Aside from an incident in Maine last summer, when I inadvertently tried to turn my hand into a chicken fajita, I’ve had a long and happy relationship with grilling. I attribute this to the fact that grilling doesn’t require a lot of thought—more, obviously, than I’ve given it at times, but not a lot. It’s a forgiving method of cooking.
Similarly, pairing wine with grilled foods is a forgiving task. Most grilled dishes are relatively simple; there’s a main ingredient (usually a protein of some kind), plus the possibility of various seasonings in the form of marinades, rubs and sauces. To choose a wine to pair with something off the grill, consider two things: First, how hearty is the food, and second, what’s the dominant flavor? For lighter foods—white-fleshed fish, vegetables, chicken breasts—pick a lighter wine. For heartier foods—sausages, burgers, steaks—choose a more robust wine. (Both reds and whites can be light-, medium- or full-bodied.) Now think about flavor. For steaks and butterflied legs of lamb—even if they’re marinated beforehand—the dominant flavor will almost always be the meat itself. But with foods like chicken slathered in barbecue sauce or shrimp with a fiery garlic-habanero vinaigrette, the sauce or seasoning is by far the main flavor of the dish. The dominant flavor is a key thing to consider when selecting a wine.
What follows is a selection of great wines, all available for $20 or less, to go with grilled foods of all kinds. But don’t take these wine and food combinations as gospel. They’re really designed more as suggestions or jumping-off points for experimentation. Unlike most everything else that Americans like to drink, such as milk and beer, wine is high in acidity, which refreshes the palate; most reds have fat-cutting tannins, too. In fact, wine may be the most versatile food partner there is, except perhaps for water. But when it comes to a big, juicy, grilled steak, who on earth wants to have it with water?
25 Great Wines to Pair with Grilled Foods
White & Rosé Wines
2010 Estate Argyros Atlantis White ($17)
Made mostly from the Assyrtiko grape, this crisp, citrusy blend gets a floral hint from a bit of Athiri.
2010 Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc ($18)
A wonderful balance of brash lime, herb and tropical flavors.
2010 Leitz Dragonstone Riesling ($18)
Full of slightly sweet lemon chiffon and cherry flavors.
2009 Chateau Ste. Michelle & Dr. Loosen Eroica Riesling ($20)
Light-bodied and vibrant, with bright apple, lime and orange tones.
2010 Honig Sauvignon Blanc ($16)
A bit of effervescence adds freshness to citrus and grass notes.
2010 Commanderie de la Bargemone Coteaux d’Aix-en-Provence Rosé ($16)
A great candidate for a house rosé, bursting with juicy melon, berry and orange-zest notes.
2009 Chehalem INOX ($17)
This unoaked Chardonnay, which brims with lemon, lime and green pear, is an excellent value.
2010 Château St-Martin de la Garrigue
Picpoul de Pinet ($17)
The Picpoul (pronounced “peek pool”) grape makes zingy, super-refreshing whites such as this citrusy, mineral-rich version.
2009 Pieropan Soave Classico ($17)
Crisp and bold, with supple apple, quince and chalk flavors.
NV Nino Franco Rustico Prosecco ($18)
Accessibly priced and very appealing, this delivers a mix of stone fruit, flowers and apples.
2009 Sokol Blosser Pinot Gris ($18)
Fresh and medium-bodied, with intriguing notes of green fig.
2010 Sigalas Assyrtiko ($18)
Dense yet not heavy, this zippy Assyrtiko has a chalky minerality and savory lemon flavors that linger on the palate.
NV Tío Pepe Palomino Fino Sherry ($19)
A fabulous aperitif, thanks to its crisp, refreshing apple and straw tones and a hint of saltiness.
2009 Qupé Marsanne ($20)
Made with Marsanne that was fermented and aged in neutral oak and a bit of Roussanne aged in French oak for a year, this white shows a thick texture, zesty citrus and minerals.
2010 St. Supéry Sauvignon Blanc ($20)
Guava, passion fruit and peach flavors are fragrant and crisp.
2010 Terras Gauda Abadia de San Campio Albariño ($20)
Albariño’s sea-salty, citrusy side is clearly evident in this delicious single-vineyard wine.
2008 Genesis Syrah ($16)
The cool 2008 vintage gave this spicy, fragrant Syrah its particularly firm structure.
2009 Layer Cake Cabernet Sauvignon ($16)
Aging in used Hundred Acre barrels gives this red’s luscious blackberry flavors a gentle cedar note.
2007 Bodega Norton Reserva Malbec ($18)
Muscular tannins support rich berry, herb and vanilla flavors.
2007 Masi Campofiorin Veronese ($19)
A secondary fermentation using partially dried grapes adds richness to this bottling’s silky red-fruit flavors.
2008 Quivira Vineyards and Winery Zinfandel ($20)
A juicy, robust wine with wild berry and plum flavors that firm up in the finish.
2009 Selvapiana Chianti Rùfina ($17)
Deliciously fresh and balanced, with ripe fruit and floral notes.
2008 Edmeades Zinfandel ($20)
Winemaker David Ready, Jr., adds some Petite Sirah and Syrah to give this racy, berry-driven Zin its oomph.
2009 Hofstätter Joseph Lagrein ($20)
Vibrant, lightly earthy red plum and raspberry tones showcase Lagrein’s supple, accessible side.
2009 Potel-Aviron Vieilles Vignes Moulin-à-Vent ($20)
Made only in the best vintages from very old vines, this is structured and serious, with lush, spicy fruit.
Updated June 2012. Selections are from the 2012 F&W Wine Guide.