The Bottle and the Barbie
By Chris GaittenPublished July 1, 2012
All Ohioans know the summer sun is capable of slowing time to a standstill. The air moves in waves, and the sky turns a bright ashen blue, all the deeper shades burnt out and run off toward the night. People bask in the prolonged afternoons, congregating near grills that exude the tantalizing scent of lighter fluid and heavy cuts of meat dripping with fat, butter, and a dusting of salt.
It’s July in Columbus, and it’s time to grill.
Beer is the natural drink choice for many during the grilling season – perhaps a nice craft pilsner to go with your steak or a delicious keg of Bud Light to go with those dozen hot dogs. But if you’re looking to elevate your menu to another level, then it’s the right time of year to explore how to pair a great wine with all that grilled summer fare.
Most of us “know” that red wines go with red meat and heavier dishes, white wines match with lighter proteins like chicken and fish, and that slutty pork could go either way. The truth is actually much more complicated and delicious than that according to Matthew Citriglia, Columbus’ only Master Sommelier.
Citriglia breaks down every morsel of food and drop of wine into the four primary tastes of sweet, sour, bitter and salty, as well as the more intricate and amorphous tastes of umami, fat and capsaicin, all of which are explored in precise detail in his delightfully titled wine primer The Magic of Food and Wine: Chemical Reactions that Create Hedonistic Pleasure.
“I don’t see food, I see components,” he wrote to me, using ribs as his example.
Ribs are a fatty protein covered in an acidic sauce that may be sweet, spicy or both. Wines that are full of tannins are good for breaking down fatty proteins and releasing the wine’s flavor. The acidic sauce calls out for an acidic wine because acids pair well together, while a spicy sauce could require a sweet or tart wine to combat the heat, or a tannic wine to accentuate it, depending on personal preference.
Keeping that base knowledge in mind, what specific varietals and bottles do the experts from Columbus wine shops recommend for those bright, intoxicating afternoons around the grill?
Even with this guidance, the variety of wine options can be daunting. But Citriglia would like to remind you that ultimately, “Personal taste still trumps everything.”
“I like to have a couple different glasses in front of me to try different wines,” he said, noting that the freshness of food and variety of wines available today means that even an imperfect match will still be pretty good most of the time. Stock your wine rack, fire up the grill and experiment as often as you can, because even though those blistering July afternoons feel like they last a lifetime, they won’t be around forever.
• Olivia Davis, manager of Spagio Wine Lounge in Grandview Heights, likes albarinos with grilled white fish and recommended a bottle of Legado Del Conde Albarino for $18.99.
• As for fattier fishes like salmon, rosés and pinot noirs will generally work best. Josh Shapiro, owner of Wine on High in the Short North, selected a $12 bottle of Languedoc rosé from Hecht & Bannier. He also recommended a bottle of Etude Carneros Pinot Noir for its black cherry, cinnamon, nutmeg and smoke flavors ($37).
• Liz Avera, co-owner of Vino 100 on Polaris Parkway, encourages her customers to match the weight, intensity and flavors of food and wine to create the best pairing, and chose a bottle of Santa Maria Cuvee Pinot Noir from Kenneth Volk Vineyards ($25).
• For spicy, grilled shrimp, Davis recommended Gewurztraminers for their slightly sweet and spicy notes and selected a $12.99 bottle of Merando-Nixon Traminette from a vineyard in Ripley, Ohio. Avera chose a bottle of Chenin Blanc ($14) from Cederberg Winery in South Africa for the tropical, smoky and savory flavors imparted to the wine by the local soil.
Chicken & Pork
• For lighter grilled chicken and pork dishes, Avera enjoys the Verdejo varietal and chose a Valdelainos bottle ($17) by Bodegas Pedro Escudero for its medium-bodied weight and grassy, herbal and citrus flavors, noting that it will also pair well with grilled vegetables.
• According to Avera, zinfandel is the traditional choice for heavier tomato-based barbequed chicken and pork, with Davis noting that it’s also great for creating the sauce. Shapiro chose a bottle Sansovino Roboso ($10) for its raisin flavors, which come from drying the grapes on grass mats. As an alternative to zinfandel, Avera selected La Storia Petit Sirah ($25) from Trentadue Winery for its massive berry flavors.
• Shapiro recommended a 2005 Tempranillo by Callejo ($29). For two dollars more, Davis selected the Ridge Ponzo Zinfandel, and Avera loves the Blason d’Issan by Chateau d’Issan ($50) from Bordeaux. This heavy-bodied cabernet sauvignon “will make your steak sing,” especially if prepared with mushrooms or garlic sauce.