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10 Wines Under $20 to Pair With Barbecue This Summer

These budget wines will make a splash at your next backyard gathering

Janice Williams By July 19, 2021
photo collage of wine bottles in bbq fire
Photo illustration by Allison Kahler.

There’s something about the summer that makes a great case for barbecue. Smoked meats, grilled vegetables, sticky sauces, and cold slaws taste better when devoured in the warm weather and sunshine. That seems especially true when pairing barbecue with a good bottle of wine. There are plenty of bottles on store shelves that work exceptionally well with the various foods that get the barbecue treatment this time of year — and they can cost less than a slab of ribs. 

Here are 10 bottles to open at your next summer barbecue. 

bottle of Silk & Spice Portugal Red Blend

Silk & Spice Portugal Red Blend ($10)

Top Chef” contestant and recipe developer, Nini Nguyen, knows a thing or two about pairing wine and barbecue. This blend of Syrah and Portuguese grapes Touriga Nacional, Baga, and Alicante Bouchet, bring the flavor to her secret weapon, barbecue sauce. “The wine’s bold flavors of dark ripe fruit and warm spices pair well with smoky, sweet, and spicy — just the flavors that work well with barbecue meats,” Nguyen says. “This wine is super versatile, and I like to pair it with my recipe for Szechuan barbecue beef short ribs, which are lacquered with a tangy and sweet Szechuan barbecue sauce. Add a tomato and peach summer salad on the side, to balance the spice from the ribs, and slightly chill your Silk & Spice wine for a refreshing combo.”

bottle of Radley & Finch Rosé South Africa Cinsault 2021

Radley & Finch Rosé South Africa Cinsault 2021 ($11)

Oysters and clams may come to mind when thinking about what to eat with a bottle of rosé. Still, Pennsylvania wine educator and consultant, Adam Knoerzer, insists that the pink drink — particularly this bottle of South African Cinsault by Radley & Finch — works well with hot-off-the-grill foods too. “Not only will this wine be tasty with many favorites like barbecue chicken, fish, and maybe even some lightly grilled watermelon, but this is a wine you’re going to enjoy before and after the meal, too. It’s that perfect balance of refreshing and downright delicious,” Knoerzer says, adding that the wine displays a soft citrus flavor “that is tailor-made for the season.”

bottle of Pine Ridge Napa Valley Chenin Blanc-Viognier

Pine Ridge Napa Valley Chenin Blanc-Viognier ($12)

The winemakers at Napa Valley’s Pine Ridge Vineyards were having fun experimenting with Chenin Blanc and Viognier grapes when they concocted this blend. But when they tasted the charismatic and bright wine, they knew they created something truly dynamic. “It’s a wonderful acid bomb of a wine that brings a nice breadth of flavors. You get flavors ranging from green apple and pear, to peach, lemon, and orange to pineapple,” says Stuart Bankey, a Texas-based sommelier, who runs wine-review site Wine on the Dime. “It’s a wine that you can enjoy chilled while you’re grilling or with the meal itself.”

bottle of McPherson Cellars Tre Color Texas Red Blend

McPherson Cellars Tre Color Texas Red Blend ($13)

Texas has a fierce reputation for delicious barbecue, but did you know the Lone Star State excels at winemaking too? This blend of Cinsault, Carignan, and Counoise is produced in Lubbock, Texas, by winemaker Kim McPherson, who has made wine in Texas for more than 40 years. According to Shelly Wilfong, wine educator and host of the podcast, “This is Texas Wine,” it’s exactly the type of wine that will stand up to finger-licking good barbecue sauces. “This wine has bright red fruit aromas, a pleasant acidity, and just enough structure to match smoked meats and complex sauces,” Wilfong says.

bottle of Kanonkop Wine Estate Kadette Cape South Africa Blend 2018

Kanonkop Wine Estate Kadette Cape South Africa Blend 2018 ($17)

