Never Fear The Grill: Wine Pairings with Barbecue

It’s summertime. It’s hot. And, it’s time to fire up the grill!
But what type of wine is best to pair with those foods you’re cooking on the barbie?

Let’s find out.

It’s important to understand the reasoning behind why a certain style of wine fits well with different types of food, so that you’re able to select a wine based on what’s available.

Wine Pairings with Grilled Meats, including Beef and Pork and Barbecue Sauces by Wine Folly

Barbecue Meat Wine Pairings

Typically, when we grill, we grill meat (meat is anything other than poultry and fish). As a general rule, red wines pair excellently well with barbecue-grilled meats. Why? Well, it’s because the umami and high fat in the meat will balance out the tannin in red wine.

For pork barbecue, you’re often seasoning with sweet, spicy, smoky, and tangy flavors and matching sauces. In this case, you can use your wine to balance the smoke and spice of your grilled pork with something fruity that has similar smoky-spicy flavors. For example, a Zinfandel that’s medium- to full-bodied with plenty of backbone will do the trick. However, you also have another option. Do as the Italians do: use your wine as a “sauce,” to the meat.

For example, you could serve a glass of Ruby Port on ice alongside your slow smoked pork, which will easily serve as the sweet “sauce,” and provide you with an exceptional explosion of flavor – don’t forget the slightly pickled sweet slaw on the side. A nice, dry Riesling (Trocken) might even do the trick here too.

In the realm of red meat, such as burgers or steak on the grill, think about another full-bodied option, such as Tempranillo, Cabernet-blend, Sangiovese, or even a good GSM Blend (Grenache-Syrah-Mourvèdre). These wines will enhance the the peppery and tobacco flavors in the dish.


Food and Wine Pairings with Grilled Chicken and Fish BBQ by Wine Folly

Chicken and Fish

  • Grilled Chicken: Sauvignon Blanc, Grüner Veltliner, Grechetto
  • BBQ Chicken: Rosé, White Zinfandel, Gewürztraminer, Off-Dry Riesling
  • Grilled White Fish: Friulano, Verdejo, White Vinho Verde, Colombard
  • Grilled Salmon: Chardonnay, White Rioja, Viognier, Marsanne-Blends and even lighter-bodied Beaujolais or Pinot Noir.

For those of us who prefer the lighter fare, simple grilled chicken and fish pair beautifully with Sauvignon Blanc, or even Verdejo. They are citrusy, sometimes, grassy, and almost always “light.” Think simplicity, but also think sophistication. And if the recipe is simple enough, chicken (and fish) almost always pair well with a good unoaked to lightly oaked Chardonnay.

If you’re truly “bbqing” your chicken though, with the sticky sauce and grill marks and all, a sweeter, more intense Gewürztraminer is an excellent choice. Try that with blue cheese on your grilled wings – yum! The sweet will cut the spice and the stink, creating the most glorious amalgamation of aroma and flavor on your palate. Make sure to serve that Gewürztraminer cold to further quench spicy foods.

Spinning things differently on the grill, basic salt and pepper, maybe a few tomatoes, or even lime and cilantro for fish tacos, you’ll want to play off of the citrus and minerality in a nicely chilled Sauvignon Blanc, Fumé Blanc (slightly oaked Sauvignon Blanc), Grechetto, Grüner Veltliner, or Verdejo.

Hmm…can you imagine this: grilled chicken, glazed with apricot jam, alongside a gorgeous Fume Blanc or Italian Orvieto (aka Grechetto)? And next, a spicy white fish taco with all its pizzazz in one hand, while you sip on the tart and pleasingly subtle zip of a glass of Verdejo. Beautiful.

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US Firsts In Wine

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We may not always be proud of the political affairs in the US, but we can be proud (and thankful) for all the Americans and American Immigrants who created this great nation of wine. We’ve got some good stuff! Take a moment to appreciate the history of some of the United States’ firsts in wine.

