We love a good Northwest Micro-brew paired with a BBQ grill as much as the next Portlander, but sometimes we get a craving for something a tad lighter to sip with our dry-rubbed pork tenderloin and grilled asparagus.
While wine might not be the most obvious beverage choice for the summer grilling season, Zupan’s Wine Steward Amber Kinjerski proves that throwing a spicy Zinfandel or buttery Chardonnay into the mix is nothing short of a guarantee for your praises being sung long into fall.
In our Grilling Wines Q+A, Amber offers advice on pairings and suggestions for great vintages.
Zupan’s: Amber, it’s grilling season and people often associate beer with that phenomenon. Can wine be a great complement to grilled culinary exploits as well?
Amber Kinjerski: Absolutely. I think people get a little lost in always having beer with BBQ. Wine is a wonderful option too—a little more elegant, a little more sophisticated—especially if you’re pursuing a more gourmet-style meal and grilling more exotic foods, such as vegetables and fish. And wine isn’t usually as filling as beer, so it’s great for the summer.
Z: One of the most frequently asked questions we get from our customers is how to choose a wine for the meal they’re making. Can you give us some advice on pairings for grilled foods.
AK: Pay special attention, when you’re pairing wine with grilled foods, to the spices that you’re using. If you’re making a recipe with more spice, a blackening season or a dry rub, you don’t have to stick with something big and heavy like a Zinfandel—which I often recommend for BBQ. You can go with something counter-intuitive, like a Riesling. For example a blackened Cajun salmon with a German Riesling is incredible—something that’s light, refreshing and crisp for the summer months.
Also pay attention to the texture of the food you’re grilling. If you’re grilling vegetables, you can get away with a Chardonnay or a wine that’s lighter because you don’t have to combat the fat and the gristle in the meat. If you’re grilling meats, keep in mind there needs to be a bit of acid to cut through that fat and gristle, but you don’t have to stick with the Cabernet Sauvignons and Zinfandels. You can also branch out into some Côtes Du Rhône wines. There are a lot of really economical wines from Côtes Du Rhône, some for $11-12. We have a wine called Belleruche from Côtes Du Rhône for around that price and it’s beautiful.
Z: We’ve been chatting about which wines to pair with foods, lets flip that equation. Are there certain foods that really shine when you add wine into the mix?
AK: If you’re looking to serve a pretty rosé, you can never go wrong with a fruit salad. Just make sure the dressing doesn’t have too much vinegar in it. Also, any kind of frisée salad, maybe with some salmon on top of it, would be lovely.
If you’re a fan of the big, buttery Chardonnays, your options open up from there. Salmon also goes very well with Chardonnays and it’s hugely popular. If you’re a big Cab fan or a big Merlot fan, your options are even broader. You can start incorporating your dense dark meats—lamb, beef, etc.
Z: We’re at the market, looking at bottles of wine. What kind of specific characteristics are we looking for in the description? What flavor notes? What kind of finish?
AK: If you’re looking for a red wine, look for notes of spice. Spice in your wine and BBQ play very well together. Broad spectrum, the spices used in wine are synonymous with those used in BBQ. If you see, “bold + spicy” on a red—you’ve got it.
You also want to look for spice in white wines as well. You can find that in Rieslings and some Pinot Gris varieties as well. The residual sweetness they kick in is really nice.
Z: Are there any regions that produce stellar wines for grilling?
AK: Lodi in California does. Rutherford out of California also does some really nice reds. For the whites, local Willamette Valley Pinot Gris is awesome. So is the Mosel-Saar-Ruwer region in Germany.
Z: What are a few of your favorite vintages for BBQ? What would you pull out if you were hosting a grilling dinner party?
AK: If I were grilling pork or beef, something rich like that, I would pull either a Cline or a Seghesio Zinfandel. You just can’t go wrong with Zinfandel and BBQ. Also, Italian wines play very well with BBQ. I would probably pull a 2002-2004 Nero d’Avola or a Chianti Classico.
Z: What about wines for dessert? What are some wines that pair well with classic grilled fruit options such as pineapple, peaches, etc.?
AK: Both a late harvest Muscat or a late harvest Gewurztraminer are amazing with grilled fruit. If you’re going lighter and using citrus or pineapple, we have a wine from Australia called Torbreck “The Bothie” that would be incredible. If you’re going sweeter, we have some great local dessert wines. I would specifically recommend a Gewurztraminer we have from Capitello called “Dolcino.”
Z: Famous last words—what is the most important thing to remember when choosing wine for your grilling escapades?
AK: Don’t be afraid to venture outside your comfort zone. Explore lower priced options and regions you aren’t as familiar with. Look into South America and try some of the rich, spicy wines they’re producing. You don’t have to do a big, bold, fruit-bomb of a wine to keep it interesting. Play a little—these wines are flexible.
Amber Kinjerski is an internationally-certified Sommelier and Co-Manager + Steward of the Burnside Zupan’s Markets Wine Cellar. You can find her in the market most weekdays from 9am to 5pm. She is always willing to help you find a beautiful wine for any occasion–big or small.
To fabulous wine and great grilling adventures…Cheers!