Pinot Noir might be one of the most renowned wine grapes. It grows in cooler regions of almost every wine-growing country and is one of the three primary varieties in Champagne. It also creates the most coveted and most expensive bottles of wine ever. Fortunately, it’s within reach for every level of wine lover, especially when temperatures are warm, and cooking moves outdoors. Pinot Noir and BBQ or cookout pairings are complex and versatile, making it the perfect wine for summer.
Pinot Noir is a thin-skinned grape, which means the resulting wine is lighter-bodied with low tannins. Its elegant structure with fruit, earth, and spice characteristics pairs with a myriad of grilled foods and sides, making it an ideal entry-point wine for complementary and contrasting pairing strategies. The wine and food choices have similar flavor profiles with the former, supporting each other equally. The latter sees contrasting duos act like palate cleansers, balancing the opposing flavors with each bite.
One pro tip for wine pairing: don’t forget supplementary elements. Sauces, spices, and cooking style can significantly impact the wine’s flavor. For example, chicken may typically go very well with Pinot Noir, but grilling or marinating the chicken in a robust or powerful sauce could drastically change the chances for a successful pairing.
Here, we look at seven ways to pair Pinot Noir at a BBQ or cookout.
Burgers are the star of nearly every cookout across the country. They are a savory hand-held meal encapsulating the delectability of salt and fat — and that’s before adding any cheese, sauce, or grilling spices.
Stereotypes may dictate that burgers work best with medium or fuller-bodied reds, but Pinot Noir has the depth of flavor that levels this pairing up a notch. The wine’s higher acidity and fruit notes contrast the fat and saltiness of the patty. Additionally, Pinot’s earthy character complements beef’s umami flavor. A Pinot Noir from France would be perfect for this backyard fave.
2. Potato Salad or Coleslaw
Though not as light as, say, a leafy green salad, potato salad or coleslaw provide some relief from a cookout’s often meat-heavy fare. Because of that, one of the two is a component of most backyard meal tables.
The commonality linking potato salad and coleslaw is its base, typically mayonnaise, with the addition of mustard and/or vinegar plus seasonings, contrasting nicely with the medium to high acidity in Pinot Noir. Pinot Noir’s light body and moderate alcohol also complement the relative lightness of the dish without overpowering it.
Seafood and white wine have been a near-fail-safe-duo as long as food pairing recommendations have existed. However, white wines don’t have to be the only thing to pair with oceanic cuisine. Other styles, like light reds and rosé, can be equally phenomenal, particularly when grilling seafood such as fatty fish like salmon or shellfish like shrimp.
Specifically, Pinot Noir adds some spice character, such as black pepper, clove, and allspice, that goes well with grilled salmon or shrimp. The acidity also complements sauces like garlic butter or teriyaki sauce, typical for seafood. When serving seafood off the grill, consider an earthy Pinot Noir expression from Oregon, which often showcases spice characteristics.
4. Grilled Vegetables
Another cookout staple is grilled vegetables, notably earth renditions like mushrooms, Brussels sprouts, and carrots, which hold up well to the fire of the grill.
Since Pinot Noir is light and low in tannins, it won’t overpower the vegetables and can be a refreshing relief. The wine’s earthy notes, like mushroom, cocoa, and tobacco in versions hailing from cooler climates like France, Oregon, or Germany, can be a great complement to the earthy flavors of the vegetables. Keep this pairing in mind for vegetarians in the group.
This one might be the most surprising Pinot Noir pairing, but it’s one to consider. The argument for pairing red meat with full-bodied and bold red wine is that the tannins hold up to the structural meaty texture of steak, pork chops, and yes, ribs. Ribs at a cookout or BBQ often come with a sweet BBQ sauce or a rub, allowing Pinot Noir to have its moment.
Pair ribs with a fruit-forward version like one from Sonoma Coast or even New Zealand, and it will complement the sweetness of the sauce in the ribs. Don’t knock it before you try it!
Sausages are another BBQ classic that often sees people grabbing a medium to deep red wine. But the higher acidity in the Pinot Noir makes it a perfect pairing for sausages: smokey and aromatic Kielbasa, spicy Andouille, or salty Bratwurst. Pinot also goes well with traditional ketchups, mustards, and relish, but also leveled-up versions like a Gochujang ketchup, sweet or spicy mustard, and onion and zucchini chutney.
Lean towards warmer climate versions for this pairing. Sonoma County is a great region to try. But for an interesting twist, consider Walker Bay in South Africa or Tasmania.
7. Grilled Pork
Pork typically makes its way to the party pulled or grilled as pork chops. Both are fine with medium-bodied reds like Barbera or even deeper reds like Zinfandel. Still, don’t count out Pinot Noir, especially French or Oregonian styles.
These wines will bring the earthiness you need for the pork, enough tannins to compete with the structure, and a refreshing acidity to wash it all down. Choose an older bottle and notice how the smoky flavor of the pork and the smoky notes in the wine complement each other, allowing each to shine distinctly.