Perfect Pairings For The ‘Dog Days Of Summer’

By Leslee Miller

Sure beer is pretty easy to match up with most things that come off the grill. But wine, on the other hand, always seems a bit more complicated for some folks to match up with those summer cookouts. Let me help you take the guesswork out and get ready to plan next weekends backyard get together. The dog days of summer aren’t going to last forever. Here are a couple tips to make it easy to match vino and grill fare, like a pro.


Choosing a wine to pair with a beefy, fresh-off-the-grill burger will depend largely on its condiments. For a traditionally styled burger, I favor a medium-bodied red, such as a malbec or a barbera. But if you’re adding decadent toppings like barbecue sauce, bacon, or fried onion rings, I would go with something richer and heavier, like a zinfandel or a petite sirah. If you are in the mood for an ahi tuna or turkey burger, consider a lighter-style red, such as a gamay, zweigelt, or pinot noir.

Brats (and Hot Dogs)

Basically, you can’t go wrong with a malbec that I playfully dub it the “hot dog grape.” As a matter of preference, I opt for a lighter malbec, such as one from France or South America, for chicken dogs and “naked” brats without smothered condiments.


The key here is to avoid tannins, which come from the thicker red grape skins of heavier wines. But because fish that’s been grilled has smoky, charred notes, you shouldn’t feel confined to whites. In fact, I again recommend medium-bodied reds such as gamay, zweigelt, or pinot noir. As for whites, I highly recommend a chardonnay, especially for entrées featuring a white, flaky fish flavored with citrusy zest. Make sure the chardonnay has seen some barrel time. You want one that has both heft and toasty flavors.


The way you grill chicken will ultimately dictate the wine you serve. Mediterranean flavors complement a pinot blanc; it has round richness without being as full-bodied as chardonnay. This versatile, “medium-plus weighted” grape can even pair with a grilled chicken sandwich topped with pepper jack cheese.

One thing to consider with a chicken dish that includes herbal notes—such as grilled chicken with pesto—I’d head straight for a rosé. In fact, rosé with grilled chicken and tomatoes is a knockout pairing. And when it comes to choosing rosé, which can come from any red grape skin, I like to look toward Germany and Austria, two countries that know how to rock their rosés.


Most people assume that red meat demands a big red.  In actuality, the richness of a wine should parallel the fat content of the meat. And fat loves tannins. A leaner filet could go well with a lighter-bodied pinot noir. Then for a T-bone or ribeye, you could easily head into cabernet. Not a big cab fan? Then I suggest tannat. Originally grown in France, it’s now grown extensively in Uruguay. Cabernet-lovers may be pleasantly surprised.


No questions asked in my choice grape for all things barbecue—especially ribs—is zinfandel. It’s such a sappy, over-the-top grape with body, pepper, and smoke. Not into zin? An Australian or South American shiraz could work, too.


Reach for a sangiovese. This Italian wine pairs particularly well with earthier veggies, such as tomatoes, zucchini, and squash. My match made in heaven: sangiovese served with mushrooms and shaved pecorino cheese. Yum, yum, yum!


Want just one type of wine for your backyard bash? Go with rosé. Since this wine is made from a range of grapes, you could choose two or three different countries, and let guests sample each. Choose pinot noir rosé to narrow down choices even further. It will complement anything from chicken to red meat although it can get smacked down by heavier foods.

There you go….now it’s time to hit the grocery store, your favorite wine shop and invite family and friends to have at least one more summer get together before the ‘dog days of summer’ turn into the ‘fall football Sunday’ parties.