While many turn to white or rosé wines during the summer, there’s something so magical in the combination of food cooked over hardwood charcoal and red wine. So in expectation of grill season this year, here are some of our favorite foods, techniques, and pairing suggestions. Try them out, argue over them with friends and family, and let us know if we are grill masters or grill newbies.
Contestant – Steven Spanbauer, Words and Pictures at European Cellars
Grill Philosophy – Keep it simple
What’s up in his grill? – Summer vegetables, yogurt-marinated salmon kebobs, flank steak with chimichurri
I was raised in Wisconsin by parents who didn’t believe in air-conditioning, so the kitchen was off-limits from Mid-June to early September. Next to the smell of Deepwoods Off, my most indelible sensory childhood memory was the smell of woodsmoke. I suspect it is the reason I love Syrah so much. That and the fact that Neuske’s bacon was a staple in our house.
I prefer simple grilled food requiring just a wood fire and a stick at its most basic level. My marinades and sauces serve multiple purposes. A simple Greek yogurt, garlic, dill, and lemon sauce is a great condiment as well as a marinade. Same for chimichurri. With salmon kebobs, I naturally turn to Gamay. Over the years, I’ve found that the Loire Valley makes the best Gamay for summertime grilling, while I prefer Beaujolais for cooler months. The best pairings for Salmon kebobs? The nervy Gammes-d’Été from Thierry Michon or the soulful Bois Jacou from Jean-François Mérieau.
My signature grilled item, the one I get asked to make the most, is steak and chimichurri. While I do not eat very much beef these days, I reach for this when the mood arises. After many years of thick-cut ribeyes, I’ve settled on flank steak for the grill since I like to cook hot and fast. I also like my meat to chew back as it were. I follow a basic chimichurri recipe of parsley, oregano, garlic, red wine vinegar, chili, and salt but with a few modifications. I increase the oregano, pan roast the garlic to soften its flavor, and prefer a milder, more wine-friendly chili like Aleppo pepper. With more oregano, this chimichurri is perfect for pairing with Cabernet Franc like Noblaie’s Les Temps des Cerises or a vibrant, new-school Garnacha from Spain, such as Altaroses from the brothers at Joan d’Anguera or the tasty Garnatxa Negra from Nuria Altes and Rafa de Haan.
While the prime heat of the grill is ideal for cooking proteins, the heating up and cooling down period isn’t just an opportunity to marvel at the heat and flame while drinking beer with friends. I always use this time to grill a mix of vegetables – red onions, summer squash, zucchini, red peppers – all coated with olive oil and herbes de provence. With a squeeze of fresh lemon juice fresh off the grill, not only do they make an excellent side dish, but the leftovers can use diced up and added to couscous for a more substantial and entirely vegetarian meal. What to have with vegetables and couscous? Cinsault, of course. We now have three pure Cinsault cuvées in Farradjales, Domaine des Tourelles, and Le Paradou to choose from.
Contestant – Tim Willard, All Things Indigo Wine
Grill Philosophy – Fresh + Fire = Success
What’s up in his grill? – No recipes, just fun
As a kid growing up in Rhode Island you are just as likely to have striped bass, bluefish, or steamers on the grill as you are burgers or steaks. This bounty from the sea was almost always cooked with some combination of juiced lemon, salt, olive oil, or more likely butter, and whatever fresh herbs happened to be growing off the back deck. I didn’t realize it then, but there is an inherent beauty to the simplicity of sea-to-grill cooking; fresh + fire = success.
So, what does this mean for wine? My pallet was geared more toward powdered iced tea or lemonade back then (yes, that’s New England for you,) and let’s be honest, crowd-pleasers are still always a good idea when grilling. My picks this year are reds that can take a chill and drink more like whites or at least hit that sweet spot between white and light, refreshing red wine.
Domaine de Courbissac Farradjales – If you’ve been sleeping on Cinsault, let it into your life this summer. Long considered an ignoble blending grape, producers in the south of France are starting to take it more seriously with striking effect. Farradjales comes from a single parcel of gnarled 70yr old vines in Minervois farmed biodynamically by the enigmatic Brunhilde Claux. Let this one wake you from your slumber.
Dominio del Aguila Clarete – (not Claret or Clairet) is co-fermented blend of white and red grapes. It’s not rosé, and it’s definitely not red or white – it’s Clarete and it may just be the perfect grilling wine. Aguila’s Clarete has an electric hue that translates directly to the palate – bursting with energy, fruit, and just a kiss of oak to play off the flavors of the grill.
Contestant – Randy Brandon, 95% Texan, Amateur Chef, Southwestern Guru of Sales
Grill Philosophy – Let the equipment do the work
What’s up in his grill? – What isn’t up in it?
Good ole Texas boy, not born but raised, so as the saying goes, “got here as quick as I could.” Growing up in Texas, Friday nights in the Brandon household consisted of big charcoal-grilled steaks, overdone baked potatoes, Caesar salad, and some random bottle of wine my father would bring home. Back then, I thought there couldn’t be a better meal, and although I wasn’t of age, I did get a little sip every now and then.
Times have changed, and palates evolve. Texas bbq and smoking have become famous with the ever-changing instruments of craft. What was once an over-grilled piece of meat, roasting on a hot flame of Kingsford charcoal briquettes, has now advanced to a tender slab of Wagu in a cast-iron skillet over lump coal and enjoying the convection of a Green-Egg grill. Just set the temp using the bottom door and the top vent, allow the pan to warm and let that beautiful piece of carne slow cook to a perfect medium-rare.
Wine you ask? Well…it’s certainly not that random bottle that hardly pairs with your gastro senses. No, wine must enhance the meal while taking you to another place and time. So that Caesar salad demands a wine such as Herencia Altes Garnatxa Negra. This isn’t your parents’ hearty burgundy from a 3L bottle. This is something special. The quenching acidity of fresh Garnatxa, unspoiled by wood, integrates nicely with the dressing and its inherent notes of baking spices speak to your senses. Yummy!!
Finally, we get to the wine I’ve been looking forward to all week, Finca Villacreces Ribera Del Duero Pruno. This bad boy has a healthy dose of Tempranillo with some Cabernet Sauvignon for structure and backbone. The fruit is integrated nicely with polished tannins and paired with a Wagu ribeye. It will dance on your pallet like a tiny ballerina. What more can you ask for.