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Grilling season a good match with wine

Every neighborhood has a diehard who grills year-round, but for most us the Memorial Day weekend marks the official start to the summer grilling season. Now that we’re already a week into grilling season, you’ll have abundant opportunities to discover how wine fits into your favorite backyard meal.

Whether you are firing that grill for hot dogs, thick steaks, sausages or portobellos and veggies, don’t hesitate to grab a glass and enjoy the recommendations. The appeal and joy of hot dogs and burgers is they are easy and popular, but they also tend to get a lot of distracting side flavors, so pick your wine to fit the main dish. Hot dogs, which can range from bland to super-spicy, find their match with a chilled light red (see below) or fruity, crisp white wine such as a dry or off-dry Riesling, sauvignon blanc or Gewurtztraminer.

Clos de Los Siete 2009 Argentina Malbec

For burgers, chicken and other grilled meats, you want something smoky to complement the charred meat along with little sweetness (fruit, not sugar) to bring out the sauce and offset the char from the coals. Light-sauced chicken and pork also beg for Riesling and Gewurtztraminer but if the sauce is rich and heavy, better a zinfandel or cabernet franc.

I’d suggest avoiding both harsh tannins (most American cabernet sauvignons and zinfandels, Australian shiraz), which tend to be drying, and high-alcohol wines, which make you full and sleepy.

Simple burgers call for a simple red, with soft tannins, bright fruit and a little heft to stand up to the extras pile on top. Some favorites include medium-weight zinfandel, Garnacha or Tempranillo.

When you move to the heavy lifting, those thick steaks or racks of ribs call for something with bit more heft, darker fruit and bit of structure so they aren’t overwhelmed. Some examples include malbec, Rioja, mourvedre or shiraz. Just remember that wine is a condiment; use the spice, pepper and fruit to highlight your summer grilling menus.

Argentinians really love their malbec and their beef, eating an average of 121 pounds of beef per year (Americans chomp down 92 pounds each), so it makes sense an Argentinian malbec is a great barbecue wine.

Most can be enjoyed young, offering bold but not overwhelming flavors of dark fruit and spices. And since most of us spend a great deal of time entertaining around the ‘cue, it’s good to know there are plenty of delicious malbecs available for $20 and less.

For grilled mushrooms and other vegetables, I’d go with a pinot noir, a full-bodied, dry sparkling rosé or an unoaked chardonnay for the white wine fans.

A note for serving summer wines: The last thing you want on a hot day is a hot drink. Summer heat often means reds are served too hot; 30 minutes in the refrigerator before serving can perk up a lot of summer reds. Not all reds: chilling deadens heavy, oaky reds, which lose their flavors and become blocks of alcohol, tannin and oak. Lighter reds — delicate pinot noirs, Italian merlots, Barberas and Beaujolais-Villages — chill beautifully.

Recommended: Malbec — Clos de los Siete 2009 Argentina Malbec, $15. This wine, with a delicate balance between dark fruit and oak, is made under the watchful eye of Bordeaux-based but international in scope winemaker Michel Rolland.
Others: Los Alamos Malbec 2009, $13; Doña Paula 2010 Los Cardos Malbec, $9; Crios de Susana Balbo 2010 Malbec, $14.

Rosés are a natural for summer quaffing and, thanks to their growing popularity, the selection, quality and affordability are better than ever. Look for rosés that are crisp, low-octane and food friendly. I’m convinced the best rosés still come from France, Spain (rosados) and Italy (rosatos), with plenty of choices available under $15.

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