The best BBQ wines for grilling season

BBQ wines

Summer is here and nothing beats firing up the grill, sitting outside and enjoying a bottle of wine with your dinner. So which wines go best with barbecue food? For grilled steaks and red meat in general, Cabernet Sauvignon is the perfect choice. The red fruit notes in the wine will complement the smoky flavors in the beef and the tannins will help break down any fats.

For barbecue chicken in a lemon marinade, you might want a white wine instead, think Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc. But if you’re having chicken with a spicy BBQ sauce, try a glass of Red Zinfandel from California, or even a Shiraz / Syrah.

There’s some debate over which wine to serve with pork, and the answer here is it depends on the cut. For grilled pork chops, a rosé or a white wine, like a Chenin Blanc, will do the trick. Barbecue shrimp skewers are ideal with a glass of crisp, dry Riesling, especially if you’re serving them with a sweet and spicy dipping sauce. And if you’re putting swordfish, salmon or tuna on the grill, pair it with a Pinot Noir, which is a light to medium-bodied red wine that won’t overpower the delicate flavors in the fish.

Cookouts are informal affairs so choose accessible wines

Cookouts for friends and family tend to be somewhat informal affairs. A helpful tip is if hot dogs and burgers are on the grill, avoid overly serious wines. Stick with wines that are accessible, go with different kinds of food (veggies included), and complement the spicy and sweet marinades, condiments and BBQ sauces you’re using. You might also want to have a few red and white options on hand, and/or to welcome your guests with a glass of sparkling wine, like a Brut Rosé or a Prosecco.

The best red wines for barbecue food include Shiraz, Red Zinfandel, and Riojas, Cabernet goes well with steaks from the grill and meats with a bbq dipping sauce

Best red wines for barbecue season

Here are some of the best red wines for pairing with food from the grill:

  • Chianti Classico. Chianti is made with a minimum of 80% Sangiovese grapes and has cherry and sweet balsamic notes. Sangiovese-based wines, including Chianti Classico and Brunello di Montalcino, are higher in acidity, which is why they should be some of your go-to reds for barbecue season. Pair these wines with sausages, barbecue chicken or even pork ribs in a BBQ sauce. A good bottle of Chianti Classico starts at $18+.
  • Barbera. Barbera is another wine from Italy that has high acidity and strong cherry flavors. It’s ideal for barbecue food pairings, especially hamburgers, chicken or any meat you are marinating in a BBQ sauce. You can pick up a quality bottle for $18-25.
  • Pinot Noir. Pinot Noir is medium-bodied, high acidity wine that’s sure to be a crowd pleaser with guests. It comes in different styles. A wine from California will be more fruit-driven, whereas an Oregon Pinot Noir will have earthy tones to it. South African Pinots from the Hemel-en-Aarde region near Cape Town have a savory component that goes well with smoky grilled meats. They also make Pinot Noir in New Zealand, Chile, Germany, and of course France. A good bottle starts at around $20.
  • Shiraz. This is a robust wine with blackberry and spice. Shiraz is actually made from the same grape as Syrah, it’s just that in Australia they call the wine Shiraz. Shiraz can really stand up to the grilled flavors in meat and is an ideal wine for pairing with spicy foods and BBQ sauce. It starts at around $15+. Note, for a French Syrah option, consider a St. Joseph at $25-30+.
  • Cabernet Sauvignon. This is a full-bodied wine with rich berry flavors that has something called tannins in it. Tannins are what makes your mouth pucker when you take a sip. They also break down the fats in red meat, which is why Cabernet is such a good wine for pairing with steak and any kind of beef or lamb. You’ll find a quality Cab. will start at $18-20. Look for wines from California, Washington State, Chile and South Africa.
  • Malbec. Argentina is known for their beef production and barbecue meats, and Malbec is their signature wine. Malbec can be similar to Cabernet Sauvignon and goes with most of the same foods. However, it’s a bit softer. It also has a richer texture and is less tannic. Its flavor profile can include blackberry, plum and you’ll also find hints of cocoa. Look for a wine in the $15-45 range.
  • Beaujolais. Beaujolais is a medium-bodied fruit-driven wine made from Gamay grapes. It’s perfect for summer with its hints of raspberry, cherry and blackberry. It also has good acidity which makes it ideal for barbecue food pairings, including wings in a BBQ sauce. Expect to pay $15-18.
  • Chinon. Made from the Cabernet Franc grape, Chinon comes from a growing area on the Loire River. It’s a natural for pairing with gamey meats and has great acidity with a flavor profile of black and red fruits. Try it at your next barbecue for something a bit different. Expect to pay $20+ for a bottle of Chinon.

