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What'll we drink, or summer food/wine pairings 

click to enlarge Chambourcin grapes in an Indiana vineyard.
  • Chambourcin grapes in an Indiana vineyard.

A wine writer's most frequently asked question is 'What's for dinner?' Or rather, 'What's to drink with dinner?'

The long-time wine snobbery of many has made the magic of food and wine pairing far more difficult than it needs to be. You can stick with the oldest rule of white with fish or chicken and red with red meat. Or, as many a comic puts it - it you eat it, drink white wine. If it could eat you, drink red!

Another rule is if you like wine A with protein B, forget all of the rules and do what you like.

With that said, we can be more specific. Most people think of summer's lighter foods rightly but we also drag out the charcoal in summer and put a serious burn on some beast! One of the biggest delights of enjoying wine is getting it just right with the food.

Let's look at the staples of summer dining:

Burgers - Everyone enjoys beer with a burger, right? Next time try a French Beaujolais Grand Cru. The Cru wines are priced in the mid-teens, light in body, and are incredible wines for the price. Another choice with a bit more body would be Spanish Tempranillo wines or maybe even a soft Merlot. If you want to stay closer to home with your wine pic choose an Indiana Chambourcin red.

BBQ - If you're rubbing or lathering up some beef or pork think of that aforementioned Merlot, or if you like bigger wine a Syrah or Zinfandel. Go international and pair grilled BBQ with French Rhone wines, Malbec from Argentina, or even an Italian Super Tuscan (that's a blend of Cabernet and the native Sangiovese).

Steak - The granddaddy of grilling, rib eye, strip or porterhouse, deserves nothing but the granddaddy of red wine - Cabernet Sauvignon. If Cabernet is too big for your palate then turn to Argentinian Malbec, Chile's Carmenere', Saint Emilion Bordeaux, or I enjoy a well-made Syrah.

White fish - Lighter fish is where preparation means everything. Most grilled white fish will pair well with Sauvignon Blanc. But be adventurous and try a Midwestern Pinot Blanc or Vidal. The emerging stainless steel chardonnays are perfect for white fish. Be really crazy and try an Albarino from Spain or Portugal. Be the talk of the cookout and pop open a bottle of Italian Vermentino. All of these whites are easy to find in a good wine shop for under $20.

Salads - Summer salads can be delightful with floral wines. Try a domestic or French Viognier with your salad. If there is protein (chicken or shrimp) in your summer salad, seek out the Albarino mentioned above. A good dry Rose' gives that salad lunch a real continental feel. The sales of Rose' continue to explode each summer. Buy a French Provence Rose or a domestic Rose' of Pinot Noir and you'll see why they're flying off shelves everywhere. The Sauv Blanc is always a solid fall-back position.

One of the key strategies in wine and food pairing is to not forget the sauces, rubs, and side dishes. Think of each entire dish when selecting your wine and you'll have many enjoyable summer moments.

Howard W. Hewitt, Crawfordsville, writes about value wine every other week for more than 20 Midwestern newspapers. Reach him at hewitthoward@gmail.com.

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