By Nathaniel Bauer Wine and spirits columnist Published Aug 07, 2009 at 11:23 AM

As wonky as the weather can be, and has been again this summer, there is still plenty of time to fire up the grill.

Sitting out on the patio with friends, enjoying some tasty brats, hamburgers, ribs and corn on the cob is a pastime that Wisconsinites have mastered as we have a considerably shorter time span in which to practice it.

So what better libation to match up with your classic grill fair than ... wine, of course.

Before all you beer aficionados get your undies in a bunch, we all know that beer is awesome and the classic grilling companion. This state has more than a few excellent producers, and I swear we will have a beer column one of these days.

But as naturally as one thinks of brats and beer, you may be surprised at just how versatile wine can be with your favorite flame-broiled feast.

The main criteria in any food and wine pairing is always how the protein in the food balances with the acidity in the wine. After that, texture, flavor, density, fats, sugars, salts and cooking methodology all play a role. But when it comes to grilling, the char, or carcinogenic goodness that is the result of cooking over an open flame comes to the forefront when considering appropriate wine pairings.

For the sake of brevity, we will refrain from discussing the basic proteins, i.e. steak, lamb, pork, veal, etc. The pairings for those big proteins remain fairly consistent from stove top to oven to grill.

Instead we are going to have a bit more fun with some of the other unique fun things that change dramatically once grilled, vegetables and fish, and then delve into the classic brats and burgers and BBQ.

Grilled Veggies / Fish

The light and delicate flavors of vegetables and fish are both significantly affected by the flavors from grilling, thus changing the dynamic of wine pairings. Grilling ads a depth and concentration of flavors, and a smoked char flavor that requires deeper, richer wines. Lighter fish like Barramundi or Grouper that normally paired well with Pinot Gris or Old World Sauvignon Blanc, when grilled, now need Viognier, Old World Chardonnay or a rich Soave Classico. Darker fish like salmon scream for Pinot Noir even more than before being grilled.

The same holds true for vegetables. Clean and crisp whites dominated the pairings before the grill, more robust, deeper whites are required once those grill marks are tattooed.

Don't discount the sauces and sides, though. If you are serving that Barramundi with a citrus vinaigrette, than all bets are off. You will have to play the middle ground on a cool-climate white that has body, texture, but still great acidity.

Stuff on a Bun

If you think ground beef, Italian sausage or a big spicy Hungarian, the possibilities of wine are easy. A nice spicy Grenache with the Italian, a hearty Merlot with the hamburger and maybe a year-old Albarinho with that Hungarian. Add some Roquefort and caramelized onions to your burger and things really get fun; dirty Pommard, light Malbec, the list goes on. Funkify your sausage with homemade sauerkraut and an edgy 4-year-old, high-acid, bone dry Riesling and you will be golden.

But, most people don't go the way of gourmet grilled goodies and stick to two basic condiments -- ketchup and mustard.

Is that dirty Pommard still going to go with the Italian sausage when it's drowning in Heinz Ketchup and French's Mustard? No way, and the reason is all the vinegar that is used in the mustard and ketchup. The vinegar is an acetic acid and is going to ruin the pairing capabilities of the Pommard and other wines that may work well with the protein on its own.

So, what wine should you drink to match up with those brats and hamburgers? You need wine that has the capacity to match up to the high acidity in the condiments. That mostly will mean high acid whites or rosés. The salt in the ketchup in particular will actually help bring out some of the more subtle flavors in whites that might usually not stand up to food.

Stay away from strong citrus flavors like pronounced grapefruit in some Sauvignon Blanc, but items like Vinho Verde, un-oaked Chardonnay, and dare I even say, old school Pinot Grigio (which I don't usually recommend for most pairings) would be great for whites. If you go the rosé route, stay away from big rich strawberry laden types and go with something more austere, lean and French. If you really want red wine with your mustard and ketchup, I would highly recommend bright high acid reds like Willamette Valley Pinot Noir or youthful Sangiovese, but the natural red fruit flavors of the wine are going to take a pounding from the vinegar no matter what.

Big Ol' BBQ

Believe it or not, there are wines that pair well with that BBQ chicken or that huge rack of ribs. The best BBQ pairings are those done with the classic, old-school southern dry rub BBQ based primarily on sugar and salt, but even those inexpensive sugar-laden grocery store bottles of sauce still have a hope. Think rich, dark and big fruit when pairing wines. My tastes tend to run toward southern French Syrah, but an earthy Shiraz, well balanced Zin or Valpolicella will do nicely. The round fruit and zip from these medium-bodied reds will do nicely against the tang of the BBQ sauce. Try to stay away from super juice bombs, you need some back bone and tannin. Also, very heavily new American oaked reds can get a little muddled, too.

I know in this town it's almost sacrilege to fire up the grill with anything other than a cold brewski, but next time you think grill, maybe you should think wine too.

If you have any favorite grill recipes / wine pairings, I would love to hear them.

If you are interested in some detailed gourmet grilling recipes and fantastic wine pairings, I would be happy to share. Just shoot me a note.

Happy grilling!

Nathaniel Bauer Wine and spirits columnist
Nathaniel Bauer has spent the last 10 years as a wine buyer for some of Milwaukee’s finest restaurants. Two standouts include a six-year tenure with Bartolotta’s that culminated at Bacchus as a manager and sommelier, followed by two years as the General Manager and certified sommelier at Dream Dance. Finally late in ‘08 he hung up his wine key to start a family. Even though he is now the Marketing Director for a local software company, Big Bang LLC, wine keeps calling his name. The steady chant that kept him in the restaurant business for more than a decade, even after his several attempts to ignore its call, keeps him up to date on current vintages and producers around the globe. Bauer still visits many Milwaukee establishments, both retail and restaurant, to stay a part of the fantastic wine community in this city. Now, after more than a decade in the wine and restaurant market, he is glad to have no direct affiliations and looks forward to offering an experienced and impartial opinion on how local wine purveyors can be even more successful.