John Brown has been a wine and food columnist in West Virginia since the 1980’s. His regular columns appear in the Charleston (WV) Gazette-Mail under the title Vines & Vittles and in The State Journal - a statewide business weekly

Grilling favorites with paired wines

My wife can really turn a phrase. She claims I avoid work as if it was a “four letter” word. I will admit, though, there are certain tasks – like cleaning out the garage or doing the dishes – which I do not willingly seek out. But give me something to cook and I am a diligent, energetic and enthusiastic laborer; give me something to grill and I’m in Nirvana!

And since the upcoming Memorial Day weekend is the official kick-off for summertime, that means we will be enjoying more of our meals in the great outdoors. That also means I can use my grill more frequently and that’s the type of work I truly love.

Over the years I have espoused the virtues of charcoal over gas grilling, but whatever your preference, nothing beats the flavor of outdoor cooking. Whether you’re searing a hunk of red meat, slow roasting a rack of baby backs or smoking a filet of salmon, grilling improves the flavor of just about any food – even vegetables. And there are myriad wine choices to pair with the foods we enjoy this time of year.

Here are a few of my favorite warm weather on-the-grill dishes, and the wines I think will pair especially well with them.

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Hamburgers: I love to chop a few slices of bacon into small pieces and add them to a pound and a half of ground chuck. After pressing them into quarter pound burgers, I shake a generous portion of McCormick’s Montreal Grillmates Seasoning on them before placing them on the grill. Try pairing the burgers with zinfandel from producers such as Frank Family, Edmeades or Dry Creek. These California zins are all medium-bodied wines with delicious dark berry flavors that will accentuate the beefy goodness of the bacon-enhanced burgers.

Hot dogs and Sausages: I’m an advocate of splitting my dogs and sausages long-ways in order to get as many surfaces of the meat grilled and crisp. The saltiness and spice of these hearty tube steaks makes them a perfect match with refreshing and thirst-quenching dry roses’ from producers like Elizabeth Spenser (California) Domaine Tempier Bandol Rose (France) and Mulderbosch Rose of Cabernet Sauvignon (South Africa).

Rib eye or strip steak: Nothing is more hedonistically appealing to me than beefsteak grilled to perfection. I’ll have my beef purveyor cut my steak into one and one-half inch thick pieces and then I’ll rub them with a clove of garlic, kosher salt, coarsely ground black pepper and olive oil before placing the meat on the grill and cooking them until medium-rare. No wine is more appropriate to serve with this lovely grilled meat than cabernet sauvignon, particularly ones from northern California. Here are some of my favorite labels: Provenance, Franciscan, Shaffer, Alexander Valley Vineyards, Silver Oak, Heitz, St. Supery and Clos Du Val.

Marinated Vegetables: As an accompaniment to any meat or fish dish or as a stand-alone meal, you must try grilling vegetables. You can use any combination of the following: lengthwise pieces of red and yellow bell peppers; peeled and sliced zucchinis and yellow squash; a large onion cut into quarter inch circles; asparagus spears; hot banana peppers sliced lengthwise; a bulb of sliced fennel; a head of radicchio halved; and Portobello mushrooms cut in half. Make a marinade of extra virgin olive oil, minced garlic, balsamic vinegar, salt, pepper and basil. Mix and then immerse the vegetables in the marinade for about an hour before grilling. Pair the grilled veggies with sauvignon blanc from La Crema and St. Supery (California) or Whitehaven and Kim Crawford (New Zealand).

Salmon: I love me some salmon on the grill! Brush two eight ounce, skin-off salmon filets (or a whole side of salmon) with a glaze composed of minced garlic and jalapenos, soy sauce, honey, cumin and olive oil. Brush on before grilling and then again when you turn the salmon. Salmon likes smoke and just loves sweet and heat. The perfect wine accompaniment to the dish is pinot noir. Try one of these beauties: Domaine Serene Evenstad Reserve and Lange Estate (Oregon); Melville Santa Rita Hills, Domaine Carneros and Etude (California).

Enjoy your Memorial Day weekend and happy summertime grilling!

John Brown is also a novelist. His latest book is “Augie’s World” which is a sequel to his debut novel, Augie’s War. You can find out more about his novels at wordsbyjohnbrown.com

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