To those who think beer is the only appropriate libation for America’s birthday, I say fine. I’m not going to argue the logic of brews and barbecue. But for those willing to widen their horizons a bit, the world of wine offers some surprisingly good match-ups with grilled food. Here are a few suggestions, based on years of trial and error as well as the recommendations of wine lovers. Most of these wines are available at major retailers, and they won’t break the bank either.
Chillin’ before you chow down: Don’t slap your taste buds around with a big, oaky Chardonnay. Keep it light and bright to start things off. A light-bodied Sauvignon
Blanc from New Zealand is just the ticket, or an Oregon Pinot Gris. Recommended: 2014 Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc ($15), 2014 Lake Chalice Sauvignon Blanc ($14), 2014 King Estate Acrobat Pinot Gris ($15).
Chicken: Chicken and white wine — boring! And inappropriate, if your bird has some kick to the rub or the sauce. You want something light but red. A bold New World Pinot would do fine. Recommended: Ken Brown 2013 Santa Barbara County Pinot Noir ($35). Our more unusual recommendation is a Beaujolais-like red that is best served chilled: 2014 J. Lohr Estates Wildflower Valdiguié ($10).
Hamburgers: Most people assume burgers will pair with your typical heavy reds that go with the better steak cuts. But burger lovers know that surprisingly subtle flavors lurk underneath the grilled veneer. If it’s unadorned with cheese or other big taste enhancers, don’t go gargantuan. A great pairing would be a Sicialian Nero d’Avola – it’s medium-bodied with moderate tannins. Recommended: 2010 Gulfi Nerojbleio ($20).
Hot dogs: Yes, the lowly dog is worthy of a wine pairing. It’s salty and mild, unless you’ve added a bit of pizzazz with hot mustard of sauerkraut. A Provencal rosé would work nicely: Bone dry, medium-bodied, crisp, with some wet-stone minerality. Recommended: 2014 Chateau de Brigue ($9), 2014 Miraval Rosé ($22).
Potato salad: Stop laughing! Some of us are happy to park ourselves in front of a big ol’ bowl of mashed -up spuds, especially if there’s some great barbecue sauce handy. A cool-climate California Sauvignon Blanc works beautifully with the often delicate, pleasantly vinegar-y taste of potato salad. Recommended: 2013 Tangent Sauvignon Blanc ($11).
Ribs: They’re quintessential barbecue – a messy, down-home, earthy pleasure. With their strong flavors and combination of spicy and sweet elements, ribs work nicely with Syrah, a rough-and-ready varietal that is made especially well in the south of France, its native home, and California. (Washington makes some great ones, too.) Recommended: 2010 Barrel 27 “Head Honcho” ($28), Beckmen 2012 PMV ($32).
Salmon: Grilling brings out the best in this rather oily fish, caramelizing its fat and eliminating much of its “fishiness.” That rich, unctuous taste is beautifully complemented by a Spanish Albariño, with its zesty profile and pronounced mineral finish. Recommended: 2013 Martin Codax ($13), Granbazán 2013 Etiqueta Ambar Albariño ($23).
Shrimp: With its sweet-ish, delicate flavor, shrimp can easily be overwhelmed by the wrong wine. This is one grilled food that goes with something that’s light, white and a touch sweet, such as a Gewürztraminer. Recommended: 2013 Claiborne & Churchill “Dry” Arroyo Seco ($17).
Tri-tip, brisket or steak: This is one category where Old School holds sway. The heavy-hitter of the barbecue world should really be paired with its traditional partner, a Cabernet Sauvignon or big Bordeaux. Don’t reach for the Napa bin. Save money with a cab from a less expensive California region that’s just as good. recommended: 2013 DAOU Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon ($23). If you’re generous with sweetish barbecue sauce, a big Zinfandel will also work nicely, though it’s best with a spicy sausage. Recommended: 2011 Tobin James “James Gang Reserve” ($25).