. Thank you for sharing this idea it seems really interesting to try.