Wines for a Barbecue (this week, we offer one double-barreled tip)
By Alexis Beltrami

For most Americans, a holiday barbecue means it's beer time. Teetotalers stick with soda, lemonade, or iced tea. A couple of our Texas chefs favor margaritas; daiquiris don't hurt either. But few people seem to think of wine when they fire up the grill. What a shame! There's something about the outdoor setting, the atavistic pleasure of an open fire, and the masculine image of the grill that, for too many people, says this is no time to be puttin' on airs and foolin' with wine glasses. But wine should never have become associated with pretense in the first place, and wine can be the perfect accompaniment to a barbecue--not so filling as beer, nor so potentially embarrassing as multiple margaritas.

For red wine lovers:

Anything coated in barbecue sauce, with its smoky, spicy, and typically sweet flavors, admittedly poses a challenge for wine pairings. A young, bold, fruity and spicy red wine, such as Zinfandel, American Syrah or Aussie Shiraz, or a French Côtes du Rhone should stand up to the barbecue flavors--Zinfandel, being all-American, is my favorite for Memorial Day or the 4th of July. Chianti and Barbera, with their higher acidity, will also handle tomato-based sauces

Grilled meats, like steak, can work with a wider range of reds, including young Cabernets. And hamburgers should be fine with just about any red wine--just pick your favorite (although I wouldn't suggest opening anything too old or complex--the wine's subtleties will probably be lost). Beaujolais, just slightly chilled, is a popular choice.

There's one hitch with red wines, though: come barbecue season, in most of the U.S., it's too darn hot. In hot weather, red wines lose their aromas, seem flabby on the palate, and aren't refreshing. Moreover, spicy foods cry out for a mouth-cooling beverage, which is one reason beer is so popular.

Two cool solutions:

Crisp, intensely aromatic high-acid white wines, especially Sauvignon Blanc, work very well with grilled flavors. Sauvignon Blanc (sometimes called Fumé Blanc) is great with grilled vegetables and shrimp, and is the best wine with tomatoes. Off-dry (slightly sweet) Rieslings and Gewurztraminers should pair nicely with spicier and sweeter barbecue flavors. Chardonnay, however, is probably not your best bet.

Or, try my current, all-purpose barbecue favorite: dry rosé, a summertime treat. Good rosés combine the crispness and refreshment of white wine (serve chilled) with unusual and intriguing flavors--some of the red fruits typical of red wine, but also notes of tea, orange rind, strawberries and--aptly--watermelon. Look for rosés from the southern Rhone, Languedoc, and Provence in France, Rioja in Spain, or such American examples as Bonny Doon's Vin Gris de Cigare or Zaca Mesa's Z Gris. Too long out of fashion because of their association with cheap, sweet blush wines, rosés are for me perfect summer wines.

As for those blush wines, if they are what you enjoy, don't let anyone stop you. Some say White Zinfandel is the ultimate wine for hot dogs!

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