Long days and warm summer nights. Pool parties, picnics and backyard barbecues. Nothing feels more like summer than outdoor grilling with friends and family.

What does grilling mean to you? Burgers and brats, pork steaks, seafood, veggies—the list goes on. But here’s the dilemma: How to choose a wine for these foods, as well as for entertaining outdoors? Well, truth be told, I personally not only serve wine, but include beer as a perfect accompaniment. (Water, too, is ideal for hydration).

Grilling adds charred and smoky flavors to foods, and can easily change the type of wine that may normally be best suited for certain foods. Salmon usually pairs best with white wine; but grilling adds the bolder flavors and begs for a soft red wine such as pinot noir.

Let explore some backyard barbecue favorites:

Pork Steaks/Pulled Pork: A St. Louis favorite, it’s all about the seasoning: plain or BBQ-style with sauces. If served plain (seasoned, yet fresh off the grill), pork goes well with a medium-bodied white or rosé. If served BBQ-style, it needs to match up to the flavor of the BBQ grill rub or sauce; typically a medium- to full-bodied red works well. Being here in St. Louis, a Missouri chambourcin will pair well. A general rule is when eating food from the local land, it’s often best to drink wine from the land or region.

Grilled Shrimp/Seafood: For the most part, choose light-bodied oaked white wines to full whites, depending on the dish: chardonnay, viognier, or even an oaked sauvignon blanc. Don’t be afraid of oak, which complements the oak/charred flavors of grilling.

Grilled Vegetables: Grab a lot of different vegetables and season well; add some olive oil and grill. Yes, there may be lot a different flavors going on; but overall, some lighter flavors than meats can go across the board. For this, watch what the main deal is and match the wine to that (perhaps either a medium-bodied white or a soft-bodied red).

Burgers, Brats and More: Generally, these simple but tasty classics fare well with bigger flavors. Think of medium- to full-bodied reds such as grenache, shiraz/syrah and blends, and zinfandels.

Steaks and More: Big flavors require big-flavored wines: cabernet and cab blends, Syrah, and of course, the all-American classic, zinfandel. Oak and tannins fare well under this category, as they complement the big flavors of the meats.

This is just a small list of foods that can appear at an outdoor gathering; and as you can see, many flavors call for many styles of wines.

If you are just grilling one or two foods, you can narrow your choices down. If you are offering an assortment of foods, it’s best to offer array of wines. When entertaining, you will need different wines to please all guests. As a general rule, start with lighter wines and progress to more robust wines to allow your palette to adjust. What’s an ideal selection for gathering al fresco? Sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, rosé, pinot noir and grenache will cover any outdoor lineup.

When entertaining, I think one of the great things about backyard barbecues is that they are casual, and one can graze from an assortment of foods and beverages from different wines to beers, teas and waters. Summertime definitely is for sipping, and what better time to enjoy some great wines than while spending time with some friends and family near a grill?

Tasting Tip: Be aware of high-alcohol reds as they do not fare well with summer heat and can over-pronounce the alcohol. Also, big, spicy reds like zinfandels can exasperate the spicy notes of the food. If outdoors, keep a slight chill on the reds so they don’t get too warm.

Wine Recommendation: Well, hopefully you’ve perused some of the previous Wine Life columns, and have been exploring and tasting different wines. This is the time to bring some of your new finds and share—it’s informal, and if your guest not does care for a certain one, you can move on to some other choice.

*Certified Sommelier Stanley Browne is the owner of Robust Wine Bar in  Webster Groves, Downtown at the MX and a soon-to-open third location in Edwardsville. 

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