Although al fresco dining usually starts with light fare and, if you followed the last three installments of my column (at TheTahoeWeekly.com; click on Local Flavor), you have those wines covered, your outdoor repast inevitably involves burning, flaming, smoking wood. This creates bold flavors and textures that can run right over your beverages, so you need to fight fire with fire in your wine choices.
Whites with spice & earth
On the white side look for wines that lead with spice and earth, where the fruits are a little in the background. As with sports cars and fashions, you can’t go wrong with almost any Italian. Every region in this bold, flavor-centric culture has selected a main grape or grapes that complement their cuisine. In Tuscany, they feature Vernaccia and Vermentino; in the Marche, it’s Verdicchio; the Veneto loves Garganega and on and on. You don’t have to be a wine geographer to find a gem, however, because almost any Italian white will stand up to and complement your fired foods.
The same can be said for Spanish whites that typically have a real herbaceousness. In still wines, check out Viura and Verdejo from north-central regions. In bubbles, Cavas are a good call because the classic Cava grapes are chockful of herby-spicy flavors and have a kick of citrus to boot. Think of how well this profile will marry with grilling marinades.
Brooding red wines
When the meats and sauces come out, however, it’s time for red or purple or black, as in deep-dark, brooding red wines. California is a great place to start because it is the center of the universe for Zinfandel and Petit Sirah. It is in barbecue land where even the ripest, richest versions of these wines become balanced dance partners with food. Another reason to go for these guys is that even value versions are going to be great barbecue partners, making them perfect for large gatherings. If you want to live large with either of these wines, Turley Wine Cellars makes stellar examples of both.
Other red winners are the spicier Bordeaux varietals such as Malbec and Cabernet Franc. Don’t reinvent the wheel when it comes to Malbec, just grab Argentineans. The Mendoza region offers in-your-face versions and for something a little more refined look to Patagonia because the cooler climate brings some restraint and structure.
For Cabernet Franc, California offers rich, ripe choices, the Loire Valley in France has bright energetic offerings and this grape is really coming to life in Chile in wines that have a strong, earthy, bass note that rocks with grilled foods.
As with most things wine related, don’t get caught in the details — any juice you like that has spicy, smoky flavors will turn your outdoor fiesta into a rock party.