Get fired up: Wine is great with food from the grill.

By By Karen MacNeil
August 17, 2004

Two things define summer for me: lying in a hammock (althoughsitting in a deck chair also will do) and grilling. No matter thatcooking indoors is probably cleaner, easier, and more predictable.To cook outdoors is to surrender yourself to summer. And whateveryou grill, barbecue, or smoke will turn out better if you have aglass of wine while wielding the tongs. So sip whatever you like.But when it's time to serve your masterpiece, pair it withsomething that will highlight your effort. After some thought-andpractice-here are a few suggestions.

Light Isn't Always Right
Come June, many people stock up on enough light white wine tolast the entire summer. But whites aren't necessarily the bestcompanions for grilled fare. Consider all the places in the worldthat have long traditions of cooking outdoors. From Spain toAustralia, France to Argentina, red wines are more often servedwith summertime meals than whites. There are hundreds of terrificwine partners for grilled, barbecued, and smoked foods, and theycome in all colors.

Refreshing Quotient
For simple grilled dishes (grilled vegetables or shrimp, forexample), one of the most important qualities a wine can have iscrispness. Crispness comes from acidity, and acidity in wine cutsthrough the flavors of grilled foods to set up a deliciouscounterpoint. Whites that have a good amount of natural acidityinclude Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, and Pinot Gris/Pinot Grigio. Forreds, choose Sangiovese (the grape that makes Chianti) or PinotNoir.

Bold Is Beautiful
In the heat of summer, a light, delicate wine might seemright on the money. But the opposite is often true. Grilled foodsare usually boldly accented-their marinades, flavorings, and saucesare anything but shy. In such company, a delicate wine would end uptasting like water. So choose bold, expressive, fruity wines. NewZealand Sauvignon Blancs and Alsace Gew'rztraminers are whites thatfit the bill. Reds include California Zinfandels, AustralianShirazes, and southern French reds like C'tes du Rh'ne.

Spice Is Nice
Certain wines naturally have spicy or peppery flavors. If thedish you're making also possesses these qualities, then a spicywine will provide a complementary synergy. Among whites, tryGew�rztraminers and Sauvignon Blancs; among reds,go for Syrahs (especially from France's Rh'ne Valley), someZinfandels, some Merlots, and some Cabernets.

Terrific BBQ Mates (priced between$10-$25)

Twin Islands 2002 Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough, NewZealand: Fresh, dramatic, and crisp. It's just waiting to be pairedwith grilled asparagus or seafood.

Huia 2001 Gew'rztraminer from Marlborough, New Zealand:Powerfully vivid with flavors of gingerbread, litchis, minerals,and peaches. Try it with a sassy version of barbecued chicken.

Veramonte Sauvignon Blanc from Casablanca Valley, Chile: Meadowyaromas, flavors of spearmint and green fig, and a crisp-yet-creamytexture. Let it shine with a simple platter of olive oil-drizzledgrilled vegetables.

Stonehaven Limestone Coast 1999 Shiraz from Australia:Saturated fruit flavors, plus loads of cocoa, vanilla, and plushblackberry tastes. Ideal with barbecued or smoked lamb or beef.

Hedges "CMS" from Columbia Valley, Washington: An inviting blendof Cabernets, Merlot, and Syrah with blueberry and spicy cassisflavors. Most Cabernet-based wines are too pricey for humblebackyard burgers. This, however, would be ideal.

Saintsbury Pinot Noir 2001 from Carneros, California: One ofCalifornia's juiciest and fruitiest Pinot Noirs; flavors of spicedstrawberry jam, plum jam, candy apple, and baked cherries. It couldstar opposite grilled duck or barbecued Cornish hens.

Karen MacNeil is author of The Wine Bible (Workman, 2001) and chair of the wine programs at the CulinaryInstitute of America in California's Napa Valley. Wine prices arenational retail estimates and may vary.