Wines to complement a barbecue

It’s fire-up-the-grill season and barbecue is one of the best dance partners wine has ever had. Bold, meaty and smoky not only describe what’s on the grill, but are also accurate descriptors of particular wines.


Nico Dimaria at the grill at Incline Village | Lou Phillips

We want wines that don’t break the bank because there are lots of folks who fire up the grill on a regular basis when summer rolls around, and since it’s Fourth of July season, let’s celebrate our independence by focusing on American classics.


“Bold, meaty and smoky not only describe what’s on the grill,
but are also accurate descriptors of particular wines.”



Fortunately, there are a myriad of wines that meet our criteria. Whether it’s the grapes themselves or the oaky treatments, there is no lack of wines from California with smoky, oaky, spicy, dark berry flavors that are readily available for bargain prices.

Let’s start with America’s Wine – Zinfandel. Although this grape probably originated in Croatia, there is more Zinfandel grown in California than the rest of the world combined. Yes, we own it. The flavors feature ripe fruits, black-pepper notes and often an earthy-brambly component. A couple of reliably good producers are Easton out of the Sierra Foothills and Turley that sources grapes from vineyards statewide.

Although it originated in France, we can also claim Petite Sirah, as again California’s plantings dominate. Far from being petite, this grape brings the thunder with a quite similar aroma and flavor profile to Zinfandel but with an extra dose of tannins and just plain oomph. Petite Sirahs also tend to be drier than Zinfandels, mostly because Zinfandel grapes have so much sugar at harvest it is hard to fully ferment them to completely dry. A couple of super Petite Sirahs are Michael David Winery’s Dynamite from Lodi and Four Vines’ The Heretic from Paso Robles.


Dynamite Petite Sirah | Courtesy Michael David Wines

Lastly, let’s celebrate the much-loved red blends. Fan-favorite The Prisoner from The Prisoner Wine Company brought this category fame and fortune. In good, old American fashion, our wineries can blend whatever the heck they find makes tasty juice. They may contain the above grapes and/or Syrah, Tempranillo, Grenache, Carignan and on and on. Best of all, because winemakers are not tied to certain grape sources, they are usually the best bargains out there. Many tasty versions retail for $15 or less, and with so many choices I suggest asking your local wine consultant what he or she recommends within your budget.

Although these are thick, dark and rich wines, I think you’ll find that in summer weather and with spicy foods they really shine with a little chill. Fifteen to 20 minutes in the fridge or on ice should do the trick.

So here is your summer barbecue recipe: Take plenty of chilled, gutsy wines and lots of food fresh off the grill and mix liberally with good friends. Sounds like a great idea to me.


Lou Phillips is a Level 3 Advanced Sommelier and his consulting business assists in the selling, buying and managing wine collections. He may be reached at (775) 544-3435 or Visit for more wine columns.



For more grilling inspiration, check out recipes from Chef Smitty

Smoking on the grill