Vines & Vittles

Wines for picnic meals

Can anyone find spring? I think Mother Nature must have benched spring this year for not showing up with more energy and intensity. It seems like we have sprung directly from winter to summer.

Anyway, Memorial Day weekend is upon us and, while this is a solemn holiday, it also heralds the official start of the picnic and barbecue season. And it’s also time to transition from the heavy wines of the cooler months in favor of lighter-styled whites, roses’ and reds.

Of course, you’ll need to pair these vinous lovelies with appropriate hunks of protein like red meat, chicken, fish and pork as well as fresh garden vegetables. And the best way to enjoy warm weather food is to cook it in the great out-of-doors on your trusty charcoal or gas grill. So let’s talk about the most common picnic type foods you will be preparing this summer and which wines are most compatible with them.

If you’re like me, you don’t mind wolfing down an occasional (less than healthful) food product. I cherish those increasingly infrequent times when I toss caution to the wind and select hot dogs, Italian sausage, chorizo, kielbasa or smoked meats like ham for the grill. I love to match these humble offerings with lighter styled reds like Beaujolais, cabernet franc or grenache-based wines such as those found in the southern Rhone. I also love to pair them with chilled, fruit-forward and dry rose’.

For our vegetarian friends – or anyone else who wants to go meatless – there are wines for you too. Try using a crisp, herbaceous sauvignon blanc or a fresh and fruity pinot grigio with grilled veggies like asparagus, broccoli or with sweet, or with multi-colored bell peppers. You might whip up a cold penne pesto pasta salad -composed of basil, minced garlic, pecorino romano, and extra virgin olive oil – and pair it with albarino from Spain or picpoul de pinet from southern France.

How about scallops or lobster tails on the grill? You’ll want a rich, but well-balanced, chardonnay or a full-bodied and round white like friulano. This lovely wine from northeastern Italy is not well known, but it is worth searching out because it’s a delicious substitute for the ubiquitous (and sometimes over-used) chardonnay.

Sangiovese and pinot noir are my favorite red wines in the warm months, particularly when matched with dishes like barbecued baby back ribs or spiced up (cumin, ancho, cayenne, etc) skirt steak. These reds should be served slightly chilled and are particularly simpatico with spicy foods.

But the sine qua non of all warm weather dishes is red meat. And guess what? You don’t need to forego using full-bodied reds just because the ambient outdoor temperature is sizzling. Simply pop that big cabernet, zinfandel or petite sirah into the fridge for a half-hour or so before you’re ready to eat. Then enjoy that rib eye steak, rack of lamb or filet mignon with the full-flavored wines that were meant to be paired with them.