Summer cookouts can become dull in a hurry. Plain ole burgers and hotdogs again?? If your BBQ scene is bordering on boring, it's time to consider inviting wine into the mix to give your taste buds a much-needed boost. This is the perfect time to pop open bottles of sweeter wines lower in alcohol, too. "Watch alcohol-levels," suggests Maggie Hoffman, drinks editor at Serious Eats. "As you drink more alcohol, you'll get hotter, so why not start with something under 13.5% alcohol or so?"
Here are expert wine and food pairings to give your BBQ a boost:
Pinot Noir + Sustainable Fish
Pair your pinot noir with an ocean-friendly seafood choice like grilled wild Alaskan salmon or farmed Arctic char. These fish picks are sustainable and also low in contaminants found in other popular ocean selections fit for the grill, like shrimp, orange roughy, and swordfish. On the wine front, go with a lightly chilled Reserve Pinot Noir from Cooper Mountain in Oregon, suggests Hoffman. "It's silky and mineral-ly, with a bit of cassis and dusty cocoa flavor," Hoffman explains. "Light enough not to overwhelm your food's flavors."
Other Pinot Noir-friendly food pairings: Steak, shellfish, cooked greens, sausage, bacon
Grüner Veltliner + Grilled Summer Salad
A lighter-bodied white wine made from grapes typically grown in Austria, Slovakia, or the Czech Republic, Grüner Veltliner is known as a food-friendly wine, making it a perfect staple to compliment summer grilling. Hoffman likes Grüner Veltliner from biodynamic estates in Austria, including Hofer, Hirsch, or Nikolaihof. Try it with this grilled chicken salad to keep things light and refreshing.
Other Grüner Veltliner–friendly food pairings: Chilled summer soups, seafood, vegetables.
Chardonnay + Grilled Chicken & Swiss Chard
Chardonnay's lighter edge makes it a fine companion to lighter fare like grilled poultry, veggie dishes, fruit salads, and seafood. Try CalNaturale's award-winning (and affordable) chardonnay ($6.99 to $12.99), a rich but delicate wine featuring hints of ripe apples, pear, and citrus. It's packaged in an ecofriendly Tetra Pak box, making it convenient for not just BBQs, but for the planet, too. Tetra Paks have half the carbon footprint of traditional glass wine bottles.
Other chardonnay-friendly food pairings: Veggie kabobs featuring bell peppers, onions, and zucchini; grilled corn on the cob; and summer fresh fruit salads featuring strawberries, watermelon, and raspberries.
Beaujolais or Syrah + Burgers
You won't need to marinate your burgers for flavor-enhancing purposes if you choose grass-fed beef patties and pair them with the right wine. Hoffman suggests Pierre-Marie Chermette Beaujolais ($15), a super-food-friendly wine with hints of black pepper and clove, plus a sour-cherry acidity that cleanses the palate. "It's fresh tasting, deliciously juicy-tart, and affordable around $16," she says.
Syrah wines also pair well with burgers. Try Frey's 2010 Organic Syrah ($14)—it won gold-medal honors at the 2012 San Diego International Wine Competition.
Cabernet + Portabellas or Eggplant
Full-bodied cabernet is a no-no when it comes to grease-laden foods like hotdogs, but it's the perfect compliment to a meat alternative like portabella mushrooms or eggplant. For an option made from organic grapes, try CalNaturale's Cabernet Sauvignon ($6.99 to $12.99), with flavors of berry fruits and aromas of spicy black currants. Bonterra ($10.50) also offers a cab made from organic grapes.
Other cab-friendly food pairings: Seafood with dark sauces; cheese; pesto-based dishes; aged gouda or blue cheese; root veggies like beets, potatoes, and carrots; and summer fruit bowls including blackberries, boysenberries, and cherries.
Rosé + Grilled Pizza
Rosé wines are sweeter and lower in alcohol. For a wine that pleases your palate and promotes fair trade and organic farming, go for vegan-friendly Stellar Organic's Shiraz Rosé ($10) from South Africa. Try pairing it with this grilled pizza for meat-free summer fare.
Other rosé-friendly food pairings: Tomato sauce–based pasta dishes, hotdogs, salmon.