This column was updated at 11:46 a.m. on Wednesday, June 8 to clarify the Cotes-de-Rhone review.

After “goes great with lobster,” “more of a lighter, French style,” and “Wine Spectator gave this 643 points,” what salespeople most like to say about a red wine this time of year is, “Perfect grill wine.”

Makes sense, when most of us are fair-weather grillers cramming in as many simple Weber-based meals as we can between now and Labor Day. So, to the grill we go.

There’s a hidden challenge to finding good red wines for barbecues, however. From one perspective, the variables are few: meat gets salted and peppered and slapped near a fire, then comes off bleeding with grill marks; at the table, maybe a sauce gets added, but maybe not. In this scenario, you want a juicy red wine with a background of peppery, blackened fruit. Hello, Zinfandel!

But the past 10 years have brought to mainstream acceptance a much broader spectrum of what a barbecued meal can – should, even – include: lots of cooked vegetables, slaws and other side dishes; Asian influences from kimchi mayo to tamarind and from coconut to Indian spice rubs; heat-management techniques in the coals themselves that yield subtler flavors; condiments from chimichurri and pickled ramps to sauce gribiche; flatbreads.

In such situations, just-any-Zin is not going to cut it. Save the Zin for normal-burger night, or for a wet-sauced rack of ribs. If you’re getting all 21st-century on the thing, though, you’ll want a wine with more subtlety, lighter in body, and with leafy and mineral aspects (especially for the veggies) as well as fruit.

I haven’t even mentioned that plenty of us who love to grill simply eat less meat these days. When grilling fish or for vegetarians, you’ll want to honor the clean, black heat of the grill but still pay attention to the more delicate sensibilities of your food.

The reds that do this are what I like to call “grippy”: their tannins help them bite into food, and brighten the earthy elements in the way that citrus or vinegar does in food. Balanced Pinot Noir has grip; so does Gamay and Cabernet Franc.

None of the wines listed below comes from those grapes, however, which is mostly testament to the lucky variety of grill-friendly wines available to us these days. (I’ll write a second installment on this theme soon.)

Last thing: CHILL THESE WINES. Not necessarily until they’re cold, but about 30 minutes in the fridge is perfect. Once you’re outside near all that heat, bringing often spicy food off the grill, you’re looking in part for refreshment. A nicely chilled red that was born with some heft is a beautiful thing.

Bagordi Rioja Cosecha 2009, Spain, $11 (Wicked). Riojas are famous for their oak aging, but this “joven” (young) wine sees almost no oak, and subsequently remains lively and pure. There’s smoke on the nose, and balsam and cedar bark too – perfect for grilling. As you taste, you pick up graphite, new leather, sour and dried cherries and some licorice.

Jovens can come across too thin and sour (hence all that oak), but that’s when the fruit chosen for them is less than primo. Bagordi has blessedly dense (organically grown) grapes throughout their line (I raved about their rosé last week), picked at true physiological ripeness so it doesn’t have to be tampered with in the cellar. Freshness and purity of expression are paramount. Terrific with salmon, as well as simple red meats.

Andre Brunel Cotes-du-Rhone 2009, France, $12 (SoPo). A classically spicy CdR from one of the southern Rhone’s most esteemed winemakers. Inexpensive CdR can be vinegary, but this isn’t. Brunel simply does not deal in bargain grapes, and as a winemaker he treats all his fruit as if it were going into one of his esteemed Chateauneuf-du-Papes.

Plums and cinnamon undergird the spice, along with roasted red peppers, tobacco, black olives and a soft tomato-sauce note. That’s the majority Grenache talking: a fruit-forward wine not afraid to jump for joy. Pair it with sausage, duck, venison or buffalo burgers, but don’t forget the green veggies and New World flavors too – this is that kind of wine.

Chateau La Baume Costieres de Nimes 2007, $13 (Devenish). Older than the above wines, and it shows. The leather is worn-in rather than new, the fruit is almost compote-y, and last autumn’s branches and campfire atmosphere hang on. The tannins are much more prominent in this as well, although they’re enrobing tannins rather than meet-me-in-five-years tannins.

A perfect wine when you’re going for serious grill marks (even if they’re on the squash and peppers), and for crispy skin from fish or chicken.

 

Joe Appel works at Rosemont Market. His blog, soulofwine.com, continues the conversation, and he can be reached at: [email protected]