US Firsts in Wine

The first wine on US soil was most likely Sherry


The first wine to land on US soil. The Spanish crown funded many expeditions to the New World during the “Age of Exploration,” and voyagers like Christopher Columbus and Ferdinand Magellan began their journeys at Spanish ports like Sanlúcar de Barrameda and Cádiz. Stocking up on the wine from the area was a necessity. In all likelihood, Sherry was the first wine brought to American soil when Pedro Menéndez de Avilés landed with a Spanish expedition in Florida on September 8th, 1565.

Acte 12 of 1619 required that all household men plant 10 vines to make wine in Virginia


The first legislation for wine in the US. England wanted wine from its American colony. At the first legislative assembly of the New World, the House of Burgesses passed Acte 12, requiring every male household in Virginia to plant 10 vines of imported vinifera grapes for the purpose of growing and making wine. They’d figured out by then that the native grapes (muscadine and scuppernong) didn’t make great wine. One overachieving settler, John Johnson, surpassed the requirements of the law, planting 85 acres. That land now belongs to Williamsburg Winery, and they produce an Acte 12 Chardonnay in honor of the law that started it all.



The first grapes planted in California. Franciscan missionaries planted California’s first vineyard at Mission San Diego de Alcalá. Spanish Father Junipero Serrra planted a varietal now known as the Mission grape (aka Listán Prieto) that dominated commercial viticulture in California until the 1880s. In 1833, the first documented European vines were planted in Los Angeles by Jean-Louis Vignes, the state’s first commercial wine maker. It wasn’t until the Gold Rush that vines were planted in Northern California, including vines in Napa and Sonoma counties.

After the constitution was signed in 1787, the congress celebrated with Madeira
This painting hangs in the east stairway in the House wing of the United States Capitol and is signed l.r. Howard Chandler Christy, Sail Loft, U.S. Navy Yard, Washington, D.C., April 1940


The first wine enjoyed after the signing of the constitution. On September 17, 1787, the signing of the Constitution was celebrated with a glass of Madeira (we know you had one John Adams!). While we’re not sure which style of Madeira it was, the variety was likely a sweet Malmsey (aka Boal) that aged in barrels on its journey to America.

We can thank Missouri for saving the wine world in the 1870s


The first time Missouri and American grapevines save the wine world. In the 1870s German immigrant, George Husmann, and other Missourian grape growers, shipped millions of American grape cuttings to France and other European countries to save vineyards that had been infected with phylloxera. Husmann, founder of Hermannhof Winery, is known as the father of the Missouri wine industry. Don’t laugh. Missouri was the nation’s second largest wine producer before Prohibition. New York was number one.

During prohibition Chianti Ruffino was sold as an Anti-stress remedy


The first wines legally sold during prohibition. During Prohibition wine was scarce, but a few bottles, including Ruffino’s Chianti, were sold at US pharmacies as “anti-stress remedies.” Wine really is the best medicine.

Alex Verhave's photograph of the Judgment of Paris
In 2005, Alex Verhave created this photomural, “Judgment of Paris.” The mural was created with Diller Scofidio + Renfro for the exhibition “How Wine Became Modern: Design + Wine 1976 to Now,” SFMOMA.


The first time American wines impressed the French. In the 1976 Judgement of Paris, California wines stunned French judges in a blind tasting organized by British wine expert, Steven Spurrier. A 1973 Chardonnay by Miljenko “Mike” Grgich (who now makes Croatian wine) at Chateau Montelena Winery took first prize in the white category, beating France’s best white Burgundies. Mon Dieu! On the red side of the equation, 1973 Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon won top honors.

30 years later, the number of California wineries more than quintupled (from 330 to 1,689) and account for most of the $643 million in yearly US wine exports.

Boris Yeltsin and red-faced Bill Clinton giggle-boxing together Photo Wally McNamee/CORBIS


The first American Riesling to “save the world.” President Bill Clinton and Russia’s President Boris Yeltsin held a summit at Hyde Park on the Bosnian Missile Crisis. Clinton ordered several cases of 1994 Dry Riesling from Dr. Konstantin Frank winery for the occasion. When the two men went into the room, tensions were high. But after several hours (and likely several bottles of Riesling), both men left the room with smiles on their faces, shaking hands. The team at Dr. Frank’s can’t help but feel that their Dry Riesling helped secure diplomatic union between the two countries and avert a potential global crisis.

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