Man (or in this case Woman) had advanced beyond the caves, installed perfectly good appliances in their linoleum-tiled kitchens, and no longer needed to burn meat over open flames. Therefore, there was no need to divert attention from the newspaper and pour petroleum products over charcoal for the purpose of getting smoke in your eyes. Couldn’t we just have some pasta? So while the ancient smell of meat making itself attractive over an open flame hung over freshly mowed lawns, we hid inside with the windows rolled up and the air conditioner on full blast. We had evolved, albeit a little sadly. Like most grownups, I eventually broke with the traditions of my father. Martinis and chain smoking were abandoned, and I even pushed the baby carriage when it was needed. As my very own lawn came to be, and grew to be mowed, I took my rightful place within a cloud of smoke. I grilled like a real man. I saw it to be primitive, but primitive was good. One day a week, every man should be a barbarian. But that doesn’t mean we have to become beer drinkers. Grill food may not be the mark of high-culture cuisine, but in my world it’s the perfect excuse for a good bottle of wine. I tend to look towards the regions famous for outdoor cooking as sources of good grill wine. Much of Spain, the South of France, and Sonoma County come to mind. These are little pockets of a more rustic life floating in an otherwise overly civilized world. Syrah, Grenache, and Zinfandel make great grill wines. The secret is in the sauce. If you like a lot of spicy barbeque flavor on your ribs, you might want a Zinfandel with forward fruit flavors or maybe a chilled Côte du Rhône with a hint of smoke. The purists, the kind of people who grill the best T-bone they can get
and serve it simply with squeezed lemon and rosemary,
will want a Hermitage made from Syrah or maybe a Ribera
del Duero made from Tempranillo. If you’ve mastered the
difficult art of grilling fish, try serving a rich Chardonnay.
If salmon is on the grill, you’ll want to try something with
mineral and nut flavors and probably from Burgundy. For
tuna or swordfish, a good New World white with melon and
citrus notes comes in handy.
Once in a lifetime
Red? Of course it’s red, like the meat that graces the
grill and is lovingly licked by the flames. I mentioned
Hermitage, and I meant it too. Côte Rôtie as well. Snobs
may object that the informality of the terrace is no place
for the best a Syrah can be, but laugh them off and
proclaim that nothing could showcase the wine better than
a perfectly prepared slab of beef. From Hermitage, look for
wines by JL Chave or Delas. Côte Rôtie is home to Guigal’s
legendary single vineyard wines–legendary because talk is
cheap, but these bottles cost more than a used car.
Whenever you can
With grilled pork ribs, do a Priorat from Spain. Priorat is
a new acquaintance for some people. It opens up after
only a few years in the bottle and gives wide, fruit-driven
flavors–plenty of red berries. The region is still developing
rapidly, but names to hold on to are Alvaro Palacios and
Cartoixa d’Scala Dei.
Whenever you want
Got a favorite Zinfandel? Mine is Ridge Lytton Springs.
Cline is also good. Ravenswood makes big Zins that should
fight back against the smoke and spice. Buy an armful of
different growers and invite the neighbors.