Wines for Grilling

When the snow stops falling on Cape Cod, you can be sure that the grills are about to come out of storage. Instead of the scent of woodstoves, the air fills with the smoky waft of baby back ribs and porterhouse steaks seared to mouth-watering perfection. With summer just around the bend, we need to pick wines that can stand up to charred foods slathered with sauces or seasoned with fiery dry rubs.

Foods that mingle with smoke and spice beg for well-structured, fruity, bold wines. For instance, a full-bodied red, like a young zinfandel with raisin fruit and spicy flavors, pairs well with the tangy sauces and the charred flavors of meats off the grill. A youthful shiraz from Australia’s Barossa Valley, with its distinctive black pepper spice, can also be a good partner for these heftier foods. The tannins that make your lips pucker in these big wines are offset by the fat and richness of grilled beef.

At the Brazilian Grill in Hyannis, steaks and other meats are pleasantly cooked on an indoor charcoal grill, and the restaurant complements the menu with a selection of wines from Argentina and Chile. Kelly Ayer, the co-owner of this churrasqueria (Brazilian steakhouse), finds malbecs from Argentina to be a good match for the restaurant’s grilled steaks, which are seasoned only with kosher or sea salt. “Malbecs have a lot of fruit, and the meat doesn’t take away the wines’ flavors,” says Ayer. The grape was originally grown in France and is used there mostly for making wines blended with other grapes. But in Argentina, malbec thrives in the Mendoza region and produces wines with grip and black fruit flavors—and sold at reasonable prices. Malbecs are some of Argentina’s best wines.

A traditional pairing for grilled steaks is an earthy cabernet, and Ayer serves selections from Chile where she says the  “wines are very smoky and you can taste tobacco, in a good way.” Cabernets, which especially stand out for their quality, are some of the best wines in South America, and they possess a complexity that resonates well with beef.

At Trevi Café and Wine Bar in Mashpee, general manager Robert Rose makes selections for the wine list. When pairing with chicken and meatier grilled fishes like swordfish or salmon, Rose often picks red wines from France’s Rhône region, especially the Côtes du Rhône wines, made from blends of several grape varieties like grenache, mourvèdre, and syrah. There are many producers with a range of styles, but the wine typically has plumy fruit and softer tannins that don’t overpower. Rose also recommends some California pinot noirs because of their cherry and herbal flavors.

May 2011

To enhance a plate of grilled shrimp or scallops, try the white wine albariño, from the Rias Baixas region of Galicia in northwestern Spain, one of the best seafood regions in the Iberian Peninsula. Albariños have peach and citrus flavors, a refreshing quality, and the right weight to match the day’s catch. Verdicchio, a creamy wine with punchy mineral and pear flavors from central Italy’s Marche region, is another fine selection.

Those with adventurous palates might experiment with contrasting flavors. Try pairing a sweeter wine like an off-dry riesling with a spicy grilled fish. The flavors offset one another, and they might provide a pleasantly surprising dining experience.

Picking wines to enjoy alongside grilled fare requires experimentation, but it’s not an exact science. Be bold, and keep an open mind.


Ann Trieger is a freelance writer living in the Boston area.

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