Grilling and Grapes: Best Wines to Have with BBQ

By Joe Roberts |

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The advent of summer brings so many pleasures, most of which are associated with getting our butts outside to enjoy the warm weather and longer sunshine hours. 

If you’re wondering how best to indulge your love for wine while cooking amid the great outdoors this summer, we’ve got you covered!

But before we start matching up your favorite barbecue foods with killer wine pairings, let’s talk about some killer tips for transporting those wines. Wine’s main delivery vehicle – the glass bottle – might be the single most cooler-unfriendly packaging ever devised. It’s rigid, bulky, and heavy, the exact opposite of what you want when lugging around a cooler to your next barbecue. Your best bet is to look for alternative packaging, such as wines in Tetra Pak or AstraPouch. Another option is bag-in-box wines, which have come a long way in terms of quality. Simply remove the internal bag of wine from the cardboard box, and place the bag in your cooler.

While it requires a bit of extra work, your best bet for cooler-readiness is to pick up a handful of inexpensive wine preservation bags, such as the PlatyPreserve. These flexible, light, collapsible bags can be filled with your favorite wine, then capped off after the excess air is squeezed out, taking up less space and putting far less weight in your cooler. There will be no heavy glass to lug around, and no disintegrating cardboard box. And don’t forget plastic glassware. Several available options are lightweight and still retain the tulip shape that works best for maximizing wine aromas, such as those offered by Govino

Okay, now that you know how to transport your wine, let’s pair you up for that barbecue!

For Burgers, Try Italian Negroamaro (Backup Plan: Barbera)

Hailing from Puglia, Negroamaro has been thriving in southern Italy for about 1,500 years, so it has a pretty good track record behind it, even by fine-wine standards. In Puglia’s warm climes, this red grape variety develops all the elements that you’d want to match up with eating grilled burgers outside. There’s sweet, ripe, dark berry fruitiness that still tastes good chilled, moderate tannins for a smooth mouthfeel, generous spice aromas, and a savory quality that will complement the texture and flavors of the beef.

If you can’t find Negroamaro, a good backup plan is to go with an Italian Barbera, which will be a bit lighter and fruitier, but will still deliver some spice notes and savory flavors.


Best Wine and Burger Pairing

For Ribs, Try California Zinfandel

Zinfandel feels like the all-American grape, but it’s actually Croatian in origin, and also does well in Southern Italy, where it’s known as Primitivo. You might be skeptical about taking a higher-alcohol red like Zinfandel outside in the warm sun, but the versions of Zin offered from sunny California are an exception. That’s primarily thanks to Zinfandel’s ample sweet fruitiness, which holds up even when the wine warms up. It’s a particularly excellent match for barbecue ribs, as its sultry smoothness works magic with the sticky sweetness of most rib recipes. Zinfandel’s pepperiness and sweet spice aromas are also great with dry-rubbed barbecue rib preparations.

A good backup plan here is Malbec from Argentina. These reds are full of fruit flavors that are dark, ripe, and bold enough to match up to the cooking treatment of most barbecue ribs.


Best Wine and Rib Pairing

For Smoked Meats and Sausages, Try Côtes du Rhône Reds

Côtes du Rhône, in France, is famous for its kitchen-sink-style red blends (the region permits over 20 grape varieties for use). But a few things underpin almost all Côtes du Rhône reds that make them a great choice for smoked meats and sausages. They’re usually based on Grenache or Syrah, both of which make wines that are robust, fruity, smoky, and savory. They also are complex enough to make you want to drink more, but not so complex that they distract you from your primal urges to engulf that tasty smoked meat. Finally, they are often inexpensive, and an excellent value that tends to please all of the red wine drinkers at a barbecue.

For a backup, Spanish Tempranillo is a good choice, as it offers cherry fruits with enough wood and smoke aromas to give smoked meats a run for their money.


Best Wine and Smoked Meat and Sausage Pairings

For Salads, Try New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc

Hey, you need some leafy greens to offset the damage of all of that tasty barbecue meat, right? Salads can actually be fairly complex menu items, both in terms of the various flavors involved and the textures of the ingredients (think about how complex goat cheese is all by itself, let alone combined with spinach, toasted nuts, and dressing). New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc is a white wine that will deliver in spades here. They often have complex aromas of citrus and tropical fruits, along with fresh vegetables and herbs. The palate is tangy and vibrant, and stays tasty even after the wine warms up.

As a backup, look for Portuguese Alvarinho. It’s usually a good bargain, offering intense lemony refreshment with a little kiss of tropical fruit sweetness.


Best Wine and Salad Pairing

For Veggie Burgers, Try Provence Rosé

France’s Provence is the world’s standard-bearer when it comes to dry rosé wines, and dry rosé is really where you want to be when it comes to the complex texture of veggie burgers (many of which end up being surprisingly spicy). The vibrancy of a good Provence Rosé will hold its own with just about any grilled veggie burger recipe, and has the added bonus of being fun to drink on its own.

Your backup plan? Rioja rosé from Spain. These Tempranillo-based rosés are inexpensive, fruity, and vivacious, and are versatile enough that they can pair with almost any food.


Best Wine and Veggie Burger Pairing

Now that you are armed with information (and a couple of bits of wine trivia with which to impress your friends), go forth and barbecue – and don’t forget the wine!


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