The key to pairing wine and grilled food

Jill Barth

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Summertime may evoke images of a cold brew and a hot grill – but  beer isn't the only drink that pairs with BBQ. From veggies to seafood to red meat, there is a wine for everything you can cook over an open flame.


The key is balancing acid and fat, aromatics and seasoning. Pairing wine with grilled foods brings dynamic freshness and can enhance depth of flavor, if you know what you're doing.

Here are a few pairings to try at your next cookout:

Red: Grilled Meats and Côtes de Bordeaux

One of summer’s greatest pleasures is a perfectly cooked steak and a glass of red wine. No longer just a steakhouse champion, red wines for summer are approachable and easy-drinking.

Look to Côtes de Bordeaux wines, which come from the lesser-known hills of the right bank. A lightweight price tag and heavyweight quality, Côtes de Bordeaux are ideal for summer entertaining and are made from traditional Bordeaux varietals including Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, Malbec and Cabernet Franc. They’re impressive and food-friendly, but affordable enough to pop and drink on the deck.

Pairing to try: Château Ampélia 2014 Castillon Côtes de Bordeaux with tri-tip and peppercorn sauce.

White: Chicken, Herbs and Rhône Whites

Wings, thighs or breasts each offer their own flavor and level of fattiness (or lack thereof) for a range of expressions when flame-grilled. While boneless cuts grill more quickly, bone-in or whole chickens come off of the grill juicy. White Rhône varieties are a rich and full-flavored partner for any poultry – particularly anything served with (or marinated in) an herb sauce.  

Common grapes include Grenache Blanc, Marsanne, Roussanne, Picpoul, Ugni Blanc, Viognier and others. While synonymous with the south of France, these are grown around the world and have experienced particular success in California.

Pairing to try: Domaine Grand Veneur Grand Veneur Reserve Blanc 2016 with grilled chicken thighs and chimichurri. 

Pink: Garden-Fresh Veg and Rosé

A summer staple, rosé is made worldwide and the iconic style ranges from pale to coral, and is dry, yet fruit forward. The color comes from juice that spends a limited time with grape skins, which contain color pigment.

Rosé can drink with just about everything, and its natural versatility makes grilled veggies shine, from mushrooms to eggplant to squash to peppers.

Pairing to try: Grilled vegetable panzanella salad and 2017 Michael David Cinsault Rosé from Lodi, California.

Red and White: Grilled Shellfish and Alsatian Pinot

The pinot family is one of the most interesting pedigrees in wine. In northeastern France’s Alsace region, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Noir thrive. These three varieties are part of the same genetic family, each with a unique skin color and flavor profile.

Aromatic and well-structured, these wines are ideal for grilled shellfish. Oysters in particular pair perfectly with the pinot family; experiment with the this combo all summer for a fresh and flavorful pairing.

Pairing to try: Eastern Oysters harvested off the southern coast of the U.S. are some of the most sustainable, according to the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch. Try these grilled with a quarter-sized dollop of herbed butter and match with biodynamic Emile Beyer Pinot Gris Tradition 2016.


Jill Barth

About Jill Barth

Jill Barth is a wine, food and travel journalist–a regular contributor to Forbes and USA Today 10Best, where she is a wine country travel expert panelist for the Reader's Choice Awards. Jill is a Provence Wine Master and travels all over France as well as the U.S., Europe and South America to cover both well-known and still-secret wine regions for publications such as Wine Enthusiast, Decanter, Forbes, Courrier International and more. Jill was awarded a fellowship by the Symposium for Professional Wine Writers and her blog, L'Occasion, was named Best Overall and Best Writing at the Wine Media Awards.

Read more about Jill Barth here.

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