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Grillin' Like a Villain: Wine Edition


Labor day marks the end of summer in most folks minds (it's actually the 22nd of September, but this is about minds, not the Solstice). It doesn't have to be the end of summer fun: there's still plenty of daylight for weeknight grilling, and with the kids back in school, vacations now a memory for the grown-ups, and while there’s still heat beating down in most parts of the country, a relaxing backyard meal sounds just about right.


Beer goes with outdoor cooking, there's no question. But there are wines that goes well--or perhaps, better--than beer with your grilled foods. Here are my top tips for enjoying your wine in the backyards, along with some Master Vintner pairings that will set off your food and impress your guests.

Tip #1: Subbing for Beer

Beer, especially well-chilled beer with a crisp or hoppy finish works well with smoky grilled foods, especially if they have some spice or richness. That's because the carbonic acid from the bubbles in beer and the bitterness of the hops act like acid in wine, cleansing the palate and setting you up for your next delicious bite. If you want a straightforward lager or IPA analogue from wine, try a Master Vintner Pinot Grigio. It's got the crisp acidity and clean fruit to swap in nicely with nearly any grilled food.

Tip #2: Chill Out

When it's really hot out, wicked sticky and steamy, wine isn't always the most thirst quenching drink. So, add some ice cubes--a couple of good cubes tossed into red or white wine will make all the difference.

I'm serious: far too often people take wine so seriously that they miss the fact that it should be delicious and refreshing, and when it's witheringly hot out, ice not only chills your wine down, but also dilutes it a little, keeping your hydration up.


Lest anyone thinks diluting your wine is a modern abomination, the ancient Greeks never drank undiluted wine, and considered drinking straight wine a sign of gluttony. Keep in mind they mixed their wines with seawater (the best sort was judged to come from 100 yards offshore, gathered in a bucket from a rowboat) but we can use straight-up ice to keep things cool.

Tip #3: Juice It Up


The classic patio wine refresher is Sangria: mix up fruit juice, your favorite fruity red and a bit of sugar and serve it over ice and you've got an instant pitcher of party, with the added bonus that it goes well with almost any summery food, and double-bonus that it can be made up hours ahead of time and chilled in the fridge until your burgers are ready.

Tip #4: Think Pink

Rosé is still trending after years of increasing popularity--and no wonder: the juicy fruitiness of white wine, a hint of the backbone of a red, and a tiny bit of sweetness makes for a great chilled wine. Our Zinfandel White is wonderfully balanced and ready to go with burgers, chicken or pork chops.

Pairing It Up

Up to now I've been referring to grilling, and not barbecue. I may only be a Canadian, but I do know the difference between low and slow and grilling! Barbecued ribs, brisket, chicken, whole hogs, lambs and such vary from region to region, but for the most part you're looking at spicy, smoky foods that are rich with fatty goodness. All of them need a robust red wine with good fruit and a lot of tannin to stand up to the richness of the meat and the tang of the spice.


Two wines that have the stuffing to stand up to barbecue are Sommelier Select Old Vine Cabernet and Sommelier Select Rosso Ardente. The Cabernet has masses of tannin and classic blackberry/blackcurrant fruit that will wrassle any brisket to the ground, while the Rosso Ardente is a blockbuster of red fruit, tannin and alcohol, and will make pals with ribs, even with a sweet barbecue sauce on them.

For grilled foods, you can pull out all the stops for a thick, juicy steak--I'd suggest a Sommelier Select Old Vine Merlot or a Winemaker's Reserve Carménère. Old vines mean the Merlot has a density of black cherry fruit and very dense, rich tannins, perfect for a nicely aged rib-eye or Porterhouse. Carménère is a bit like Merlot's taller, handsomer brother, with a bit more tannin and a juiciness to it that's terrifically appealing, making it a natural for burgers, especially a good cheeseburger!

Grilled chicken usually makes people think of whites right away, but here's where Pinot Noir has a serious edge: lower in tannin than most other reds, it also has delicate, refined fruit with hints of raspberry and cherry. Winemaker's Reserve Pinot Noir is perfectly balanced and gulpable, even on a hot day.

Grilled sausages, whether brats or something spicy need a wine with good acidity and fruitiness. The answer is Riesling: with floral notes, flavours of green apple and stone fruits and a lip-smacking finish it's the sausage king. Winemaker's Reserve Riesling is a great match and takes very well to being served icy cold.

Grilled shrimp or fish needs a deft hand: too much acid in the wine and the fish will seem bland, but you need enough fruit and richness to haul in the sweetness of prawns, whitefish or salmon. Your best bet is a Chardonnay: tropical fruit notes and smooth finish can work with not only grilled fish, but also fruit salsas and a dash of lemon. Sommelier Select Chardonnay is just the wine for the job.

Grilled veggies are a little tougher to pair up: they can go from fairly bland (zucchini, I'm looking at you) to richly meaty (marinated grilled Portobello mushrooms can rival a steak). However, most of them will be dressed with a bit of oil and salt. A top-notch utility red for veggies is Malbec. Sommelier Select Chilean Malbec is juicy, spicy and ripe, with robust but not overwhelming tannin, covering all your veggie possibilities.

And when you're ready to put the grill away for the season, that's the time to get more wine fermenting--It's only going to be 8 months until you'll haul it out again, and you should be ready!

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