One of red Zinfandel’s great raisons d’être involves its happy marriage with sweet-and-spicy grilled things, like barbecued ribs. Zinfandel is juicy enough to stand up to the sweet barbecue glaze, yet it’s subtly spicy enough to play off of the grill’s smoke. And its luscious texture is apt for the summer.
For meatier items, like a grilled flank steak, rib eye, or even a burger, choose something with firm tannins that can stand up to, and slice through, the weighty texture. A Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is delicious with a grilled rib eye. The ripe Cabernet will play off of the sweetness of the meat, and Cabernet’s gripping tannins help cut through the rich meat.
Burgers can be trickier because everyone has his own interpretation of what to put on top. It is important to let your preferences dictate the wines you choose to go with it. Garnacha/Grenache from Spain, France and Australia make a delicious partner to a juicy, medium-rare burger with ketchup. The grape’s natural sweetness plays off of the sweet, ground meat and is augmented by the ketchup. Burgers with smoked bacon are especially good with Syrah from the Northern Rhône Valley in France. (Hermitage is the most famous example, but a Saint-Joseph or Croze-Hermitage will do the trick, too.) Those who like charred burgers with lettuce and tomato might like a glass of Cabernet from Washington State or Napa Valley. Cabernet’s thick tannins will help soften the charred meat, and the slight greenness from the wine will gently augment the lettuce leaf. Malbec from Mendoza, Argentina would be a delicious alternative—as would a glass of Bordeaux. White wine enthusiasts might enjoy a full-bodied white wine, like a French or California Chardonnay, or a glass of Marsanne or Roussane from the Northern Rhône.
Summertime is also synonymous with rosé—and rosé is an extremely versatile option that can be delicious with all sorts of cookout cuisine. A lighter-style rosé, à la Provence, is perfectly refreshing and matches nicely with anything from vegetable crudité to grilled fish. It’s also excellent with shrimp cocktail and even oysters should you find yourself at the barbecue of an ambitious host! A darker-styled rosé (made by leaving the grapes in contact with their skins a bit longer) will match beautifully with grilled chicken, crab cakes, and barbecued pork chops.
If you’re grilling fish or shellfish, Chablis, the northern-most region of Burgundy, is an excellent go-to. Wines labeled Chablis are always made from 100% Chardonnay, but the grape, grown here, has a very crisp, lemony brightness with a distinct chalky overtone. Chablis’ inherent minerality and subtle saline notes make it delicious with any kind of sea-dwelling creature.