Not every wine out there is truly Weber-friendly Wines: Some wines are born to go with a grill. They may not be the highest-rated vintages and varieties, but they've got an aptitude for the outdoors

Vintage Point

September 02, 1998|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN WINE CRITIC

You can serve just about any old wine with grilled food. If it's good wine, you'll enjoy it; if it isn't, you won't.

There are some wines, however, that just seem to meld with grilled foods a little bit better than the rest. These wines seem to pick up something in the unique flavors that grilling imparts to food. So as we approach Labor Day, one of the premier grilling weekends of the year, the hunt will be on for wines that sizzle as much as the food.

The first thing to realize about these wines is that they're not necessarily the richest or most complex ones. They're not always the ones that get the 90-point-plus ratings from critics. They just have a certain "it" - a hint of smoke, a nuance of herbs or just a little extra acidity - that makes them sing when consumed with foods hot off the grill.

It's perhaps easiest to start with what a "grill wine" is not. First, it isn't a chardonnay. It's a lovely grape, very popular and it's easy to pronounce, but chardonnay has no particular affinity for grilled food. Does that mean I'd turn down a glass of Batard-Montrachet with grilled salmon? No. But it would be no more perfect with that salmon than if the fish had been poached.

Cabernet sauvignon and merlot and all the various blends of Bordeaux-style grapes are nothing special with grilled foods. There's something very indoors about these wines - something that goes perfectly with food that's been roasted in the kitchen. I'm not going to turn down a Caymus Special Selection anytime, anywhere, but it just seems more at home in a dining room than on a deck.

Northern Rhones, Mosel rieslings, Alsace gewurztraminers, Barolos and Barbarescos - all wonderful wines, but none especially suited for consuming with grilled foods.

Ah, but sauvignon blanc. How perfectly a smoky, herbal Sancerre made from this sometimes underappreciated grape just curls around grilled shrimp, scallops or vegetables!

Pinot noir, for all its aristocratic lineage, can get down and boogie with grilled tuna or chicken. It actually helps if it's not too great a wine. A light or medium-bodied pinot noir can just intertwine with grilled food, where a majestic Chambertin would dominate it.

Beaujolais is seldom great wine, but it is often great with grilled food. Like the lighter pinot noirs, it carries just a dollop more acidity in the finish than many red wines. Grilled foods seem to bond with reds that are a little long on acidity and a little light on tannin.

One caveat: Barbecue sauce in virtually all forms is the enemy of wine. If you don't like beer, the only wine to serve with barbecue sauce is a big, rustic brute of a red wine that can subdue the sauce by sheer force. (Try something like the 1997 Carchello Monastrell, an $8 Spanish mourvedre that seems to think it's a California petite sirah.)

In a recent series of tastings, I set out to search for some examples of wines that would bring something extra to the table when served with grilled foods. I would bet my Weber on any of the following:


*1997 Vega Sindoa "El Chaparral" Old Vines Grenache, Navarra ($11). This exceptional value, Spain's answer to Chateauneuf-du-Pape, combines intense, concentrated flavors of herbes de Provence and blackberry with a floral aroma with traces of bergamot. It would be wonderful with grilled steak and even better with leg of lamb.

*1996 Cline Live Oak Vineyard Zinfandel, Contra Costa County ($22). This powerful zin booms across the palate with concentrated flavors of blackberry, black pepper, herbs and coffee. Try it with grilled beef, lamb or other four-legged critters.

*1997 Georges Duboeuf Moulin-a-Vent ($12). This exceptional Beaujolais with layers of black raspberry and black-cherry fruit would complement grilled foods ranging from steak and chicken to tuna and salmon.

*1996 Sanford Pinot Noir, Santa Barbara County ($28). Match this wine's deep, layered black-cherry and black-pepper flavors with a well-marinated tuna steak - cooked over a fire until the flesh inside is pink - and you're on your way to nirvana.

*1995 Luc Pirlet "Les Granges Valles" Syrah-Mourvedre, Vin de Pays d'Oc ($9). This medium-bodied southern French red wine combines bright black-cherry fruit with herbal flavors and a good, racy acidity. It should go down nicely with grilled beef, pork or lamb.


*1997 Reverdy Sancerre, "La Reine Blanche" ($15). "The White Queen" rules. This textbook Sancerre, a dry Loire wine, just cries out to be served with grilled shrimp or scallops. Its crisp feel and flavors of smoke, minerals, pear and apples are dead-on perfect for this purpose.

*1996 Chateau Fort de Roquetaillade Graves ($15). This fruity, herbal white Bordeaux finishes with a penetrating acidity that would resonate with any grilled seafood short of tuna.

*1997 Domaine de la Becassonne Cotes du Rhone ($11). This full-bodied white Rhone has an unusually pronounced white-pepper flavor - set against a backdrop of apple, herbs and peaches - that would likely stand up beautifully to grilled salmon, shark or swordfish.

*1997 Dry Creek Fume Blanc, Sonoma County ($11). This reliable white wine delivers what might be its finest, most nuanced performance ever - combining apple, peach and pear fruit with mineral flavors and a hint of juniper. It would be a delight with grilled salmon.

*1997 Sanford Sauvignon Blanc, Central Coast ($16). This wine is packed with fruit and seasoned with flavors of herbs and white pepper. It just grabs you and won't let go. Try it with grilled seafood. Try it with no food. But try it.

Pub Date: 9/02/98

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.