Posted July 6, 2011

Best Wines for Summer Barbecues

Eat + Drink

A guest post written by Emily Wines, Master Sommelier

Each season heralds a new range of wines and lots of new pairing opportunities. Summer wines are some of my favorites. On long, hot days, lower alcohol wines are ideal; they refresh without making your head fuzzy.

If you’re a regular blog reader, you know I always have a slew of recommendations. This time, let’s focus on great wines for barbecues.

Try Vinho Verde from Portugal for a bright, citrus kick; or Riesling from Germany for a soft, fruity approach. I call these “cooking wines.” They are what you want to drink while sweating over the grill. A nice Riesling that’s easy to find is Dr. Loosen’s “Dr. L.” It is light, crisp and slightly fruity — a bit like drinking lemonade.

Oak in wines doesn’t typically lend itself to food pairings. When it comes to barbecue, however, it’s ideal. The smoky flavors of oak pop against grilled foods. For fish, shellfish and chicken without barbecue sauce, I recommend Chardonnay, oaked Sauvignon Blanc or Viognier. Chardonnay is an easy go-to wine and there are several styles out there. The big, buttery ones go really well with grilled foods, because their flavors are creamy and bold, like golden apples or butterscotch. If you want to try Sauvignon Blanc, look for a Fumé Blanc or other oaked version of the grape. I recommend Robert Mondavi Fumé Blanc for great quality for the money. For an Old World experience, try White Bordeaux, for which the grape is blended with Semillon. With these wines you get a tropical flavor that has touches of passionfruit and guava matched with zesty citrus. Viognier is rich and full-bodied with flavors of peaches and white flowers. It adds an exotic touch to any meal.

Grilling gamey meats? Try Peay Vineyards’ “Les Titans” Syrah

When looking at reds, there are quite a few options. If you are grilling meats without sweeter barbecue sauces, you can use a drier wine. A big bold Cabernet is perfect for tri-tip (a central California favorite). If you are doing lamb, go for Syrah. A good Syrah has flavors of pepper that nicely complement gamier meats. One of my favorites is Peay “Les Titans” Syrah from the Sonoma Coast. I like to pair juicy Pinot Noir with pork and chicken; the lower tannins and flavors of cherries and berries meld don’t overwhelm lighter meats. When you are using barbecue sauces, a whole new range of wines is needed. (Sauces often have a lot of sugar in them and when paired they can make dry wines end up tasting bitter or sour.) Find a wine with a bit of sweetness and you will have a perfect match. It doesn’t need to be a wine that tastes perceptibly sweet, just really juicy and ripe.

Australian Shiraz is great; the big black fruits, vanilla and smoky spices cry out for barbecue. Malbec from Argentina and good old California Zinfandel, with its juicy boysenberry flavor, are also hits. A perfect Zinfandel is Ridge “Three Valleys” from Sonoma. Even White Zinfandel works here. This is a wine that people love or hate, but its fruity nature matched with cool, refreshing taste makes it a top summer wine. If you are feeling a bit too highbrow for White Zin, then go for a dry rosé. These are best drank very young when the flavors of strawberry and cherry meld fuse with dry, crisp acidity.

Happy grilling!

~ Emily Wines
Master Sommelier and Director of Wines

Photo of Emily Wines by Chris Guillen; photo of wine courtesy Peay Vineyards
Updated April 20, 2016


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


  1. I’m used in pairing beer from barbecue but I think you have a good suggestion I haven’t tried wines and barbecue before but I think that would be an interesting combination. Nice insights.

  2. Hey! I just want to give an enormous thumbs up for the nice
    info you may have here on this post. I can be coming again to your
    blog for extra soon.