Four Wine Guys and a Grill

By Kerry Newberry

Summer meals in Oregon often involve a back patio, a cooler of microbrews and banter around the barbecue. This season, OWP decided to seek out the perfect bottle of Oregon wine to uncork with foods hot off the grill. We found four guys willing to dish tips and duke out wine pairings for your next backyard feast.

Meet Jeff Groh, sommelier at The Heathman Restaurant & Bar; Jack Hott, sommelier at Castagna Restaurant; Jeff Moore, wine director at Wildwood Restaurant; and Andy Zalman, sommelier at Higgins Restaurant, wine experts who also happen to be part of the Dueling Sommelier Dinner Series this summer in Portland.

Groh, a grilling-maestro, begins by comparing the art of cooking meats on the fire and the art of winemaking: Working both can be hot and physically intensive, and they both attract insects, he said. “Both labors make you thirsty, and if you drink too much while you work, it does not go well,” he quipped. Certainly wise words to keep in mind.

For pairings, Groh suggests looking at the variability of the style of grilling.

“When the coals are super hot and creating a nice bit of char and caramelization of the meat, pair with a more fruit-forward, richer style of red, like a Shiraz or Cabernet Sauvignon,” he said. “The attributes in the wine help offset any bitterness in the charred beef or pork.

“If you grill over hardwood charcoal like mesquite, which is the only real way to grill (but I digress), you can pair a wine with less fruit and more game, earth and roasted fruit notes,” Groh continued. “These wines help complement the smoky element the hardwood creates. If the meats are marinated, then the acidity in the finished meat is normally high and there are more herbal flavors. Pairing to this type of preparation involves picking a wine with similar characteristics (think something like a Cabernet Franc from the Loire Valley).

For Moore, the meat of the matter begins with a New York Steak. “It is my favorite meat to grill, especially with a good mesquite charcoal.”

He suggests keeping it simple, seasoning with just a dash of salt and pepper. “Grilled steak is extremely versatile with a wide range of Oregon wines, from Syrah to Cabernet Sauvignon. Lately, I’ve been enjoying the 2005 Tyrus Evan Del Rio Vineyard Claret. This wine complements beef well with juicy notes of blackberry, cassis, dark cherry and lots of spice.”

Zalman, from Higgins, would make the Austrian George Riedel proud, focusing first on glassware.

“We’re outside, right? So do a favor for your guests and give them a large-bowled glass, one that can help them determine the bouquet,” he said. “It can be hard to nose and taste a wine outside, on the deck, in the yard. Then, think big! Grilled foods, especially when using coal or wood, need a big-boned wine to match.

“Distinctive wines are best with distinctive foods,” Zalman continued. “Dry-rubbed meats are often amazing in their intense, one-dimensional flavor, like, say baby-back ribs with a sweet barbecue sauce. With that, pairing a distinct, one dimensional wine is perfect, like a Columbia Valley Syrah or a Zinfandel.”

It’s not all about the big-body reds and beef, for many, grilled chicken is a summer mainstay.

“Rosé is always a solid match to a wide variety of foods. It has good fruit, clean acidity and is just fun to drink,” Zalman said. “Real men grill. Realer men drink Rosé.”

“I think grilling and winemaking have many things in common, but most central is that both require patience,” Castagna’s Hott said. “A perfectly grilled steak requires good charcoal, good wood chips and good steak. To put it simply: good materials,” he noted, sounding like the Lao Tzu of grilling.

“Winemaking is similar. One needs good vineyards, well-kept equipment and good fruit. A winemaker lets the fruit express its origins and its potential,” Hott continued. “Most of all, one needs to know when to act, and more importantly, to know when to do nothing.” (This might be the most Taoist statement on grilling ever made.)

“When matching wine and food, I like to think about the relative weights of the wine and food,” Hott said. “Grilling often involves full-bodied foods and techniques (think meat and fire), so I try to find full-bodied wines to match.

“Another approach is to match the flavors of the food to the wine. When grilling, all sorts of foundational flavors are in use (sweet barbecue, salty meats, etc.) I like to think about the flavor of the dish and then match or contrast that flavor with the wine.”

Hott’s top advice: Salty and spicy food pair well with off-dry whites, while bitter grilled flavors match well with tannic reds.

“Finally, have fun! Get a few different wines open and experiment.” ◊

Kerry Newberry is a Pinot-sipping, vineyard-hopping wine and food writer. She resides in Portland.

What’s Grillin’?

Pining for Pork

Jeff Moore
Pick: 2006 Brooks “Ara” Riesling.
Pairing: Pork chops brined in water, apple cider, brown sugar, salt and spice (cinnamon or star anise).
Jack Hott
Pick: 2007 Cameron Pinot Noir, Dundee Hills.
Pairing: Pork chops, brined.
Andy Zalman
Pick: 2005 Francis Tannahill “Mason-Dixon” Syrah, Willamette Valley.
Pairing: Pork loin with preserved peach and chili glaze, slow-cooked.
Jeff Groh
Pick: 2007 Love & Squalor Riesling.
Pairing: Blood sausage with grilled apples and smoked spring onions.

Bring on the Beef

Jeff Moore
Pick: 2005 Tyrus Evan Claret, Del Rio Vineyard.
Pairing: New York steak seasoned with salt and black pepper and grilled over mesquite charcoal.
Jack Hott
Pick: 2005 Francis Tannahill “Mason Dixon” Syrah, Willamette Valley.
Pairing: Burgers and steaks.
Andy Zalman
Pick: 2006 Seven Hills Cabernet Sauvignon, Seven Hills Vineyard, Walla Walla Valley.
Pairing: New York steak seasoned with salt, pepper and extra virgin olive oil, grilled over coals.
Jeff Groh
Pick: 2004 Dominio IV Tempranillo.
Pairing: Hanger steak marinated in chimmichurri sauce served with grilled flatbread and fire-roasted potatoes cooked over hardwood charcoal.

Palatable Poultry

Jeff Moore
Pick: 2007 Elk Cove Pinot Gris.
Pairing: Grilled chicken thighs marinated in lemon juice, soy sauce and honey.
Jack Hott
Pick: 2008 J.K. Carriere “Glass” Pinot Noir Rosé, Willamette Valley.
Pairing: Chicken with patty-pan squash and asparagus.
Andy Zalman
Pick: 2008 Penner-Ash “Roseo” Pinot Noir Rosé.
Pairing: Breast and thigh of chicken with a teriyaki-orange glaze.
Jeff Groh
Pick: 2008 Soter Pinot Noir Rosé, Willamette Valley.
Pairing: Kookoolan Farms chicken rubbed with garlic, salt, pepper and pimenton served with grilled chorizo cooked over hardwood charcoal.

Fire up the Fish

Jeff Moore
Pick: 2008 Patricia Green Cellars Sauvignon Blanc.
Pairing: Halibut with roasted baby new potatoes, braised carrots and pistachio gremolata.
Jack Hott
Pick: 2007 J. Christopher Sauvignon Blanc, Willamette Valley.
Pairing: Catfish or other mild fish served with lemon and herbs.
Andy Zalman
Pick: 2008 Ponzi Pinot Blanc.
Pairing: Prawns marinated in olive oil, Oregon mint and lemon.
Jeff Groh
Pick: 2008 Apolloni Vineyards Pinot Blanc.
Pairing: Whole rockfish stuffed with fennel and preserved lemon. ◊
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