Life used to be so much simpler. There was a time, not so very long ago, when having a barbecue for dinner meant nothing more than simply throwing a hunk of meat or a foil-wrapped fish on the old Hibachi and turning it once or twice. Then we'd wash it down, of course, with a cold beer or a glass of wine.
Today, we no longer barbecue food, we grill it. Some of us are into cedar-planking, smoke-cooking, cold-smoking, slow-cooking, rotisserie-roasting and flame-grilling. As if that weren't enough, we also season our food with marinades, brines, dry rubs, bastes and glazes.
Back in our innocent years, just about any table wine would do, so long as it was red for meats and white for fish. Not anymore. Nowadays, we serve individual wines to highlight each course. We want taste adventures in our glasses, just as we've found them on the grill.
My new favourite opener is an unoaked Chardonnay, the grapes for which are grown in the traditionally red Beaujolais region of France. Pisse-Dru, Beaujolais Blanc is dry and refreshing with substantial body and flavour depth. And it goes with all the hors d'oeuvres we serve before lighting the barbecue.
Sauvignon Blanc, with its grassy aroma and gooseberry/passionfruit flavours, also pairs really well with opening dishes such as vegetable terrines and crudités, with or without the dips. For instance, a dish as simple as asparagus spears dressed in olive oil and crushed garlic, seasoned and barbecued on a foil tray, plays rather cleverly with the flavours of Sauvignon Blanc.
The main course is another matter altogether. The strong flavour of char in those crisp, blackened corners, peaks and edges and all those spices, gooey bastes and caramelized sauces definitely calls for bold wines with lush berry flavours, lively acidity and enough finesse to soothe the third-degree burns I've seen on some steaks.
Ripe, jammy flavours are the specialty of New World reds, which tend to have a fruit-first approach to flavour delivery. They also have the knack of skilfully enriching the incinerated flavours that emerge from many a creative grill-master's flames.
Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Shiraz and Zinfandel from Australia, Chile and the United States – those big guns are the best at taming the ferocity of fire. Mains such as beef with cracked pepper, lamb with dried herbs and mustard, or chicken wings with hot creole dressing benefit from the lush fruit of a New World red.
The spicy nuances of Asian cuisine -- hoisin, ginger, chili, soy and five spice -- call for the flavours of a late-harvest Gewürztraminer or an off-dry white Zinfandel.
Fussing over wine is hardly reserved for the main course. Desserts can come off the grill, too. Last year, for example, I barbecued ripe peaches, served them with vanilla ice cream and pistachios and paired them with a late-harvest Riesling.
Maybe you're a person who's happy with simpler (and less expensive) pleasures. Recently, I tasted a bag-in-the-box wine that was balanced, fruity and easy to quaff. Ancient Coast Baco Noir comes in a three-litre box with its own built-in pour spout. I found it equally enjoyable with an all-dressed burger, a honey-garlic sausage some days later, and rib-eye steak a week after that. The wine stayed fresh the whole time. If you don't much like the idea of serving wine straight from a box, then simply pour it into an attractive decanter.
White wines should have refreshing acidity and fruity flavours in order to open up the appetite.
Pisse-Dru, Beaujolais Blanc (Beaujolais, France), $12. This rare white is pleasing as an aperitif, with its pure and fresh flavour. It's just as happy paired with fish and seafood (raw or barbecued).
Gallo, Sierra Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2003 (California, U.S.), $9. This crowd-pleaser has a light grassy bouquet and a tart fruit taste. Serve with a mixed grill of vegetables with crumbled goat cheese, or smoked salmon rollups with dill cream cheese.
Jackson Triggs, Proprietors' Reserve Gewürztraminer (Niagara Peninsula, Ontario), $11. The oily, pungent and wild flavours of lime and lychee, honey and honeysuckle counter the exotic spices of many Asian foods, from simple shrimp rolls to Hunan hotpot.
To pair with the main action, red wines need oomph.
Ancient Coast, Baco Noir (Ontario), $30 (3 L). Vibrant, smoky, black fruit flavours and tangy acidity make this terrific for grilled foods.
Columbia Crest, Cabernet Sauvignon (Washington, U.S.), $16. The ripe flavours of California wine and the smoothness of French.
Errazuriz, Max Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon (Aconcagua Valley, Chile), $18. The Errazuriz reserva grows in a semidesert region and exhibits “warm” flavours that reflect its origins.
Rosemount Estate, Diamond Merlot (Southeastern Australia), $16. No namby-pamby Merlot, this: deep, plummy flavours take on all comers: burgers, pepper steak, spiced wings and lamb chops.
Dessert wines ought to be sweeter than dessert.
Mission Hill, Late Harvest Riesling (Okanagan Valley, B.C.), $35. Pours like syrup, swallows like silk. Concentrated pear and peach flavours, vanilla sugar and lemon cream nose.