Food and Wine Pairing for the Grill and Barbecue

food and wine pairingFood and wine pairing is an art of sorts. Somehow, the perfect combination of flavors in a beverage can enhance the flavors in your food and make your overall culinary experience even better. For hundreds of years people have been trying to pair the perfect combinations of wine with various foods. Here I'm going to give you some tips about food and wine pairing, especially for grilled foods.

You may not believe it, but the Firepit and Grilling Guru is also a wine guru! I love great wine and love to explore new wine and food combinations. Although most people try to pair wine and food, beer is also a great beverage for pairing with some foods, and in many instances is even better suited for certain types of food.

So lets start with some general principles on food and wine pairing (or food and beer pairing!):

  • Drink what you like with the food that you like - Food and wine pairing can seem overwhelming. But it doesn't have to be! Despite what some "snobs" will tell you, there are no right and wrong answers in pairing beverages with food. If you like it, then it is good! So drink what you like to drink with what you like to eat. If that works for you then you'll be happy. As you gain experience, you'll learn on your own that some things work better with others for your taste. But don't let anyone tell you that just because they like or dislike a food and wine pairing combination that you have to as well. That being said, years of research and experimentation has taught us a lot about matching food with wines, so read on if you want to benefit from some of that learning and skip the years of experimentation it took to get it.
  • Match intensity of flavors - A general principle of matching food with a beverage is to match the flavor intensity. In other words, food with bold, rich flavors (such as a grilled steak for instance) pair well with wines that will stand up to that boldness. Therefore, a rich red wine such as a Cabernet Sauvignon or Syrah-based wine will pair well with a rich grilled steak. Likewise, a dark, rich beer like a stout or porter will work well in this setting. A lighter wine or beer (such as a white Sauvignon Blanc or a Pilsner) would clash with the steak and the drink's more delicate flavors would get overpowered by the rich meat and fat. On the other end of the spectrum, lighter, more subtle and delicate wines or beers with some acid bite pair beautifully with some lighter seafood dishes.

    Most barbecued foods are relatively rich and full bodied. The caramelization and smoke flavors imparted to the food by fire grilling is strong and distinct in flavor. Therefore, although it is a generalization, for many grilled foods more full bodied and robust wines and beers will stand up to and compliment the flavors best. There are always exceptions to every rule. After all, you can grill scallops or some vegetables which may be perfect with a white wine like a Chardonnay, white Burgundy or Loire Valley Chenin Blanc, to name a few.

  • Match regional recipes with regional wines or beers - In Europe, local culinary styles have grown up over the centuries alongside and in parallel with the regional wines. Therefore, it is no accident that wines from a given region generally pair well with select dishes that are classic to that region as well. For example, I love the cuisine of the part of southern France known as Provençe. Local fresh seasonal ingredients are used to make delicious rustic country fare. This is not delicate tiny-portion French food you'd see in Paris. This is real French person family food, hearty and filling. There is a lot of grilling going on in the south of France! These hearty recipes, like grilled lamb chops with rosemary or string-turned leg of lamb, pair amazingly with local wines such as Chateauneuf-du-Pape or, one of my favorites, Bandol.

    So if you have a great recipe for a northern Spanish dish, serve it with Rioja. If you have a great Piedmontese recipe from northern Italy, serve it with Barolo or Barbera. Hundreds of years of experience can't be wrong! However, that being said, there are some surprising food and wine pairing combinations that you might not expect. For example, spicy thai food is amazing with a slightly sweet German riesling. And sushi never tasted so good as when it is washed down by a zesty, bright Champagne. So rely on the tried and true food and wine pairings, but have an open mind at the same time.

Confused yet? I hope not.

For more information about wine and food, including info on how to host a wine tasting or wine theme dinner party, check out the Wine Tastings Guide!

Below you can get some specific recommendations for food and wine pairing based on the type of food being served. Remember, here at the Firepit and Grilling Guru I have an emphasis on grilled and roasted dishes.

  • Starter Drinks (Apéritif or aperitif) - An apéritif is generally a light, refreshing white or rosé wine (or a light beer!), served slightly chilled before a meal. It helps to wake up your guests taste buds and get them hungry for the delicious meal to come!
  • Fish - Fish generally pairs well with lighter styled wines or beers. However, in the case of richer fish like salmon, and definitely with the smokey flavors introduced by grill cooking, some can pair beautifully with lighter red wines as well!
  • Poultry - Like fish, food and wine pairing with poultry can often go both ways depending on the type of poultry and its preparation.
  • Beef - Grilled beef almost always demands a rich red wine to stand up to its bold flavors. There are several choices from around the world for pairings of wine or beer with grilled beef.
  • Lamb and game - Lamb and game meats have a "gamey" flavor. These are classic grilling meats, really shining with the smokey flavors imparted by charcoal or wood embers. Again, bold, spicy reds are the classic match here, especially those with a spicy and meaty (or gamey) flavor to the wine itself.
  • Cheeses - Cheese is delicious with wine and even some beers! Cheeses vary, so there are a lot of choices and each will pair well with different wines or beers. No, you don't grill cheese, but cheese is a must on almost any dinner table, either as a starter or after the meal as an introduction to the dessert.

Here I will post some notes on meals I've had recently with food and wine pairing with primarily grilled foods (check back often!):

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