At first, the excitement of grill season inspires heavier dishes that are quickly cooked outside but often enjoyed indoors. The in-between season means “tweener” wines — such as oaked whites and fuller-bodied reds — are good choices for pairing. The toasted aromas from barrel-aged wine complement the smoky flavors of grilled meats.
Start off with a medium- to full-bodied red such as a Meritage (rhymes with heritage) from California. Blended from traditional French grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc, these wines are fantastic with grilled steak.
For whites, try an oak-matured wine such as Chardonnay or white Bordeaux from France. The extra body and flavor derived from oak makes both good transitional sippers.
But as the season progresses, marinated meats, lighter sides and softer wines replace the heavier flavors of winter. Sweet barbecue sauces, fruit-driven salads and the first hint of summer sunshine make lighter-styled wines such as Pinot Grigio and Riesling perfect starter wines. Both wines offer crisp acidity and refreshing citrus aromas designed to get your gastric juices in motion and whet your appetite.
In addition, pairing is simple: Serve these wines with anything you would squeeze a lemon on and you have a good match.
For lean grilled meats and vegetarian options, reach for reds that are soft and approachable. Beaujolais-Villages, crafted from the Gamay grape, and a juicy Montepulciano from southern Italy have softer tannins, letting the food shine through. Lamb, beef and other fatty meats require wines that have a bit more structure, such as Malbec, Syrah and Sangiovese. Fuller in body, these wines offer firmer tannins that scrub your palate clean after each bite.
Light and simple “tweener” menus offer a refreshing glimpse of summer. And while we may not be ready for full al fresco dining for a few more weeks, the mere thought of dining under the stars lightens our mood and our pairings. So put away your roasting pan, grab a bottle of rosé and start flipping through your favorite cookbook —summertime wines are just a sip away.
2006 Santa Cristina Pinot Grigio, Sicilia, Italy ($16): Pale lemon with light body and plenty of white peach, lemon and yellow apple aromas. Moderate alcohol and crisp acidity make it a great starter wine or to sip while you grill. Good value.