By Bruce Cochran
Let’s talk about summertime cooking this week, and that means let’s go to the grill. I’m not talking barbecue, that’s slow cooking over low-temperature, indirect heat. I mean “throwing it on the grill.” It’s more the style here than the grape.
Try a new wine this week!
Pairing wines with foods often comes down to the style more than the grape, so the way foods are cooked can go a long way in determining which wines will match or clash with them.
The first thing I consider when choosing a wine to serve with grilled foods is to avoid a wine that is too tannic. Smokiness and char can be somewhat bitter, and can clash with the bitterness of a tannic wine.
Tannin is often called “the backbone of a red wine.” It’s what makes a young red puckery and astringent. As a wine ages, tannins combine with the color pigments and falls out as sediment, turning a red wine lighter in color and smoother as it ages. The nose, flavor and texture also evolve, bringing subtlety and complexity to the wine.
A little tannin is OK, so long as there’s plenty of fruit. The many fruit-centered wines that aren’t overly tannic can range from French Beaujolais to California or Oregon pinot noir to California merlot or zinfandel (the red kind). I generally avoid Bordeaux.
I usually don’t mind a bit of oak in the wine. The impression of sweetness that this can add to wines can be a good balance for the smokiness in the food. This can be particularly true if you’re grilling fish.
But, if I’m grilling steaks, chops or hamburgers, I’m usually thinking young, fruity reds. Not only do they taste good with the flavors from grilling (especially with charcoal), but they just tend to show better when I’m sipping them outside on a warm summer day.
One wine that I’ve enjoyed this summer around the grill is River Aerie’s Spring Creek Redd. The combination of cabernet sauvignon, syrah and a touch of merlot is somewhat complex, but still youthful and fruit-centered. The grapes give it hearty flavors, and the Columbia River style gives it drinkability. It retails for around $15 a bottle. BTW, “redd” is a Salmon’s nest found along the Columbia River and its tributaries.