Memorial Day is fast approaching, and with it begins the season of outdoor cooking, eating and drinking. Hamburgers, hot dogs, grilled chicken and ribs are the order of the day. Throw in some sides of baked beans, sweet corn and potato salad and you’ve got a meal fit for a king. But what about wines? Sure, beer may be traditional, but wine adds a little something extra to any dish, even the lowly hotdog. Here are some suggestions to liven up your Memorial Day “feastivities.”
Hamburgers are a favorite for holiday cookouts. And why not? They’re big and juicy and tasty, with just enough fat to satisfy the inner carnivore. For a basic burger, Vivino recommends a Cabernet, Malbec or Syrah, which can contribute firm tannins to counteract the fattiness of the meat, as well as intense fruit flavors to balance the spicy and smoky aromas from oak aging. Many consider Zinfandel to be the all-time classic burger wine, especially if you top your creation with a crispy bacon and salty cheese. Some wine experts, but certainly not all, like to pair a Chardonnay with burgers. White wine with burgers is anathema to many wine lovers, but advocates say a full-bodied Chardonnay from California will add a little acid zip that cuts through the fattiness of the meat and any creamy, spicy toppings. You might be daring and try a sparkler, which can be fabulous with burgers, as long as it’s not too sweet. When choosing a wine, try not to overthink it. After all, this is a burger, not a chateaubriand.
Hot dogs are the quintessential food of summertime, especially if you’re at a baseball game. While hot dogs come in many varieties, all are salty and hearty, so they need a wine with light tannins and acid. For classic, condiment-topped dogs, Vivino recommends zippy white wines (Grüner Veltliner) and light-bodied reds (Pinot Noir). For heavily-topped dogs, such as chili dogs, choose a rich, fruity Zinfandel or a Spanish Grenache. If you’re a baseball fan, go to the Vivino’s website on “Hot Dogs and Wine: an Unlikely But Perfect Pairing,” for wines to drink with your favorite stadium dogs, be it a Dodger Dog, a Detroit “Coney” Dog, the Seattle Dog, or the New York Yankees/Met’s Dirty-Water Dog. For Astros fans, the website describes the Texas Dog “as a thick frank either grilled or griddled and loaded with salsa, shredded Monterey Jack, sliced jalapeños and possibly chili. The perfect pairing? A Tempranillo, “spicy and loaded with flavor to parallel the decadence of the Texas Dog.”
Succulent ribs, whether prepared from pork or beef, are a staple for many outdoor barbecues. The key to selecting a wine pairing lies in the sauces and spices you use to flavor the meat. But no matter how you flavor your ribs, opt for a big red wine. Wine Enthusiast recommends a Bordeaux blend, a California Cabernet or a Barolo. If you add spice to turn up the heat, go for a fruity, spicy Zinfandel. Zinfandel is big on flavor and alcohol, which will stand up to the richness of grilled ribs. An Australian Shiraz or an Argentine Malbec will also work.
We’re from Texas, but we may not all be carnivores. Chicken on the grill can be luscious, especially with the endless possibilities for marinades. For basic grilled chicken, try a Pinot Noir, which is delicate enough not to overpower the flavor of the food, and has an earthy, smoky flavor to complement smoked meats. A Chardonnay aged in oak will work too: the flavor will pair nicely, and the acidity will balance the acidity of the meat. When using lemon or citrus-flavored spices, rubs or marinades to flavor the chicken, pair with a white wine, such as a Chardonnay, a dry Riesling or a Sauvignon Blanc. If the chicken is rubbed with lots of herbs, like rosemary and thyme, try a dry or sparkling rosé or lightly chilled, juicy Spanish Garnacha.
The is just a short list of grill-friendly wines. Many wine experts also recommend Barbera, which has the intensity and fruit to stand up to big barbecue flavors; Rhone white wines, such as Grenache Blanc, a rich and full-flavored wine to pair with grilled chicken; or a dry sparkling or rosé wine, which play well with almost any grilled food. Whatever wine you select, the key to outdoor dining is simplicity: the wines should fit the food, and the casual mood of the gathering. Leave the wine critics at home and just drink up and have a good time.