Wine — Grill and sip, sip and sip. Finding the perfect wine for barbecue

By Tim Protzman

It’s time to take the cover off the grill and knock the squirrels’ nests out. It’s summer and that means barbecue.

Cooking over an open flame has been around since the dawn of man. Maybe a mastodon or giant sloth got caught in a forest fire and our caveman ancestors got out the ketchup and napkins and went to town. Whatever happened, food tastes better grilled. Even the lowly hamburger perks up when it’s cooked over an open flame instead of a dull indoor pan fry on the stove.

Grilling used to be limited to summer. We’d open a bag of charcoal briquettes, slather them with fluid and light. It took about 20 minutes for the fire to get ready.

Today, thanks to gas grills, we can cook out year round and the flame reaches its optimum peak in a fraction of the time. Some purists still insist on charcoal or even its parent product, wood, and pay lots of money for exotic hickory and mesquite chips. But today’s SUV-sized triple burner gas grills do a decent job. Some even have special lava rocks that simulate the heat vector patterns of wood. I’ve always wondered how they make lava rocks. Is it in a factory in Davenport, Iowa? Or do Hawaiian lava maidens harvest them fresh from Kilauea?

Pairing wine with grilled food is not as hard as it looks. Plain meats, chicken and fish work with a white or light red. Sauces, rubs and jerks need something heavier to stand up to the pungent, smoky flavor and the sweet, sour or spicy marinade or coating. Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon work nicely, as does a sturdy sangiovese. A Pinot Noir will pair with plain chicken and hearty fishes like sea bass and salmon. Chardonnay is generally too heavy and grilled food and chardonnay tend to cancel out each other’s subtle nuances, except for mushrooms like shiitakes and portobellas. 

Here’s a slew of charcoal-friendly wines for your grilling pleasure:


Ferrari-Carano Fume Blanc — $14.49. Fume Blanc grapes are an offshoot of Cabernet Sauvignon and originated in the Loire Valley in France. Crisp with a touch of melon like sweetness. Nice with pork, seasoned chicken and delicate fishes.


Maxie’s Merlot from Dog House Wines — $5.99. This new label produces a simple red, which excels with ribs and barbecued chicken. Cherry fruit tones and low-alcoholic content make this a great patio wine.


Montevertine — $19.99. This so-called Super Tuscan eschews Cabernet Sauvignon and blends Sangiovese with 10 percent Canaiolo grapes. Deep and vibrant and brawny enough for London Broils, hot and spicy wings and some grilled lamb.


2002 Domaine George Jobert Saint-Veran — $18.99. Saint-Veran is the bargain of white Burgundy. This un-oaked Chardonnay will complement salads, grilled mushrooms, calamari, sole and trout. The wine gently unfolds, presenting pineapple and a touch of custard in its finish.


Black Peak Cabernet Sauvignon — $6.99. This Romania sleeper hit comes from the region near the Iron Gate, a rocky gorge and hydro-electrical dam on the Danube. Dry and somewhat reserved, it’s a great supporting actor for spicy, tomato-ey and lean beef  dishes. Also great with gourmet hamburgers.


Atlas Peak Sangiovese — $10.99. for the Napa Valley and $19.99 for the Reserve. Super with tacos and Mexican grill. Works well with Mid Eastern Lamb dishes. A dream with grilled vegetables. Fresh raspberry fruit with hints of cardamom and licorice.


False Bay Pinotage — $9.99. A nice food wine with a high (14.5 percent) alcohol content. Not made for sitting in the sun and sipping, but really good with turkey, beef and pork ribs. The wine presents dried cranberry and currant fruit with a structured finish.


Bogle Sauvignon Blanc — $8.99. Fresh and almost sparkly. Citrus fruit notes of grapefruit and orange mixed with a touch of basil. Nice with clams, oysters, roast corn and baked potato. Try with potatoes, onions, olive oil and a dash of vinegar and bake in tin foil right on the grill.

1999 Jean-Mark Pavelot Savigny-Les-Beaune — A demur red Burgundy with a fleeting character that embraces salmon and blue fish. Also great with pork, lamb and chicken done in fruit sauces. Present finish not unlike blueberry Fruit 2-O flavored water.


2000 Chateau de Cruzeau Pessac-Leognan — A dominatrix of a wine with a circular structure and hints of pepper, wood smoke and bitter chocolate. It’s approachable enough for cheese, but really kicks butt with steak, roast and deep-fried Cajun Turkey.


Sometimes it’s just too hot for wine. Try a wine spritzer. This recipe comes from the Silver Cricket in Sarasota, Fla.

2 ounces white or rose wine (for a sweeter version use Riesling)

1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

Combine in a goblet or highball glass full of ice and add a good quality sparkling water.

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