I'm not ashamed to say it. I once drank Sancerre with steak.
It was good. According to the International Pretentious Wine Killjoy Handbook, the pairing should have turned my stomach, a proposition to be entertained exclusively at gunpoint.
Light sauvignon blanc with beefy red meat is supposedly like taking your Amish granny to a 50 Cent concert.
I concede that, all other things being equal, broad-shouldered cabernet sauvignon would be a more hedonistic match for fatty cow. But what Sancerre lacks in body it possesses in palate-cleansing acidity. Think of Tuscany, where the famously thick T-bones are traditionally served with a wedge of lemon. White Sancerre, made from sauvignon blanc, can be that wedge.
I should cite the context of my Sancerre-strip loin epiphany. It was a hot summer's day on a patio. Cabernet in the blistering sun?
That would be like 50 Cent rapping at an Amish hymn service.
All of which is to defend today's theme: barbecue whites. Sometimes it's okay to skip the purple and go for something paler, cooler and more refreshing when gathering 'round the Weber. The policy especially applies if what's served with the steak is vibrant and high in acidity, like salad.
What defines a "barbecue white" is up to the apron-clad tongsholder. My own preference is to lean toward aromatic intensity, with varieties such as sauvignon blanc (especially from New World countries), pinot gris, riesling and gewurztraminer. I like my grill whites to pop with forward fruitiness and to deliver intensely fragrant competition to the strong charred flavours and 'cue fumes.
The wines below are particularly suited to grilled fish and salads, but I won't wag a finger if you choose to pair them with steak.
Winzer Krems Edition Chremisa Gruner Veltliner 2012 (Austria)
SCORE: 92 PRICE: $24.95
This is superb gruner veltliner, Austria's signature grape. It's light-medium-bodied and dry yet concentrated with aromatic peach and blossom notes on a silky texture, ending with mineral-peppery verve. Available in Ontario.
Joie Riesling 2013 (British Columbia)
SCORE: 91 PRICE: $22.90
Crafted in a late-harvest, off-dry style, Joie Farm's 2013 riesling is impressively balanced and light-medium-bodied, with sunny peach and lime-like fruit joined by subtle ginger-like spice. Available through www.joiefarm.com.
Loveblock Sauvignon Blanc 2012 (New Zealand)
SCORE: 90 PRICE: $29.95
Perhaps you're familiar with Kim Crawford, the hugely successful brand out of New Zealand. Kim (the man) and wife Erica cashed out of that enterprise a decade ago (ka-ching!) and recently resurfaced with this excellent brand. It's unusually smooth sauvignon blanc from the prominent Marlborough region. Imagine standing on a freshly mowed fairway sipping grapefruit-lemon punch spiked with jalapeno peppers. $26.99 in B.C.
Château des Charmes Chardonnay Musqué 2012 (Ontario)
SCORE: 89 PRICE: $16.95
This is made from one of two especially aromatic clones of the chardonnay vine. So-called "musqué" has become a Niagara signature, pioneered decades ago by Paul Bosc of Château des Charmes. This little gem, made specifically from clone 809, is medium– bodied and unoaked, with a smooth texture, silky green-apple and stone-fruit flavours and clean finish. Available through www.fromtheboscfamily.com.
Matchbook Giguiere Chardonnay Musqué 2012 (California)
SCORE: 88 PRICE: $19.95
Dry but flirting in the direction of off-dry, Matchbook's musqué offers substantial weight and roundness, oozing cooked apple, apricot, honey and lemon notes as well as a hint of muscat-like table grape. It offers good acid balance for the sweetness.
Available in Ontario.
Tinhorn Creek Pinot Gris 2013 (British Columbia)
SCORE: 88 PRICE: $18.99
It's like a melon patch in the apple-and-pear orchard. Midweight and clean, it finishes with a subtle, musky-spicy edge. Available through www.tinhorn.com.
Volcanes de Chile Pomerape Limited Edition Sauvignon Blanc 2011 (Chile)
SCORE: 88 PRICE: $14.95
This is reminiscent of punchy sauvignon blanc from the Marlborough region of New Zealand, only with the volume turned down to about seven. Light-bodied and zippy, it leaps forth with sweet-tart gooseberry and grapefruit, supported by smoky flint and grass. Available in Ontario.
Day Trippers Semillon Sauvignon Blanc 2013 (Australia)
SCORE: 87 PRICE: $9.95
The suggestion is that you'll be in for a fun ride, given the label's cute graphic of a young couple on a motor scooter. And this delivers for the money. It's light and dry but simultaneously smooth, with good mid-palate oomph conveying peach, citrus and a touch of honey. A bargain. Available in Ontario.