Best white wines to serve at a barbecue

Here are some top white wine pairings for barbecue season:

  • Sauvignon Blanc. It doesn’t get much better than Sauvignon Blanc for an easy drinking summer white that most guests will enjoy. It goes with barbecue chicken, seafood, including grilled fish or shrimp, and even shellfish like oysters (the only thing you want to avoid is pairing it with a heavy BBQ sauce). Sauvignon Blanc comes in three styles. Wines from New Zealand tend to be quite forward with gooseberry, citrus and tropical fruit. French Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire region, including Sancerre, tends to be more citrus and mineral driven, and a Bordeaux and Napa Valley style can have some Sémillon. This wine starts at $15+.
  • Chardonnay. Not everyone is a fan of Chardonnay but it’s still the number one white wine in America and is a natural with barbecue food. Chardonnay can be quite different depending on the style you choose. You can get a leaner and more citrus and mineral driven Chardonnay or a richer, buttery and full-bodied wine. If you are grilling lobsters, you want the buttery style of Chardonnay, but if you’re putting some BBQ chicken wings on the grill or grilling veggie skewers, you would be better off with a more citrusy wine from France or California.
  • Riesling. Riesling can have citrus, green apple and stone-fruit and many wine experts agree it’s one of the most versatile whites for food wine pairings as it changes depending on the spice profile of the meal. It’s a great wine for barbecue food and if you want to try something from outside of Germany, Australia now makes delicious dry Rieslings that you can pick up for $20+ a bottle.
  • Chenin Blanc. Chenin Blanc can have flavors of quince, pear, peach and apple, with hints of honey. It’s a high acid wine so it pairs well with all types of food, including BBQ marinades, grilled meats and even Asian noodles with a fish sauce. You’ll spend $20+ for a wine from France (look for Vouvray as the French use regional names for their wines) and $15+ for a wine from South Africa.
Sparkling and rosé wines that go with grilled chicken and veggies at a barbecue, particularly rosé can go well with a light bbq sauce

Sparkling wines

Bubbles are one of the best drinks for summer gatherings. Hand whoever is standing behind the grill a glass of rosé sparkling wine and you’ll be sure to get a smile. The carbonation makes sparkling wines bright and refreshing, which is what you want in warmer weather, and they also go with all types of food. Champagne can be a bit more expensive but you can pick up Cava from Spain or Prosecco from Italy for $15+. There are also some excellent sparkling wines from America for $22+.

Spanish wine pairings

Riojas are medium bodied Spanish reds that go best with grilled pork dishes and charcuterie and cheese boards. Wines from the Ribera del Duero region are perfect for steak (and any kind of beef) as they’re fuller-bodied, bigger wines. If you prefer a white wine from Spain, Albariño and Verdejo can both hold their own against marinades with more spice and make ideal wine pairings for barbecue food.

A glass of red wine that you can pair with steaks, grilled pork chops or bbq chicken wings

6 Top BBQ food and wine pairings

  1. BBQ pork ribs and Shiraz. If you are marinating pork in a sweet BBQ sauce, try a wine from Australia’s Barossa Valley. It will be full-bodied and spicy with blackberry and raspberry notes that go perfectly with the smoky flavors in the meat.
  2. Grilled shrimp and Gavi di Gavi. When it comes to barbecue food, grilled shrimp are a great option. They’re often prepared with chili marinades that can include black pepper, paprika, lime and other spices. We recommend pairing them with a citrusy and dry white wine from Italy, like a Gavi di Gavi.
  3. BBQ vegetable skewers and Grüner Veltliner. If you’ve never tasted Grüner Veltliner, now’s your chance. This wine from Austria has asparagus, white-pepper and grassy notes and couldn’t be more perfect for whatever vegetables you’re grilling, from zucchini to tomatoes, eggplant or even grilled veggie burgers.
  4. Rib-eye steaks and a Napa Cab. It’s a beautiful August evening and you’ve picked up some rib-eye steaks that you can’t wait to get on the grill. What wine should you open? A California Cabernet from Napa Valley! This wine will be weighty enough for the beef and full of depth in flavor.
  5. Hamburgers and Red Zinfandel. The difference between beef burgers and steak is we tend to have burgers with condiments like ketchup, BBQ sauce, mayonnaise and mustard, not to mention different melted cheeses. Pick up a red Zinfandel from California for a smoky wine with jammy notes that will complement your meal to a T. Just check the alcohol percentage and keep water handy as many Zins today can be between 14-17%.
  6. Chicken and fennel sausages and Soave. Whether you are grilling chicken, pork or lamb sausages you’re going to be tasting a lot of spice in the meat, like fennel and cumin, and possibly sweet pear and apple. Go with a white wine from the north of Italy called Soave. Soave is a dry and crisp wine that’s full of peach and stone-fruit flavors. It will go well with barbecue chicken too.
If you’re grilling salmon at a barbecue and standing by the grill to flip the fish keep a glass of white wine in your hand but don’t let it get too warm

Don’t forget to keep your wines cool

It’s best to keep your wines cool in the summer, particularly if they’re going to be in close proximity to a hot barbecue or smoky grill. White wines should be chilled to around 45 degrees and red wines are best served at 60-65 degrees.

  • Food pairing
  • Wine roundup

Freddy is a retired wine professional and wine educator who was Vice President of the sixth largest wine importer and wholesaler in the United States for over 40 years. He currently works as a wine consultant and collaborates with his daughter to write articles that help people learn about wine.

Brian Keeping

Brian Keeping

Brian is an avid wine enthusiast and wine educator who has spent 45+ years in the fine wine industry. From 1975 to 1994 he was part owner and sales director of Silenus Wines and from 1994 to 2021 served as Fine Wine Director at Carolina Wines & Spirits.

Write a Comment

Join our mailing list and we’ll share our latest articles with you!

Our articles

View more articles
View more articles