Conventional wisdom has it that summer is the time for white wine. Personally, I love red wine too much to abandon it for the season. Besides, summer is all about grilling, and when it comes to grilled foods, red is indispensable and irresistible. There are a few things to consider when pairing red wine with grilled food.
Char. Part of the appeal of grilled food is the fabulous sweet-smoky flavor and crunchy texture of the caramelized crust or "char" that grilling produces. Char, a dramatic flavor in food, has a natural affinity for bold red wines that have been aged in toasted (charred) oak barrels. When dense red meats such as beef or lamb are grilled, the powerful resulting flavors are perfectly balanced by a bold cabernet sauvignon, merlot, or syrah―all of which have immense structure.
• Try one of these with our Grilled Lamb with Anchoiade Dressing.
Fruitiness. Certain wines have a rich layer of fruit that balances a grilled food's char. You can taste this by serving grilled chicken or vegetables with Beaujolais, a superfruity French red. In fact, Beaujolais' fruity edge is tempered when it's served slightly chilled (10 minutes in the refrigerator will do). The coolness of the wine offsets the heat of the food right off the grill.
Spice. With wine, as with food, spice is nice. Most spicy grilled foods are underscored by spicy-peppery wines. Among the spicy reds best are those from France's Rhone Valley and many zinfandels
• Try either of these wines with our Spiced Chicken Skewers.
A Note on Sangria
Some wine pros may consider this heresy, but I happily admit to loving sangria, the Spanish cocktail that blends red wine, fruit juice, soda water, fruit, and liqueur. Because it's served chilled, it's especially welcome in summer. To make a good sangria, begin with a good wine. I like to combine chilled zinfandel with lime juice, sugar, cold sparkling water, a splash of grenadine, and Cointreau (orange-flavored liqueur). Add ice and slices of fresh lime, and serve. For sangria blanco, use white wine instead of red.