Summertime is grilling season, and whether you prefer cooking with charcoal or gas, one thing is certain: a cold beverage makes everything taste better. Summer offers endless opportunities for matching lighter, refreshing wines with simple, easy-to-prepare foods. Whether you’re grilling meats, vegetables or dessert this season, I’d like to share a few tips about pairing food and wine to help you get the most flavor on your plate.
All the rules out there about pairing food and wine — white wine with fish, red wine with meat — can be daunting, and while there are guidelines and even classic matches, the best match is ultimately what pleases your palate. Here’s the bottom line: drink what you like. If it tastes good to you, who cares what anyone else says? A wise woman once told me, “The best advice I can give you is to ignore advice. Life is too short to be distracted by the opinions of others.” I have loved that from day one and the older I get, the more true it becomes.
Grilling enhances a food’s sweetness and adds smoky flavor. When looking for wines to pair with grilled fare, consider fruitiness and oakiness. Ripe, fruity wines match the sweetness of grilled food. Oaky wines will match the smokiness. In general, light-bodied wines come from white wine grapes and pair well with lighter fare such as chicken, seafood and grilled vegetables. Bold, full-bodied red wines enhance the flavors in grilled pizzas and in most types of meat, like burgers, steaks and lamb. An easy way to find a winning combination is to match the texture and intensity of the food with an equally complex or simple wine. Dry wines, like cabernet sauvignon, work best with high-protein food such as steak and aged cheese. They are rich in tannins, which help cleanse the palate of fats, making wine a refreshing complement to your meal.
The Kendall-Jackson website explains pairing basics.
Choose similar flavors: Similar food and wine flavors complement each other. Example: Sole with lemon sauce and sauvignon blanc both have citrus flavors.
Choose similar weight and texture: Similarly weighted food and wine complement each other. Food and wine can be light, medium or heavy-bodied. Example: Lobster and chardonnay are both medium-weight and rich, so they complement each other.
Choose the same sweetness level: Wine should be equal to or higher in sugar than the dish. Example: Roasted pork with apple glaze pairs beautifully with riesling.
Salt needs crispness: Crisp wines balance salty flavors. Example: A crisp sauvignon blanc balances salty olives and feta cheese.
Pair with the sauce: Pair the wine to the sauce served. Examples: Light citrus sauces pair with sauvignon blanc and chardonnay. Heavy cream and mushroom sauces are ideal with chardonnay and pinot noir. Red and meat sauces match merlot, cabernet and syrah.
No sauce? Pair with the meat: Match wine to meat, fish or poultry when serving without a sauce. Example: Pinot noir tastes great with duck.
Tannins need fat to balance out: Tannic wines such as cabernet sauvignon cut through the coating that fat leaves in the mouth. Example: Cabernet pairs great with steak.
Spicy foods: Sweeter wines offer relief from spicy foods. Example: Riesling pairs well with Asian cuisines.
Look: Pair by color: Nature has color-coded fruit and vegetables with the wine best suited to their flavors. Light wines — light foods; deeply colored wines — rich foods. Example: Pale yellow sauvignon blanc pairs well with citrus.
Consider acid levels: Like sweetness, wine should be equal to or higher in acid than the dish. Example: Pinot noir matches well with tomato tapenade.
With these guidelines in mind, here are four summer wine pairings with grilled dishes featuring my top picks. You can find these affordable selections at local grocery stores.
1. Grilled Summer Vegetables and Pasta with Liberty Creek Chardonnay (750 ml, $7.49, Food World)
2. Barbecue Chicken with Bogle Vineyards Vintage 2010 Petite Sirah (750 ml, $11.99, Two Guys Beverage & Tobacco Warehouse)
3. Hamburgers with Yellowtail Sweet Red Roo (750 ml, $6.99, Bi-Lo)
4. Grilled Peaches and Pound Cake with Gallo Pinot Grigio (750 ml, $8.49, Food World)
Rebekah Faulk is a Georgia food writer and Statesboro-based TV personality. A Season 2 contestant on ABC's “The Taste,” she blogs at somekindagood.org, a Southern, coastal food blog highlighting East Coast restaurant reviews and Low Country-inspired recipes. Follow her on Twitter at @SKGFoodBlog or search Facebook for Some Kinda Good.