Though deviating from a trusty Corona and lime wedge at a summer cookout feels like breaking a cardinal rule, there are actually more beverage options out there that highlight summer's best dishes. Our food and wine expert Emmeline Zhao, partner and general manager of Little Tong in New York City, offered her take on the drinks that will actually complement the foods you’re eating this summer. So to help boost your ice-chest game, we’ve curated a list of the perfect summer barbecue and beverage pairings you’ve probably never thought of.
The Pairing: Rosé with a Charcuterie Board
Want to bring a little summer flare to your wine and cheese party? Just add some dry-cured meat and whip out the rosé. “Acid and salt are very good friends,” says Zhao. The bright and acidic flavors of the right rosé will pair beautifully with a crystalized gruyere and savory prosciutto.
The pairing: A Cabernet Franc with a Cheeseburger
Nothing will ever top that childhood pairing of a cheeseburger and an ice-cold can of Coke—except this grown-up version. Ditch the beer and burger combo and pay homage to the drink that raised us. When grilling up red meat in the summertime, go for a chilled Cabernet Franc or a cherry-forward red wine. “Pinot Noir kind of really evokes a sense of a cherry coke,” says Zhao. For some added decadence, try a Lambrusco sparkling red wine to really elicit that bubbly soda nostalgia.
The Pairing: Sauvignon Blanc with a Hotdog
Sugar-free adult drinks don’t quite accompany franks the way lemonade did at backyard barbecues when we were kids. “I find myself looking for something that reminds me of lemonade,” Zhao says. “That often is something like a really light, citrus-forward white wine, so something like a Sauvignon Blanc is great.”
The Pairing: IPA with a Bagel and Lox
With 20 hours of sunshine a day in the summer, the Scandinavians have perfected the picnic. “People, when they’re thinking about fish, gravitate toward white wine, which is a great and traditional pairing,” says Zhao. “But I think there’s often the acid component already in some dishes, and you kind of need something like the bitterness of an IPA to kind of cut through all of that.” For those who prefer their fish cooked, an IPA makes a great marinade for grilled salmon with a creamy dill sauce.
The Pairing: Spanish Dry Sidra with Oysters
Oysters almost always get paired in one of two ways: with Champagne or Muscadet. But, if you want to go for something off the beaten path, our expert suggests a dry cider or a Spanish Dry Sidra. “Dry Sidras in particular have no residual sugar. So it’s very tart with high acid. It’s bubbly—it almost serves as like a bit of a lemon squeeze or the mignonette that you put on top of your oyster." A floral white wine can also do the trick. While a less traditional option to pair with oysters, a Viognier offers grapefruit and honeysuckle notes to complement the brininess of an oyster.
The Pairing: A German Weiss Beer with Potato Salad
Try as you might, you’ve never been able to successfully avoid the pull toward the potato salad at the summer cookout. This year, we are embracing the pretend salad with open arms and a cold beer. According to Zhao, a toasty Blue Moon or German weiss beer makes for the best pairing. “There’s a reason why the Germans have their potato and their weiss beer—there’s probably a little bit of dill in that potato salad, there’s probably a little bit of crunchy celery,” she says. “And the yeasty notes of a wheat beer compliment the herbaceous and creamy quality of a potato.”
The Pairing: Sparkling Nigori with Ice Cream
Who said drinks have to take the place of dessert? A light, bright, refreshing Nigori, which is a slightly unfiltered sake, can be a great pairing for a dessert like ice cream. Bottles of Nigori maintain a cloudiness of residual rice that more filtered sake removes. “It gives the sake a bit of sweetness, and it gives it a bit of creaminess,” says Zhao. “It has a distinct light, rice flavor.” Desserts also tend to pair well with sparkling wines like Prosecco. Add a little drop of cranberry juice to a glass of Crémant to cut the sweetness of your dessert with a bitter hint of a cranberry. “You’re almost making a variant of a mimosa."
With those pairings in mind, it's time to own your Fourth of July BBQ in the booziest possible way. Drink up!
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