Sarah Cyr, a sommelier and former co-owner of The Wine Cellar & Bistro, a onetime Columbia restaurant, is an expert on all things vino. Here are her picks for two “everything” wines that are great with grilled items, written while her restaurant was still open.
Firing up the grill at our house means there is a holiday to celebrate with friends and family — and more food and drinks than should be consumed. On the kitchen counter, both red and white wines would be open, on the porch would be coolers of assorted beers, and if I am feeling ambitious, I would make a fun cocktail to sip on while we played yard games and chatted around in groups.
The wines chosen may not perfectly pair with anything, but they are perfect for the social setting and the warm weather. For example we might have a light refreshing white as well as a simple, easy red we can chill, like a Vinho Verde and a Beaujolais.
Now that great weather is here, consider doing a cookout far more often … why wait for just special occasions? Throwing down on the grill to spice up an everyday meal is not only tasty but you can enjoy being outside, out of your usual kitchen cooking routine … and in some households, the privilege of cook duty happily changes hands.
To keep your grilling fun and uncomplicated, I set about to determine the perfect wine to make your seafood, meat or veggie grilling a success. I invited eight friends, and grabbed several bottles of reds and whites that I thought would be great with a wide assortment of grilled foods.
We kept our preparation simple, with light marinades or just salt, pepper and olive oil. If you are barbecuing, the sweet and tangy sauces as well as the spiced rubs all pair wonderfully with sweeter whites, such as a Riesling, or a fruity white blend, and with fruit-driven reds, such as a simple California Zinfandel.
For our grilled fare we had shrimp and scallop skewers, salmon belly, flank steak, pork and pepper skewers, and assorted veggie and mushroom skewers. We tried several wines including a Pinot Noir, several different Cabernets, Malbec, Chardonnay and a few Sauvignon Blancs.
Well, what happened surprised us all. When pairing with the pork and flank steak, of course the Cabernets and Malbec were great. And yes, with the salmon, also the mushrooms, the loved pairings of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay were nice.
But what stood out to us were the two wines that were fun to drink with everything — the Spottswoode California Sauvignon Blanc wasn’t a heart stopper by itself, but it was absolutely wonderful with all of the food. With every bite, this tasty white gave plenty of refreshment while cleansing your palate for the next interesting flavor. It went perfectly with the green peppers and could stand up to the intense grilled meats and salmon. It was almost like adding a little lemon-herb butter to each bite.
The Château de Lascaux Grenache blend was a favorite by itself and it was a real surprise paired with the diversity of flavors. The soft fruit notes of this red wine became the perfect compliment for all our delicious grilled foods. It was earthy enough to complement the mushrooms, bold enough to match salmon and steak, yet intricate enough to handle shrimp, scallops and veggies. We all agreed it was the winner of the reds as we raced to finish every last sip.
One of my favorite grilling memories is of a warm spring afternoon with an old friend, sitting in their backyard, sipping on white wine and enjoying great conversation. The skewered shrimp and vegetables that were thrown together were forgotten about as we chatted mindlessly about nothing. As the sun set and we shared our meal, we did not care about the overdone shrimp, the mushy new potatoes or the charred veggies. Nor did we care that the Oregon Pinot Gris we were sipping on just happened to pair perfectly with the smoky notes and slight sweetness from the gulf shrimp. Instead, we smiled, laughed and took bites until the sun had disappeared and through the darkness we could just barely see the grins on each other’s faces.
This cookout season grab your loved ones, your favorite grilled foods and one of these tasty wines. Just remember, the most important and satisfying indulgence is in each other.
Sarah’s top picks:
Spottswoode Sauvignon Blanc, California;
Château de Lascaux Grenache Syrah Mourvèdre, France.