The long, warm days of summer are reason enough to fire up the grill - or barbecue - and enjoy some of the tastiest food on the planet with family and friends. Serving a good wine with fare hot off the grill turns dinner into a feast to be savored and making a good wine match is easy if you know how.Making that good wine match begins with knowing the food to be grilled. While grilling imparts smoky, caramelized flavors, it is - with a few major exceptions - the food's intrinsic character that suggests good wine choices. As with most wine and food matches, the key is to select a wine that both complements the flavor and approximates the flavor intensity of the food. For example, grilled steaks offer rich, hearty, mouthfilling flavor that pair well with Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah, which offer similar richness, heartiness and depth; Kenwood Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon, Kenwood Jack London Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, Valley of the Moon Sonoma County Syrah and - for more smoothness and complexity - Valley of the Moon Cuvee de La Luna Red Wine are all terrific matches. Grilled lamb chops also have rich flavor, but with some "gaminess" and perceptible fat. Here a bold, bright, smoky Syrah or Sangiovese delivers compatible flavors and cleans the palate; Valley of the Moon Sonoma County Syrah (again, but a good match is a good match) and Valley of the Moon Sangiovese are fine choices. Grilled sausages pair well with Zinfandels that combine generous fruit and spice - candidates to consider include Lake Sonoma Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel, Kenwood Jack London Vineyard Zinfandel and Kenwood Sonoma County Zinfandel. They also pair well with Pinot Gris, and Kenwood Russian River Valley Pinot Gris is sure to please those who prefer a white wine. Pork chops hot off the grill display medium-bodied flavors that show their best with a red or white of similar elegance; a smooth Merlot like Kenwood Sonoma County Merlot is a delicious complement, as is a lush Chardonnay like Valley of the Moon Sonoma Coast Chardonnay. When fish and shellfish - both with subtle flavors that gain richness over an open flame - are on the grill, the most compatible wine choices understandably are white wines. A flavorful Chardonnay, especially ones that have been fermented and aged in oak barrels, like Kenwood Vineyards Sonoma County Chardonnay and Lake Sonoma Russian River Valley Chardonnay, really shines with seafood. Perhaps the only exception to this "grilled seafood and Chardonnay" pairing is grilled salmon because salmon's richness demands a wine that can match it. While Chardonnay works, a graceful Pinot Noir - such as Kenwood Russian River Valley Pinot Noir or Valley of the Moon Carneros Pinot Noir - really accents the flavorful salmon. Grilled chicken likewise has an affinity for white wines, but here the chicken's seasoning comes into play when choosing a wine to pair with it. The herbs and spices common in grilled chicken rubs and marinades make Sauvignon Blanc - with bright, herb-laced character - the perfect wine to serve. Kenwood Sonoma County Sauvignon Blanc is a popular option. Sauvignon Blanc also works well with grilled vegetables and for the same reason; its character complements the herbs and spices used in their preparation. As noted, there are exceptions to using the food to be grilled as the basis for your wine choice. The first exception is barbecue. Barbecue sauces - due to their spicy, tangy and often sweet flavors - often dominate the food being grilled. For barbecued chicken, ribs and pork, a fruit-driven white, dry rose or red wine are the best choices to complement those powerful flavors; wines to consider include Valley of the Moon Pinot Blanc, Valley of the Moon Unoaked Chardonnay and Kenwood Vintage White Wine among the whites, Valley of the Moon Rosato di Sangiovese among the roses, and Valley of the Moon Barbera and Valley of the Moon Zinfandel among the reds. The other exceptions are hamburgers and hotdogs. Hamburgers and hotdogs are summer grill staples, but here the toppings - everything from mustard and ketchup to sauerkraut and relish - hold sway; a flavorful, uncomplicated Zinfandel such as Lake Sonoma Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel or Kenwood Sonoma County Zinfandel is a fine match. Last but not least, if all these potential choices seem too much, or if there are lots of different foods on the grill, simply go with the most versatile wines out there - Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Kenwood Vineyards and Valley of the Moon Winery make good ones and if you serve one of each variety, everyone will find a wine they can enjoy throughout summer grilling season. Celebrate responsibly.
********** Published: June 23, 2011 - Volume 10 - Issue 10