Smoky grilled foods aren’t hard to pair with wine. F&W’s Ray Isle names 25 affordable, easy-to-find bottles to drink all summer long.

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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.

Man pouring up rose wine outdoors
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What follows is a selection of great wines, all available for $25 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?

White & Rosé Wines

2020 Kim Crawford Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc ($17)

A wonderful balance of brash lime, herb and tropical flavors.

2019 Chateau Ste. Michelle & Dr. Loosen Eroica Colombia Valley Riesling ($20)

Light-bodied and vibrant, with bright apple, lime and orange tones.

2020 Honig Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc ($20)

A bit of effervescence adds freshness to citrus and grass notes.

2020 Commanderie de la Bargemone Coteaux d’Aix-en-Provence Rosé ($18)

A great candidate for a house rosé, bursting with juicy melon, berry and orange-zest notes.

2019 Chehalem INOX Willamette Valley Chardonnay ($20)

This unoaked Chardonnay, which brims with lemon, lime and green pear, is an excellent value.

2018 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.

2019 Pieropan Soave Classico ($18)

Crisp and bold, with supple apple, quince and chalk flavors.

NV Nino Franco Rustico Prosecco ($20)

Accessibly priced and very appealing, this delivers a mix of stone fruit, flowers and apples.

2019 Sokol Blosser Willamette Valley Pinot Gris ($18)

Fresh and medium-bodied, with intriguing notes of green fig.

NV Tío Pepe Palomino Fino Sherry ($20)

A fabulous aperitif, thanks to its crisp, refreshing apple and straw tones and a hint of saltiness.

2019 La Carraia Orvieto Classico ($12)

This bright Italian white, from vineyards in Umbria, north of Rome, has pretty floral aromas and tingly, lemon-lime and melon flavors—it would be excellent with seafood crudo.

2020 Veramonte Sauvignon Blanc Made with Organic Grapes Reserva ($12)

To quote a sommelier friend of mine who was tasting with me, this Chilean Sauvignon "smells like a spicy margarita." Totally right: think crisp and zippy, with notes of green pepper and citrus, then a lightly saline, lime-zesty finish.

2020 J Lohr Arroyo Seco Sauvignon Blanc Flume Crossing ($14)

The Central Coast of California's warm, benevolent climate pushes Sauvignon Blanc away from grassy, peppery notes to sweeter melon and ripe citrus flavors, as this white from longtime value stalwart J. Lohr shows.

2020 Cousiño Macul Isidora Sauvignon Gris ($15)

Sauvignon Gris, a pinkish-skinned cousin of Sauvignon Blanc, makes white with a little more body and spice than its more familiar cousin does; this one, from Chile, suggests green apples and white pepper.

2019 Selbach-Oster Riesling Trocken ($20)

"Trocken" means dry in German, and this Mosel Riesling from one of the region's most acclaimed producers is certainly that—flinty and laser-focused, with lime and green apple flavors, it's exceptionally refreshing.

Red Wines

2019 Layer Cake California Cabernet Sauvignon ($14)

Aging in used Hundred Acre barrels gives this red's luscious blackberry flavors a gentle cedar note.

2019 Bodega Norton Reserva Lujan de Cuyo Malbec ($15)

Muscular tannins support rich berry, herb and vanilla flavors.

2017 Masi Campofiorin Veronese ($17)

A secondary fermentation using partially dried grapes adds richness to this bottling's silky red-fruit flavors.

2019 Selvapiana Chianti Rùfina ($18)

Deliciously fresh and balanced, with ripe fruit and floral notes.

2018 J. Hofstätter Südtirol- Alto Adige Lagrein ($20)

Vibrant, lightly earthy red plum and raspberry tones showcase Lagrein's supple, accessible side.

2018 Masciarelli Montepulciano di Abruzzo ($12)

This spicy red from Italy's Abruzzo region is both widely available and juicily appealing—its ripe red fruit and peppery notes makes it a cookout no-brainer.

NV Marietta Old Vine Red ($18)

This luscious red blend, made from old vine Zinfandel and other red varieties by the talented Scot Bilbro, is released with lot numbers rather than a vintage (#71 is current). It's a terrific value for ribs or burgers off the grill.

2018 Codirosso Chianti ($13)

This garnet-hued Chianti is hard—maybe even impossible—to beat at the price. A touch of Malvasia Nera helps give it a soft, generous texture, while the Sangiovese that provides most of the blend provides that classic Tuscan cherries-leather-and-spice character.

2019 Pavette California Pinot Noir ($12)

A Pinot that actually tastes like Pinot for under $15 is a rarity, but this one does the trick with its toasted spice aromatics and bright, ripe red-cherry flavors.

2019 Santa Julia Tintillo ($16)

The Zuccardi family, which owns Santa Julia, dials down Malbec's power with equal parts Bonarda in this strawberry-scented Argentine red. The wine is intended to be served chilled; Sebastian Zuccardi suggests at about 45-55 degrees. (It's also available in cans.)