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Wine options for pairing with grilled food abound

Men, for good or ill, are twice as likely as women to do the family’s outdoor grilling – a stat that hasn’t changed in decades, according to a national poll by NPD, a market research group.

I asked a cookbook author friend why, and he just laughed. “It doesn’t occur to women that it’s fun to stand downwind from a smoky fire.”

On the other hand, a poll for the Wine Institute said women buy 57 percent of the wine consumed in the country.

It gives new urgency to the plea, “Can’t we all just get along?”

Can’t we put our heads together and decide what to grill this summer and what to drink with it? I have some suggestions:

First, it’s always nice to hand a glass of something simple and light and tasty to guests as they arrive in your backyard. With summer temperatures soaring, you need something cold and refreshing. The good choice is that trendy Italian sparkling wine called prosecco.

Now, most experts will tell you sparkling wines should be served at 40 to 50 degrees – even a bit warmer for really top champagnes. And I agree. But this is a backyard grilling bash, not a 14-course repast by the Chaine des Rotisseurs.

Prosecco is less hifalutin than champagne, and cheaper. So my advice is to glance around furtively and, when nobody’s watching, pop a few bottles of prosecco in the ice chest – yes, right there beside the beer.

You’ll thank me when that afternoon sun hits your reddening forehead.

On to the meal. Ask yourself: What’s the most prominent flavor you encounter at every grill-out, no matter if you’re doing steaks, burgers, Caesar salad (yes, you can grill the lettuce), garlic bread, or even, for the more daring, peaches?

It’s the grill mark.

It’s that lovely crosshatch of char that creates the explosion of flavor that says you’re cooking with fire.

It changes everything.

Those compelling black marks on veggies provide a bitterness that can be complemented with a zingy, high-acid sauvignon blanc or contrasted with a fat, buttery California chardonnay.

On a steak, that cowboy-style branding creates a pungency that cries out for a powerful red cabernet sauvignon to match or a sweet and fruity zinfandel or shiraz for contrast.

A special case is that epitome of grilling grandeur, the 2-pound, amply marbled, thick and juicy ribeye steak – rare in the middle, perfectly crosshatched on both sides. This $30 chunk of meat deserves a special red wine – the 2011 Shafer “One Point Five” cab, at $75. On this point it’s go big or go home.

The other painful pleasure of the backyard grill is, of course, spice. Big shrimp, laced with enough hot-pepper sauce and cayenne pepper to make your eyes water. Chicken wings soaked in Buffalo sauce. Lip-lacerating jalapeño poppers stuffed with soothing cream cheese.

For these, I grudgingly admit, you sometimes get beyond the reach of wine. You need beer straight out of that cooler, at 32.1 degrees. Yes, from the cans sitting there beside the bottles of prosecco.

Highly recommended

• 2013 Steven Kent Winery “Lola” Sauvignon Blanc, Ghielmetti Vineyard, Livermore Valley: floral aroma, flavors of citrus and spice, crisp; $24.

• 2011 Shafer Vineyards “One Point Five” Cabernet Sauvignon, Stags Leap District, Napa Valley: big, hearty and complex, with flavors of black raspberries, black cherries, black plums and herbs, ripe tannins, long finish; $75.

• 2012 “Votre Santé Chateau Red,” by Francis Ford Coppola, Calif. (syrah, grenache, mourvèdre): ripe black cherry and black coffee flavors, rich and lush, sweet finish; $14.


• Nonvintage “il” Prosecco, Frizzante Prosecco DOC, Italy: soft bubbles, light and lively, ripe golden apple flavors; $10.

• 2013 “Avant” Sauvignon Blanc, by Kendall-Jackson, Calif.: light, crisp and tart, with lemon-lime and mineral flavors; $13.

• 2013 Alamos Chardonnay, Mendoza, Arg.: hint of oak, sweet, ripe pineapples, caramel and cinnamon; $13.

Fred Tasker can be reached at

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