For the Host or the Guest: wines for the al fresco occasion

Written by Bill Wittur

wine-fullAs summer kicks in, we shift our cooking and partying activities to the great outdoors.  And many of us will pull out a slab of meat or organize our dinners without giving a thought to the wine we’ll have with it.  This is a shame, because it’s important to remember that wine and other drinks play a number of important roles when it comes to getting the best from your summer foods.

The greatest challenge today is working your way through the intimidating ‘wine wall’ at liquor stores.  What to choose? Red or white?  Does a higher price always mean a better wine? What locations should I choose?  Or varietals?  Or should I just stick with a blend?


Wine Picks for Summer Grilling


In a second, I’ll leap ahead and look at some unique wines, but will remind everyone of the wine and food pairing basics that are (with a few modest exceptions) universal:  red wines with red meat; lighter wines with lighter foods (e.g. salads, cheeses, appetizers and so on); dessert wines that are as sweet as (or sweeter) than the food.

However, if you want to explore some of the nuances of truly enjoying a good bottle of wine with your meal, consider some of the history associated with wine and food consumption.  The ‘Old World’ makers knew how to build wines that worked with food.  Consumption wasn’t conspicuous:  it had purpose.

Wines were made with a delicate balance in mind.  Vitality (wine talk for acidity) had to be keen enough to help wash away any dried or smoked products. Lighter wines with fruity tastes gained from the saltiness and spiciness of preserved foods.  Fruit and body were in high demand, but didn’t have to overpower the foods of the day, so they didn’t have to be ‘maximum body’ wines.

Many of our outdoor culinary efforts are a direct translation of these Old World sentiments, so it should come as no surprise that there are many wines – from places all around the world – that fit the bill for adequate pairing.

The key is to offer a versatile selection.


Build A Versatile Selection


Versatility speaks to trying to make most people happy most of the time (despite the adage that says otherwise).  Every person enjoys different nuances of wine and the key is to find a small collection of products that will satisfy the broadest audience possible.  As a host, you’ll be praised and you’ll save on time, anxiety and reputation.

Key considerations with versatility include wine style (i.e. blends vs. pure varietals along with the colour or sweetness level), your audience and, of course, price points.


The List


Let’s start with a few reds.

One of my favourites is BC’s ‘Pétales d’Osoyoos’ (LCBO product #276741, $24.95).  This is a classic ‘Bordeaux blend’. They take the best of grapes like merlot, cabernet franc and cabernet sauvignon; a touch of petit verdot and malbec; and a healthy oaking period (20 months). The result is a beautiful, lush purple wine with deep plum and tannins that will go with almost every meal that has a red meat component to it. If you feel like splurging, I highly recommend the bigger sibling, Osoyoos Larose (LCBO #626325, $45.95).

A good pick for an old-world wine is Zantho Fine Wine’s St. Laurent (LCBO #315556, $15.95). This is an extremely versatile wine that goes well with a wide array of outdoor foods, including your best red meats, but also chicken, pork and even smoked salmon. St. Laurent is a grape variety that many of us haven’t heard of, but it has similar properties to pinot noir, one of the classic French grapes that are perfect with most foods. It has more body, fruit character and this wine in particular has a great, long finish. Because it is getting harder to find a pinot that’s less than $20, St. Laurent makes a perfect substitute.

Finally, you’ll need a solid red to carry you through the evening once the meal is done. Continue with either of the wines above or, to save on budget, consider Beringer’s ‘California Collection’ Cabernet Sauvignon (LCBO #113001, $9.95). At this price-point, the wine is surprisingly decent and will prop up the evening as the sun wanes.

Moving over to the whites, we have a favourite from a relative newcomer called Smoke & Gamble (S&G), from Dover Vineyards. The S&G white (LCBO #345637, $17.95) is essentially a chardonnay, but is modest with the volume of oak. It delivers a subtle, crisp and clean taste that is on the dry side, making it a wonderful companion to most of the lighter items in the summer diet.

Another pleasant surprise from Ontario is the ‘White Palette’ wine from 13th Street (LCBO #207340, $14.95). This is a gentle white blend of a number of grapes, focusing on riesling and sauvignon blanc. If you happen to barbecue a Margherita pizza, this wine will be a great match.

Finally, for those looking for something a little different, but who also have price in mind, go to South Africa. This country is one of the oldest ‘New World’ producers and chenin blanc is one of its signature products. KWV makes a fabulous Chenin Blanc (LCBO #18689, $9.45) that will keep most white wine fans coming back for more.


A Little Less Civilized?


If you’re planning a trip out in the woods and getting away from the world, remember that bottles are at risk of being passé. That’s right.  Look for alternative packaging in order to avoid the embarrassing situation caused by shards of broken glass everywhere, a lost corkscrew or the awkward heaviness of a load of bottles back and forth.

Boxed wine, wine in cans or tetra paks, or wine in smaller volumes can help you enjoy what we all set out for this time of year: Canada’s great outdoors.



BILL WITTUR is passionate about food, wine and fuelling conversations about both. He lives in London, Ontario with his wife and son and operates Noteworthy Wines, a private wine agency and partnership focused on delivering unique, value wines from around the world.

About the author

Bill Wittur

Bill Wittur loves discovering new producers. He is the owner and operator of Drinky.ca.