By Rick Riozza

Now that we’re finding stay-at-home family patio parties the norm, I thought we’d chime in on some BBQ wine suggestions to enjoy before it gets too hot here in the desert to even go out and grill!

By now we desert dwellers know that a juicy Zinfandel goes great with juicy burgers; a nice chilled brut rosé Champagne can pair-up nicely with salmon; and interestingly, both a heavy oaked and an un-oaked Chardonnay can shimmy-up to your charred BBQ chicken.

And it seems like those three proteins are the most popular items on the grill.  As to veggies, salads, or fruits—well, we’ll save those pairings for another hot kebobin’ time.


But as with most things these days, it can get complicated.  As in—with all the imaginative and inventive sauces that one is plying on the food items, can our wine handle the task of meeting their match? Will we embarrass ourselves in front of our socially distant neighbors when they sample our dishes and find the pairings a poor reflection of our wine prowess?  (Remember those recent days when silly stuff like that was on our vain thoughts?)

So let’s have fun and think out loud about some of the pairings that have worked:

No breaking news here: Bold red wines match excellently with grilled beef and pork.  The umami and high fat in the meat balances out the tannins in the red wine.  Therefore, we can pig-out big time with out-of-the park fruit bearing wines that can often be over-the-top without the comfort of a steak.

However, we’ve noticed that with pork, the wines can be considered by sweetness versus savory.  Wines with a high fruit factor or a touch of sweetness: Don’t be scared—ruby port on ice works well with pork; Dry Riesling is always a palate cleanser and a world-wide match: think German Riesling and German sausage! Pinot Noir and Zinfandel (or the Italian Primitivo) are surely the savory saviors of pork ribs, chops & butts!

With beef, we often like to highlight the pepper and tobacco flavors of the grilled & charred meat:  Everyone is on-board here with our favorite Chianti, aka Sangiovese, Syrah, aka Shiraz, Rioja, aka Tempranillo, and of course the classic Bordeaux blend with lots of Cab Sauv in the mix.

But as we’ve hinted above, with a lot of grillersit’s all about the sauce.  We can make life easy and do as the Italians do: use the wine as the sauce on your meat.  But we Americans have such an entrenched love affair, especially with pork, with the sweet, spicy, smokey, tangy side of life.

So, what we’ve learned from the food shows is that North Carolina BBQ sauce, although vinegar based, it has a prominence on the sweet.  I don’t have a sweet tooth but I love the sweet combat between the pork and Petite Sirah.  Yea—baby, all of you red vino fans know that combo!  The French Mouvedre/ Spanish Monastrell along with a French or Uraguayan Tannat works the same sweet magic!

To the south, South Carolina’s sauce is the spicy-mustard side of things.  Here, we find many Italian varietals matching up well with their medium-bodied flavors.  Such as Sangiovese, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo and the “tears of Christ” red wine from the volcanic hills of Napoli—Aglianico [ah-yee-AHN-nee-koe].

Another classic BBQ sauce is the Kansas City style—everything going with some molasses to boot.  So, this catch-all style is caught-up easily with the catch-all Cabernet Sauvignon.  We Californians are always in heaven with this hefty wine from our wine country.

And a reminder: In our desert heat, it’s always wise to chill your red wines a bit.  Throwing your bottle of red in the fridge for around 20 minutes always helps.

Even the most powerful red wines are best at “room temperature”, which is no more than 65°F.

For those of us who prefer the lighter fare of simple grilled chicken or fish, we already know our desert’s go-to wine: Sauvignon Blanc—or, the lighter Pinot Grigio (as we wrote about in our Coronavirus Love Story a couple weeks ago).  Along with Chef Johannes’ Austrian Grüner Veltliner, the Italian Orvieto—aka Grechetto, or even the IberianVerdejo & Vinho Verde, these wines are citrusy, sometimes, grassy & herby but almost always on the light side of life.

It’s often said, “Think simplicity, but also think sophistication.”  So if the recipe is simple enough, chicken—and fish—almost always pair well with a good unoaked to lightly oaked Chardonnay.  A grilled salmon goes both ways with Chardonnay, and, Pinot Noir—even a light Beaujolais works.

A true BBQ Chicken checks all the boxes with a Rosé, White Zinfandel, Gewürztraminer, or an Off-Dry Riesling. We mentioned the Gevurst—that spicy aromatic wine, because your fancy styles of BBQ chicken can include the sticky sauces and the spicy sauces and all the grill marks that can get intense.  Therefore, an intense Gewürztraminer is an excellent choice as it cuts through the spice and heat.

Don’t know about you—but I’m feeling a bit hungry & thirsty!  Bon Appétit & Cheers!