Hot dogs on the grill—or even hamburgers, pork ribs, or barbecued chicken—don’t shout wine. But why not?
If you’re inclined to enjoy a little alcohol with your summery, casual cookout foods, wine works just as well as—and often better than—beer or mixed drinks. But that’s true only if you pick wines that feel right for summer and that go well with these foods.
Here are the wines to try at your next barbecue (or picnic!), all very affordable at $10 or so…
WINES FOR HOT DOGS, BRATWURST AND SAUSAGES
The Germans and Alsatians in eastern France have long enjoyed wine in the “wurst” way, usually with a dry riesling, native to both Germany and Alsace. The match works with most sausages because even dry rieslings can be slightly sweet, offsetting the spice and salt in the meat (and you can poach your sausage in the same wine instead of beer before you grill it). Good-quality German and Alsatian rieslings cost well over $10—starting around $18—but there is an Aussie wine, Yalumba Y series Riesling, about $10, that’s a wonderful alternative. You’ll taste some lemon and citrus fruit (but not especially tart), a stony sort of finish and a hint of sweetness.
What about the classic American hot dog? It’s actually more of a red wine food! What you’ll want, though, is a light style of red. One of my favorite pairings with hot dogs is Bogle Petite Sirah, about $10. Petite sirah, not to be confused with syrah or shiraz, is its own grape, and this wine shows the difference—almost dark and almost plummy but without much in the way of the tannins and their astringent character that you notice in the back of your mouth or the heaviness typical of many other red wines.
WINE FOR HAMBURGERS
Hamburgers also are red wine food—especially if piled high with cheese and bacon. But don’t limit yourself to the usual grocery-store cabernet sauvignon and merlot. Try Hedges C.M.S., about $12. It’s a red blend from Washington State with black fruit flavors that is made with cabernet, merlot and syrah. As such, it has a little of each—tannins and acidity of the cabernet, merlot to smooth out the rough spots and syrah to add a little richness.
Or try a French malbec. Though malbec has become associated with Argentina, it actually is a French grape.
The Argentine style of wine is very fruity, while those from France, such as Le Vassal de Mercuès, about $10, are much darker and more interesting. This malbec is both earthy and almost rustic, something that doesn’t happen much anymore. Look for a little spice as well, plus malbec’s signature blueberry and black cherry fruit. It pairs perfectly with a burger.
WINE FOR BARBECUED CHICKEN
How do you barbecue chicken? With a sweetish red sauce? Marinated in olive oil, lemon juice and garlic? Or with salt and pepper and a few other spices?
Regardless of method, dry rosé wine is the choice. This dry pink wine is so versatile and goes well with so many kinds of foods and preparations that it should be on a list such as this every time. One excellent choice: The South African Mulderbosch Rosé, about $12. It’s made with the cabernet grape, not common for a rosé, and so has a little more heft to it than many rosés. But it’s still low in alcohol with a crisp, refreshing finish.
Vinho verde, the nonvintage Portuguese white wine with an almost greenish tint, doesn’t get enough respect. Even though it usually costs very little (between $6 and $10), it comes with a welcome fizziness, a hint of sweetness and very low alcohol. It’s often lumped in with wine not worth drinking. That’s not true—especially outside on a hot day! Next time you grill chicken, try Broadbent Vinho Verde, about $10—it’s a step up from the $6 wines, with less fizziness and sweetness and more lemon-lime fruit. Regardless of brand, always serve vinho verde ice-cold. Otherwise, it can taste like warm beer.
WINE FOR GRILLED SHRIMP
This is white wine food, and the usual pairing is a citrusy New Zealand sauvignon blanc. But there are plenty of other options, including two types of wine that aren’t as well-known as sauvignon blanc but can deliver more value.
The first is a white blend from the French region of Gascony made with grapes that have traditionally been used to make Armangac, the area’s version of brandy. The grapes—ugni blanc and colombard, with a little sauvignon blanc sometimes thrown in—make a dry, lemony, crisp wine with an almost grapey overtone. It will complement shrimp’s richness and fishiness (as well as almost anything you would use as a marinade or spice rub on shrimp). One widely available Gascon white blend is from Domaine de Pouy, about $10.
Pinot gris is the same grape as the pinot grigio that Italy exports in shiploads to the US. The difference is in style—pinot gris has more fruit and a richer mouthfeel. Oregon makes some of the best pinot gris wines in the world, and A to Z Wineworks does a nice job selling pinot gris for around $12. The lime and lime zest flavors practically jump around your mouth, while there is a bit of tropical fruit in the middle.
WINE FOR BARBECUED PORK RIBS
Again, how do you like your ribs? Carolina style, with the tangy mustard sauce? Or with a Memphis or Kansas City–style spice rub? Or with a sweet red sauce?
Again, go with rosé wine—but in this case, the Spanish Marqués de Riscal made with the tempranillo grape, about $10. I tasted this wine with $25 French and $16 California rosés, and it easily was the most impressive—clean, crisp, with some orangey fine aromas and fresh cherry fruit. It’s easily one of the best rosés I’ve tasted this summer.
The other choice for barbecued ribs is a six-grape red blend from California called Firehouse Red, about $12, made by Leese-Fitch. Leese-Fitch is part of a larger company that includes Plungerhead and Hey, Mambo and that makes grocery store wine that is a step above most of the others. The Firehouse Red has a lot of red and black fruit, but it also has soft tannins and enough acidity to offset the fruit. In this, all that fruit will pair with almost any sauce or spice rub you use on your ribs.