The best wines for summer barbecues (that aren't shiraz)

Lloyd Brothers winemaker Gonzalo Sanchez cooking a barbecue with a white wine spritzer in hand to keep cool.
Lloyd Brothers winemaker Gonzalo Sanchez cooking a barbecue with a white wine spritzer in hand to keep cool. Photo: Ben MacMahon

The popularity of the Aperol Spritz aside, white wine spritzers are still considered the most uncool of summer drinks. But their powers of refreshment should not be underestimated, especially in front of a hot barbecue.

Winemaker Gonzalo Sanchez of Lloyd Brothers always opts for refreshing drinks when he's on grilling duty at his home in McLaren Vale, South Australia.

Sii Papi is a new Peruvian barbecue pop-up in Adelaide featuring anticuchos of kangaroo fillet (pictured), best paired ...
Sii Papi is a new Peruvian barbecue pop-up in Adelaide featuring anticuchos of kangaroo fillet (pictured), best paired with a pet-nat. Photo: Daniel Marks

"In Argentina, we always add soda water and ice to our wine when cooking a barbecue," he says. "Here in Australia some people make fun of me for drinking a white wine spritzer but if I'm cooking in front of a fire, I don't want a heavy wine. I want a refreshing drink."

Sanchez has even been known to add chilled soda water to red wine. "It needs to be a simple red; not too much oak or tannin."

Associations of beer with barbecues and red wine with red meat have long dominated what's poured in Australian backyards over summer. But the way we eat and drink is changing, and there's a whole rainbow of drinks that can be served with grilled food.

For a barbecue I'll always choose wines that are be balanced and interesting. Drinking is like music in that the choices are determined by mood, company or setting.

Jayden Ong

James Hopkins, who organises wine events and tastings through The Fruitful Pursuit, lets temperature drive his decision-making when he's cooking (and drinking) outdoors.

"I can't fathom anyone drinking anything with a huge amount of booze in it," he says. "In a hot climate like this, wine choices are more about refreshment and quenching thirst."

In February, Hopkins will launch a Peruvian street food pop-up in Adelaide, Sii Papi, which he's created with his cousin Rodrigo Barua, bar manager at restaurant Osteria Oggi. The chargrilled food offering draws upon their Peruvian heritage.

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"Anticuchos is our key feature," Hopkins says. "You'll find it in high-end restaurants in Peru, as well as on the streets."

Originating in the pre-Columbian era, anticuchos is an ancient Peruvian dish traditionally made with less-used cuts such as ox heart. Hopkins and Barua use kangaroo fillet as a sustainable and more accessible alternative to beef heart in a marinade that includes plenty of black pepper. "We marinate overnight, then it's onto skewers and over a coal pit. It's incredibly succulent."

In the glass, he recommends petillant naturel (French for "naturally sparkling"), or whites and rosés if they are acid-driven and structured to handle a bit of spice.

Yarra Valley-based winemaker Jayden Ong serves a menu of mostly chargrilled produce, from scallops to zucchini, at his cellar bar in Healesville.

"I feel that great produce cooked simply over charcoal is one of the very best ways to enjoy a glass of wine," he says. It's how he cooks for friends at home, whether it's broad beans, leeks or firmer types of lettuce that hit the grill.

The sommelier and restaurateur-turned-winemaker honed an appreciation for flavour across the globe. "My time in Asia influenced the notion of balance and texture in food the most. This in turn has influenced the way I view flavour and texture in my wine.

"For a barbecue I'll always choose wines with vitality. They have to be balanced and interesting. Drinking is like music in that the choices are determined by mood, company or setting."

Meanwhile, back at Sanchez's pad, the winemaker suggests slowing things down. An Argentinian barbecue typically unfolds over many courses and features many cuts of meat, allowing plenty of time for conversation.

Tapas (often fish) is served with an aperitif like pisco or vermouth, followed by grilled offal such as veal, lamb, beef or pork sweetbreads. "I generally pair that with white wine like picpoul or riesling to cut through the fat."

With beef ribs, Sanchez recommends a medium-bodied wine. "Maybe a malbec-cabernet sauvignon blend. The tannin from the cabernet really helps to cut through the fat."

Chorizo or sausage calls for a light red such as grenache or pinot noir, chicken legs for chardonnay, while pork belly begs for nebbiolo.

Fat content drives most of his pairing decisions. "The only time I'd drink a wine with more body and a lot of oak, such as a big shiraz, at a barbecue is with lamb because it often has a lot of fat. A cabernet-shiraz blend is my favourite wine to drink with lamb. It could also work with a tomahawk [rib-eye] steak."

But Sanchez insists barbecuing doesn't need to be fancy. "Don't overcomplicate it, though I do encourage people to be more adventurous with cuts of meat. Slow the whole process down to really appreciate the flavours on your plate and in your glass."

Barbecue friendly wines.

Barbecue friendly wines. Photo: Supplied

Three barbecue-friendly wines to try

The Other Right 2021 Bright Young Thing White, Adelaide Hills, $38

The Fruitful Pursuit's James Hopkins refers to this as the grand cru of Australian petillant naturel wines. Winemaker Alex Schulkin (a wine scientist by day) is a master of the art and this is a stunning example of pet-nat done right. Embrace the sediment and citrus-packed fizz. theotherrightwines.com

Jayden Ong 2020 Moonlit Forest 'SC' Pinot Gris, Mornington Peninsula, $34

Out of all his ranges, Jayden Ong's skin-contact Moonlit Forest wines are best suited to a barbecue spread. They are textural, layered and nuanced and this fragrant, unfiltered pinot gris skyrockets out of the glass. jaydenong.com

Devil's Lair 2019 Margaret River Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, $49.99

An utterly approachable cabernet that simultaneously manages to tick the light and serious boxes. Beautifully made and exquisitely balanced, there's still enough tannin there to clean your palate while chowing down on beef ribs. A wow wine. devils-lair.com.au