Barbecue season officially kicks off this weekend, but that doesn’t mean you need to trade in your favorite glass of wine for a cold beer out on the patio. In fact, Michigan wine can go very well with a variety of grilled foods.
Wine’s versatility in pairing with different cuisine is exactly what Brian Lesperance, vice president at Fenn Valley Vineyards in Fennville, hopes to convey at his winery’s third annual Fired Up! grilling class on May 28. The class will include demonstrations of grilling techniques and — of course — wine to drink with the finished fare, which will include ribs, asparagus, potato salad, and pineapple.
“I’m really just trying to broaden folks’ perspective of how wine can pair with food,” Lesperance says.
During the event, guests will be able to choose their drinks, but Lesperance will recommend a few different wines to try, including Fenn Valley’s low-alcohol, canned piquette series. Piquette is made by hydrating the leftover skins, stems, and seeds — or pomace — of grapes that were already pressed once to make wine.
“It’s an old French technique,” Lesperance says. “It’s sort of like the original low-alcohol spritzer/seltzer product that’s become so popular these days. … Those [piquettes] are great beverages by a grill because they’re low-alcohol, they’re served cold, we’ve got them in a can — so they’re great to [have] outside by the grill as you’re working through the cooking.”
For dinner, Lesperance will suggest Fenn Valley’s dry Cabaret rosé, made from Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc.
“That kind of walks that line between a white and a red,” Lesperance says, “so you get the freshness of a cool beverage, which is always nice on a hot summer day, but you do get some bigger flavors from that rosé being made from Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, two of the more full-bodied wines that we make here in Southwest Michigan.”
Beyond the event’s menu, Lesperance has plenty of suggestions for wine and barbecue pairings. Here are some to try yourself when you fire up your grill this summer.
To pair with corn on the cob: Chardonnay
Whether you prefer your Chardonnay oak-aged and buttery or steel-fermented and crisp, you can’t go wrong pairing this wine with corn on the cob. Oaked and unoaked Chardonnay will simply play off the corn differently.
Traditional oaked Chardonnay would be the more savory pairing choice, and if it has a buttery quality, Lesperance says, that would “create a bridge flavor” with the corn if the corn has been topped with oil or butter.
“If you go with an unoaked Chardonnay, … it’s going to be more fruit driven, so you’re going to have more green apple character,” Lesperance says. “So there you can think about it as sort of a contrast, so it kind of keeps the palate fresh.”
To pair with barbecued chicken: rosé
This is one of Lesperance’s favorite summer pairings. A fruit-centric Michigan rosé is the way to go, he says.
“It provides a really nice contrast and complement,” he says. “There’s a lot of buried fruit in barbecue sauce that you don’t really think about, but it … comes out when you pick a wine that can exemplify that.”
To pair with steak: Cabernet Franc
Before you switch completely from drinking warm winter reds to refreshing white wines and rosés for the summer, consider this: Generally speaking, Lesperance says, red wines made in Michigan are lighter than those made in warmer climates with longer growing seasons, and these lighter reds can go quite nicely with grilled food.
In particular, a cool-climate Cabernet Franc pairs well with grilled steak because even though it isn’t heavy, it’s still robust enough to hold its own against the bolder beef.
“It’s got enough structure to stand up to those steaks,” Lesperance says, “but if it’s done in a lighter style — a cooler-climate style — then it should still be refreshing enough to not weigh the palate down.”
To make a Michigan Cabernet Franc feel even more summery, try chilling it briefly before serving it.
“Don’t be afraid to pop that bottle in the fridge for 15 minutes, especially if it’s a hot afternoon,” Lesperance says. “You don’t want it ice cold, but just a touch of a chill … sort of tones the tannins down. …
“Just experiment. You might find that a wine that you love in the winter at room temp you also love in the summer with just a little bit of a chill on it.”
To pair with grilled fruit: ice wine
A good rule of thumb when pairing wine with dessert is to pick a wine that tastes sweeter than the dessert. Otherwise, the wine might end up tasting bitter.
Ice wines are particularly rich and sweet, so they’re a natural choice to pair with dessert, including grilled fruit.
“When you grill the fruit, it kind of has the effect of taming down some of the sugar because it’s going to caramelize some of that sugar and give it more of that charred taste, so that will help with pairing as well,” Lesperance says. “It just takes that fruit and converts it from just purely sweet to a little bit sweet and savory, which makes that wine pop in contrast with it.”