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All the Wines Fit for a BBQ

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Do you love entertaining and sharing great food, great wine, and witty repartee with friends, family, and co-workers? Are you planning those summer menus, loading them with scrumptious combinations of fresh fruits and vegetables? What's better than a leisurely weekend brunch for half a dozen close friends, with an array of crisp, fresh-from-the-garden salads and beautifully cooked quiches; or a fun, easy backyard barbecue featuring grilled ribs, chicken or shrimp, with roasted corn-on-the-cob and homemade coleslaw? And who doesn't love those wonderful dinner parties replete with delightful chilled soups, a stunning citrus-glazed pork loin or succulent, butter-poached lobster -- all so perfect, so in the season.

Of course, selecting the right wine is... wait, wait. No. That's the whole point: there is no "right" wine, no perfect pairing that will titillate the table and put everyone in vinous heaven. If those of us in the wine business have learned anything in the past few years, if we've been at all willing to pay attention to the evidence and confront our own false constructs, the idea of a perfect food and wine pairing for a group of diners is complete nonsense.

You've always been told that a mimosa is the perfect accompaniment to that array we call brunch--but you hate mimosas. Sharp, acidic, ruining both the orange juice and the champagne. Or, you love them. Well then, how about a nice Pinot Grigio and a summer salad. But so... flavourless, so unengaged with the shrimp and that sweet butter lettuce. Oh, I'm sorry, you say you adore Pinot Grigio?

In that case, let's pour a glass of hearty Cabernet Sauvignon to enjoy with a magnificently marbled rib eye. Now that's a match made in--what, you hate Cabernet with steak? You think it's bitter and hard to drink?

Hey, what's going on here? We all know a light-bodied, low alcohol wine like Pinot Grigio should pair ideally with a lovely salad dotted with sweet baby shrimp, and that rich, tannic Cabernet Sauvignon and steak were practically made for each other. Or so we thought. And preached. And proselytized.

But the evidence (yes, there's science behind this) now tells us that individual palates are so different that what appeals to one person may be an abomination to another. It seems about a third of us are programmed to love sweet wines. Very sweet. In fact, these hypersensitive tasters find the hearty, high alcohol red wines that so many wine geeks think are the pinnacle of winedom to be absolutely horrid. They can't help it. That's how they're wired. And snobby fools that we've been, we've laughed at their proclivity for White Zinfandel for so long that many of them have simply opted for cocktails, or a soda.

Other folks like their wines dry, i.e. without any sweetness, but prefer them light and crisp, even the reds. They may drink a big, overblown wine now and then, but that would never be their first choice. And then we have the defenders of the faith, the über drinkers hard-wired to think the only thing better than a bottle of big, broad-shouldered, heavily-extracted red wine is another one of the same. This group can't stand sweet wine, aside from the occasional French or Portuguese dessert version, and they aren't really enamored of those light, crispy numbers either. Truth be told, they'd just as soon have that big Cabernet with their shrimp salad as with their steak.

So it's all been... hogwash? Well, kinda. Yes. Look around the world and we see Spaniards drinking heavily oaked reds with fish and octopus; Germans drinking sweet Rieslings with veal smothered in rich mushroom sauce; and was it from the French that we learned to drink Sauternes (as sweet and unctuous a wine as there is) with foie gras? Oh my. And should any particular wine that you like, taste poorly with any particular food, the just-coming-to-the-surface inside information tells us to merely add a bit of acid and salt to the food, and all will be well. Really. And it works. A splash of vinegar, a squeeze of lemon or a dab of mustard and a sprinkle of salt will bring just about any dish into balance with just about any wine. It's true. Crazy but true.

So now you, and all your guests, are free to drink whatever wine you, and they, personally enjoy with whatever you're serving. The new host or hostess with the mostess doesn't even try to match the food and wine. Just be sure that sauce or that glaze or that juicy, marbled steak has a touch of acid and salt to balance its flavors and all will be fine. When you set the table put out a bottle of big, hearty red (maybe a Syrah or a Brunello or that lovely Cabernet), a bottle of something dry and light (try a Beaujolais or a Cabernet Franc from the Loire or a favorite unoaked Chardonnay or Soave from Italy) and a proud to be there sweet wine (why not a Moscato or a French Vouvray) and then encourage your guests to try them all, to drink and enjoy whichever works for them, be it Syrah with your melon soup, Beaujolais with the asparagus, or Moscato with those oh so gorgeous steaks.

That's the new wine hospitality, and your guests will love you for it.

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