Americana Food and Wine Pairings for Summer Party Perfection

Americana Food and Wine Pairings for Summer Party Perfection
There’s nothing more American than a BBQ or summer picnic. Whether you are a planning something on the backyard grill or a picnic under the trees or at the beach, here are some delicious (and affordable) state-side wines to give you that perfect pairing for an all-American celebration.

For Hot Dog Traditionalists

Wine with dogs? You’d better believe it! But the choice of wine depends on how your dog is dressed. When pairing wine with food, always pair to the dominant flavor: so a dog with mustard and kraut will need a different pairing than a chili dog or corn dog.
If your taste runs to the traditional dog with kraut and mustard (and maybe some fried onions?), a favorite from the Willamette Valley comes to mind: the 2012 Chehalem 3 Vineyards Pinot Gris. This wine is full-bodied and spicy to stand up to the spice in the dog, with mouth-watering acidity to cut through the fat and smooth out the sour notes of the kraut and mustard. Flavor? You bet. There is fruit and flower on the nose; pear, citrus, stone fruit, and a hint of fresh herb on the palate. This is a delicious wine, sells for about $19, and is really worth the splurge.
A chili dog dripping with sweet, spicy chili and topped with mountains of chopped onion and shredded cheddar cheese is a different animal entirely. It screams for a full-bodied red with lots of fruit and easy tannins, and a great wine at a great price is the 2011 Columbia Crest Grand Estates Merlot. Merlot used to be America’s best-selling red wine until over-cropping and the movie Sideways turned merlot into the Rodney Dangerfield of reds (i.e., they “Don’t get no respect!”); but that’s a shame. Good Merlot is very good indeed, and Washington Merlots all seem to have a delicious coffee/chocolate note beneath the dark cherry and berry fruit that plays beautifully with the chili and cheese. This wine sells for about $12, and is worth twice the price.

If corn dogs are your passion, or you go for other deep-fried goodies like fried chicken, breaded shrimp, or fish and chips,think bubbles! Sparkling wines are made for fried and salty foods, and the Gruet family makes Champagne-style wines that are exceptionally good and very reasonably priced -- no surprise since the family made Champagne in France before discovering that the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir that are the backbones of Champagne wines could produce brilliant sparklers when grown at altitude near the town of Truth or Consequences, New Mexico. Try their Brut (a blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir) or their Blanc de Noir (Pinot Noir), which cost about $15-$17 per bottle.

For brat fans who don’t like beer, top your grilled brats with Zucchini Relish (easy to make, incredibly delicious, and a great way to use those baseball bat sized zucchinis that hid under a leaf) and serve them with Riesling. A great choice is the Chateau Saint Michelle Eroica Riesling from Washington State. Made in collaboration with well-known Mosel winemaker Ernst Loosen, this wine has all of the mouth-watering acidity that Riesling is famous for along with aromas and flavors of citrus and peach. The acidity completely balances the residual sugar and both play off of the richness of the sausage and the piquant sweetness of the relish. It’s a match made in heaven. Eroica sells for around $15.

Zucchini Relish

  • 4 pounds zucchini
  • 2 pounds yellow onion
  • 5 tablespoons kosher salt
  • 2 1/4 cups cider vinegar
  • 6 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon nutmeg
  • 1 tablespoon turmeric
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 2 tablespoons celery seed
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Grind the zucchini and the onions, add the salt, and let stand overnight in a colander. Rinse in cold water, and let drain thoroughly.
Place in a stock pot with the remaining ingredients and cook for 40 minutes. The relish should thicken and the liquid should appear glossy.
Pour into sterilized jars with 1/2-inch headspace and seal. Process 10 minutes in a boiling water bath.
Makes 13 pints

For the Beef Eaters

Are burgers or steak your “go-to” food when you fire up the charcoal? Mine too, and I always look for a big California Cabernet Sauvignon or Bordeaux-style blend of Cab and Merlot with maybe a bit of Cabernet Franc or Petit Verdot to round out the flavors.
Although sold out at the winery, I found the 2010 Robert Mondavi Winery Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignonat for under $20. It’s a blend of 83% Cabernet Sauvignon (California wine law allows you to label a wine with a single varietal as long as the varietal comprises at least 75% of the blend), with much smaller amounts of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Syrah. You will find lots of blackberry and cassis (black currant), some black pepper, and lots of vanilla and spice. The tannins have really smoothed out since I tasted it on release, and finding a delicious Napa Valley Cab for this price is a treat.

What about ribs with smoky BBQ sauce? You need America’s heritage wine -- California Zinfandel. The 2012 Artesia Sonoma Valley Elements Zinfandelfills the bill for around $20 a bottle. Think of a sunny, hot day in the blackberry patch: briary raspberry and cherry aromas with lots of blackberry, raspberry, and cherry notes on the palate. It’s a wonderful, fun tipple and killer with any meat slathered with spicy red BBQ sauce.

For Chickeneers

For a picnic featuring cold lemon chicken, potato salad, and cole slaw, think Chenin Blanc -- specifically the 2011 Dry Creek Vineyards Dry Chenin Blanc from Clarksberg, California. This wine packs a lot of flavor into a $10 bottle. It is crisp, creamy, and lemony with hints of melon and pineapple. Native to the Loire Valley in France, this has always been one of my favorite white varietals, and while it isn’t as well known in this country, it should be. Give it a try with the chicken, and it is equally good with fresh oysters.

For Seafood Lovers

When I make steamer clams, I put diced shallot and onion in the pot and steam the clams in a nice Pinot Gris like the 2012 Chehalem 3 Vineyards Pinot Gris noted above, or steam the clams in a less expensive gris and serve them with the Chehalem, some crusty bread, and a green salad. Sooooo good.
Cedar planked salmon is, to my mind, the best way to cook this magnificent fish -- and be sure to choose wild salmon for better flavor and more of the healthy Omega 3s that the fish is prized for. All the salmon needs is a light brushing with oil, salt, pepper, and lemon slices. Cooking the fish on a soaked plank over indirect heat gives it a slightly smoky character as well. As an Oregonian, I go straight for the Pinot Noir whenever cedar planked salmon is on the menu, and a great choice is the 2012 Evening Land Blue Label Willamette Valley Pinot Noir. It has dark cherry, blueberry, and violets on the nose; on the palate, the fruit is joined by baking spice and a slight note of fresh herbs. It is lush and the finish is long, and if you know about Willamette Pinot Noir prices, you will know how much of a bargain this wine is at $20.
So however you plan on celebrating, enjoy some great wines and have a fabulous Fourth!
Photo Credits: CreativeCommons, Gruet Winery, author, author, CreativeCommons, CreativeCommons, Frettie, and author.

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