Great Grilling Tips

Making the most of changing seasons


So summer is coming to a close, but that’s no reason to pack up the grill and retreat to the kitchen for the coming months. In fact, late summer and early fall can be the best time to grill. With cooler weather, we’re all ready for some heartier fare and richer wines. Wines that are natural partners for grilled food, in fact!

While the summer can be dominated by light, bright crisp wines, the fall calls for deeper wines, often with the richness of wood-aging that marries so well with the smoky flavors of grilled foods. So get ready to up the ante this fall with great recipes and some tricks to make your grilling last until the first snow - and then some!

Grilling With Grapevine Clippings

Want to add a great smoky flavor to your food and give it some real terroir? Then get yourself some grapevine trimmings. Vineyards prune their vines after the harvest to prepare them for the following growing season. All those pruned canes tend to be a nuisance for many vineyards, so they’ll be more than happy to let you take enough for a great grilling session or four.

Grapevines actually are a great wood for smoking your food with; less assertive than hickory or mesquite, the vines lend a softly smoky, earthy flavor to any dish. If you go for a lightly smoked dish using high heat, this profile is killer with Pinot Noir. But lowering the heat amps up the effects of the smoke, perfect for your richer reds like Cabernet or Merlot.

Photo courtesy Williams-Sonoma

New Release Season

One of the greatest attributes of autumn, at least for wine geeks, is that it’s release season! Many wineries release their latest vintages in the fall and as is generally the case, many of these young wines tend to be exuberantly fruity and very structured at the same time. With all that flavor and the spicy, smoky effects of new oak still obvious, wines such as this call for some big, rich dishes.

Classic examples of wines that come on strong in the fall include Bordeaux blends and Syrah, wines that typically benefit from several years in the cellar but can be irresistible right on release. Both Syrah and Cabernet-based blends love lamb, and lamb loves to be grilled, so for a real treat this fall, grill up some lamb ribs and pop a cork on a current release red! The classic Italian preparation used for Scottadito (finger burners, and you know that’s true!), redolent of garlic and rosemary, is a perfect foil for a rich red.

Photo courtesy Another Pint Please via Flickr/CC

More Pork, Please

And speaking of garlic and rosemary, pork not only is a great canvas for those simple, bright flavors, but it’s also a great rich barbecue centerpiece that adapts well to the changing seasons.

One trick of the trade that I’ve used to produce delicious, succulent grilled pork is to marinate the pork before cooking, then baste the meat liberally while it’s being grilled. The sweet fruit and bright acid of a fine wine - in this case, I’m thinking of a white wine - adds another dimension to the already complex notes of smoke, herb and garlic that can make grilled pork so delightful. This is the time to break out a nicely oaked white with flavors that will marry perfectly with everything the grilling adds to your food. A great Chardonnay is ideal here, though Chenin Blanc or even a fine Fume Blanc would be delicious.

Photo courtesy mistersmed via Flickr/CC

Lift a Glass to Summer’s Finale

Summer's Last Splash
Whether you’re entertaining on the patio or watching the tide from your beach chair, summer calls for one last wine-inspired hoorah. Celebrate the fruity flavors of the season over a glass of Chateau Ste. Michelle Riesling from the Columbia Valley, noting its hints of apricot and lime. Pair Oysters Rockefeller with a refreshing Pinot Gris or smoked salmon with Sauvignon Blanc, and watch your guests swoon.

Before summer heads out like a lion, hold it back with wine pairings that take advantage of longer days and warmer nights. Visit for ideas.

Go Seasonal

Yes it’s true, tomato season is coming to a close, and we can almost kiss all that sweet corn goodbye for another year; but the bounty of autumn is almost upon us and it’s filled with wonderful treasures from the land and from the sea.

Ever have a grilled oyster, for example? September has an "r" and that signals the return of cold water seafood and great clams, oysters and mussels! Grilled shellfish is a labor of love but the added smoky notes one gets from grilling bivalves adds another layer of flavor complexity that makes them a real treat. My favorite grilling and shellfish combination happens to be mussels Provencal made with grilled tomatoes! It’s an easy way to add your own distinct touch to this classic dish while making it the perfect partner for a lightly oaked white like a Bordeaux Blanc or Sauvignon Blanc.

Photo courtesy dinemag via Flickr/CC

Hearty Fall Vegetables Say "Grill Me!"

I love my grilled summer vegetables: tomatoes and onions, corn and zucchini; they all grace my table as often as possible, but after three months you can’t blame me for wanting something that shakes things up a bit. Well get ready, because there’s variety a comin'.

Mushrooms, for example, one of the greatest use for a grill ever, are in abundance during the damp, cool months of late summer and early fall, and hot off the grill they’re a killer match for red wines. Some might say they’re even better than meat, and in fact on occasion, I’ve said that. Of course they lack the intensity and richness of grilled meats, so when pairing them with a wine look for something a bit more elegant and lighter bodied. I love a light Pinot Noir here but some of the best mushroom matches I’ve come across were at the hands of Cabernet Franc. Lighter bodied than Cabernet Sauvignon with a distinct herbal/earthy element, Cabernet Franc is perfect for grilled mushrooms that have been brushed with your favorite herb-infused oils.

Photo Courtesy Dad Cooks Dinner

Neverending Grilling Season

What other treats await your extended grilling season this year? Have you considered grilling winter squash? It’s a great way to bring out the rich flavor of the squash while adding a nice note of char that helps balance these sweet vegetables.  A Riesling, with its dollop of sweetness, works wonders with grilled squash, as does an off-dry Chenin Blanc. Add in some tender scallops or shrimp for a wonderfully light and easy feast that will make your wine shine!

While you’re at it, add in a good old-fashioned Castagnata, or chestnut roast! It’s the season after all and while the traditional wine for a chestnut roast is a young, fresh red, an off-dry Riesling is another pairing that people love. Roasting chestnuts is an easy way to end some of your last outdoor meals and don’t be bound by the Riesling pairing. With any wine, it’s simply a great way to warm your soul on a chilling night and wonder how much longer you can keep the grilling alive this year!

Photo courtesy claytron via Flickr/CC

Want to learn more?

Check out these other tips for successful grilling:

Grilled Pork Pairings

The Secret to Successful Grilling

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  • We had a barbie wine once.

    It was like its namesake.

    Malproportioned, badly balanced and tasted of plastic.

    Aug 26, 2011 at 4:42 AM

  • Grilling is truly fun and a great way to bond with families and friends during summer or in whenever time of the year. Charcoal Grilled Chicken is one of the healthiest recipe you can possibly cook. There are some parts of chicken like breast that have less fat and salt and with fewer calories which can be a great alternative to pork and beef. Plus it provides an excellent source of daily protein.

    Feb 27, 2012 at 8:21 PM

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