Pairing wines with summer fare

Take a look around on almost any Sierra summer day and you’re sure to see an abundance of folks cooking and eating al fresco. You’ll also notice most of these outdoor meals have much in common, such as meats and veggies on the grill, fresh salads and an abundance of seasonal fruits. With the bounty of the season, we have a lot more produce options so our meals tend to have more diverse ingredients than other times of the year.

Great wine pairings for both the chip/dip and salad courses need to dance with all of these flavors and textures, so aromatic whites are a great call here.

So, how do we wine match with the different cooking techniques and combinations of ingredients in our fair-weather feasts?

Salads & starters

Let’s start with our starters, in this case, usually chips with dips and salads. Chips are crunchy and salty and dips fall into two main categories: creamy or spicy. The creamy dips are usually sour cream or yogurt based and spiked with herbs. The spicy dips are generally in the salsa category and typically deliver heat and sweet notes.

Salads are almost always anchored by leafy greens and bring, well, just about anything in summer. Great wine pairings for both the chip/dip and salad courses need to dance with all of these flavors and textures, so aromatic whites are a great call here.

If you are looking to match these foods more than balance them, look for a crisp, citrusy and grassy Sauvignon Blanc or Austrian Grüner Veltliner. If you want to balance and contrast, move to wines such as Oregon Pinot Gris, Mendocino Gewürztraminer or a White Côtes du Rhône blend. The same can be said for fresh-fruit dishes, whether they are the cut-and-serve solo type or mixed mélanges tossed together.

On the grill

Next up are the grilled and/or barbecued foods. Meat or veggie, these are almost always marinated, sauced and spiced. Due to the fiery cooking methods, they are also imbued with smoky and charred flavors. Wine pairing is an easy go here because bold and smoky Zinfandels, Syrahs, Petite Sirahs and red blends are perfect marriage partners and dominate current wine selections, especially in grocery stores.

Another great feature about a wine list like this is that you almost can’t spend a lot of money in these wine categories. Good versions of all of these are available for $10 to $15 or even less. Even if you want to splurge, on let’s say, some high-quality Zinfandel, such as a Turley, you can get one of their regional blends for less than $25.

Wine, food, friends and the great outdoors are the perfect recipe for satiating our appetites, warming our hearts and helping us appreciate the amazing mountain playground we call home. Cheers.

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Lou Phillips
Lou is a Level 3 Sommelier based on the North Shore of Lake Tahoe, who loves traveling the wine world doing research for his writing. He also consults for collectors and businesses buying and selling fine wine and creating special events.