How to Pick the Right Wine for Barbecues


The joy of most barbecues is their ad hoc nature — the relaxed feel of eating outside coupled with the chance to pile your plate high with all manner of foods. Both these elements will have an effect on the sort of wines you serve.

Let’s take the ‘outdoors’ bit first. What you want to drink if it’s lunchtime and baking hot is different from if it’s seven in the evening and starting to cool off. Generally speaking, the hotter it is, the more attractive those light, refreshing white wines are going to seem.

So if it’s hot, look for bottles with plenty of fresh, spritzy acidity and not too much weight. Sauvignon Blanc is perfect, but so are Riesling, Muscadet, Soave and unoaked Chardonnay. Just make sure you keep the bottles chilled.

These wines might not, strictly speaking, be perfect with the food, but they’re perfect with the weather, and if you’re serving salads, fish or even chicken they’ll be OK.

As it cools off, so red wines become more appealing, but it’s unlikely ever to be cold enough for you to want huge reds with high alcohol and enormous mouth-drying tannins. Soft, luscious examples like Pinot Noir, Merlot, Chilean Carmenere, Rioja, Malbec or Beaujolais are a good bet.

When it comes to matching with food, the eclectic nature of barbecue food makes an across-the-board match impossible. How can you get a single wine that will go with salad, chicken, pork chops and steak?

This is why I wouldn’t get too hung up about the wine and go for general rather than perfect matches. Mid-weight whites like Chenin Blanc, lightly oaked Chardonnay, Semillon, Verdelho or Viognier will work with everything but the red meats. Mid-weight reds like Merlot, Argentine Malbec, Barbera, Grenache, southern French reds like Fitou and young Rioja will be fine with pork, lamb, burgers and even chicken up to a point. Zinfandel can be good, too, but it tends to be high in alcohol, so be careful if it’s really hot.

Save the bigger, more ‘classic’ reds for formal sit-down barbies, but even here I wouldn’t go for anything too heavy unless it’s fairly cool (or you’re eating indoors).

Barbie tips

  • Rose wines, chilled right down, are perfect for the barbecue. Served cool, they are as crisp and refreshing as whites, but take on more weight as they warm up. Make sure they’re dry.
  • Some reds work really well chilled too. Beaujolais, Loire Cabernet Francs and Pinot Noirs are the classics.
  • Alcohol with sun is a potent combination, so make sure you offer plenty of water. One glass of water for every glass of wine is about right.
  • No need to spend big with barbies. The food is fun rather than classy, so budget accordingly — maybe just above your Wednesday night wine.

Filed Under: Food & Cooking

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About the Author: Leona Kesler is a head-chef at a very popular food restaurant in New York. Also she is a blogger who shares her experiences, tips, and other informative details about food and cooking. Her recipes are featured on many magazines.

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