Fourth of July weekend just isn’t a celebration without a good cookout. Most people tend to grab a beer with their meat, but why not try wine this year? The smoky meat and savory sauce beg for a perfect wine pairing.

With 10 good weeks of grilling left, there’s lots of work to be done. You get the meat, sauce, and charcoal, and I have all of the wine advice you’ll ever need. Let’s fire it up!
First, the basics: Barbecue is sweet, smoky, spicy, full-flavored stuff. Regardless of whether you use beef, pork, or fowl, you need a full-flavored wine to match. Most barbecue sauces are red, so finish your whites with the appetizers, as a red wine provides a natural match.

This being said, not just any full-flavored red will do. A true "barbecue red" has to have mild tannins. The bitter flavor of tannin clashes with the sweeter flavors of barbecue sauce. So put away those cabernets and big bordeauxs. Also, we need a wine with a little "kick" to it. The spicy nature of barbecue demands that your wine has a little spiciness as well. There’s no need for mellow merlots.

What does that leave us with? We have a variety of choices, but I have three favorite grape varieties to recommend: zinfandel, syrah, and grenache.

Zinfandel is the Californian classic-richly fruited, full of tangy spice, and silky smooth on the palate. Two great zins come to mind immediately: Norman "The Monster" Zinfandel 2001 ($15.99) and David Bruce Zinfandel 2001 ($18.99). They both have thick dark fruit, soft acidity, and cedar spice that will pair fantastically with pork, especially if you added a wood chip or two to the fire.

Syrah, or shiraz, has all of the bold flavors we’re looking for without any of the bite. I’ve been on an Australian kick lately, so I am recommending the Christa Rolf Shiraz 2000 ($9.99) from the Barossa Valley and Omrah 2001 Shiraz ($15.99) from western Australia. Their powerful fruit, firm acidity, and black pepper spice make them both perfect companions for grilled beef.

Grenache is the most elegant of the barbecue reds. Its combination of bright fruit and delicate spice pairs nicely with a host of lighter foods. The Chateau Signac Melodie d’ Amour will be a perfect match for barbecue chicken. Richly fruited, yet not overwhelming, this wine offers the perfect "swan’s song" for our recently roasted winged friends.

With these basic tips in hand, you’re now well equipped for a great summer of grilling. Now fire up the charcoal, and pop a few corks. AA!