South Africa’s Kanonkop Wine Estate has produced wine in Stellenbosch since the 1930s. Fourth-generation winemakers and brothers, Johann and Paul Krige, are now at the helm of the winery and are responsible for overseeing the production of the estate’s award-winning wine. Pinotage, Kanonkop’s most prized and most grown grape, serves as the base of this wine, though some Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot gets blended in. “It’s that signature smokiness of Pinotage that does wonders for grilled proteins,” says Knoerzer. “This wine would settle in nicely alongside some lamb kebabs, grilled tomatoes and bell peppers, and a hefty dollop of baba ghannouj.” Pro tip: Knoerzer advises chilling the wine a bit before drinking. 

bottle of Campo Viejo Rioja Gran Reserva

Campo Viejo Rioja Gran Reserva ($16)

How about a smokey Spanish wine to pair with your low-and-slow smoked brisket? Bankey suggests a Tempranillo to provide “some nice, fresh red fruit notes and a touch of smoke and vanilla to the meal.” Campo Viejo launched in 1959 and gained recognition as a leading producer in Rioja, Spain by the 1970s. The wine’s complex smokey nuances are the reason it’s so suited for pairing with grilled meats. “You’ll get some nice developing dark fruit like dried black cherries, plum, and prune, but you’ll also get a little more smoke, vanilla, and leather in the wine,” says Bankey.

bottle of Major Wine Spritzed Santa Ynez Loureiro 2020

Major Wines Spritzed Santa Ynez Loureiro 2020 ($17)

Major Wines is one of few producers to make 100% Loureiro in California. If that’s not a talking point at your next barbecue cookout, then the fact that it’s refreshingly fizzy and bright sure will be. A low-alcohol wine, a sip of this may remind you of a Portuguese Vinho Verde. “At a barbecue in Napa, there are always loads of people and loads of side salads because of all the delicious fresh fruit and vegetables that grow in the area. This wine has the acid to hold up to any salad and anything coming off the grill. It also pairs perfectly with pools, sunshine, and vaccinated friends,” says Terra Jane Albee, founder of Ownroot Collective.

bottle of Gruet Winery Brut Rosé NV

Gruet Winery Brut Rosé NV ($18)

“Barbecue’s potent flavors overwhelm most wines,” says author Jordan Mackay, who’s penned books like “Secrets of the Sommeliers” and “Franklin Barbecue: A Meat-Smoking Manifesto.” “So use texture as a contrast.” Gruet Winery’s non-vintage bubbly, produced in New Mexico, will do the trick. The prickle of bubbles here “offsets the fatty richness of the meat.” Not to mention, the delicate red fruits in a rosé “gently accent the sweetness of any barbecue sauce,” Mackay says. 

bottle of Occam’s Razor Walla Walla Red Blend 2018

Occam’s Razor Walla Walla Red Blend 2018 ($18)

This complex blend of Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Touriga Nacional, and Petit Verdot, produced in Washington State’s Walla Walla wine region, has the depth to balance out any meal. “This red blend goes with meat and vegetables, whether they are grilled or barbecued, because there is a difference, and this wine complements both styles,” says wine writer and educator, Julia Coney, who is also the founder of Black Wine Professionals. “The fruit works with smoke or fire.” Fun fact: This wine is named in honor of the 14th-century Franciscan friar and philosopher, William of Ockham, who preached the law of parsimony, or otherwise, the rule that given that all things are equal, the simplest answer tends to be the correct answer. Should you pair a good barbecue with this good wine? Yes. How simple.

bottle of Pedroncelli Mother Clone Sonoma County Zinfandel

Pedroncelli Mother Clone Sonoma County Zinfandel ($19)

According to “Fire + Wine” author and sommelier, Mary Cressler, Sonoma producer Pedroncelli makes some of the best value Zinfandels out there. It’s a fitting reputation considering Zinfandel is the predominant grape grown at Pedroncelli vineyards since its first owners, Giovanni and Julia Pedroncelli, purchased the estate in 1927. “The mother clone Zinfandel, in particular, is ridiculously smooth and balanced — not your over-the-top, fruit bomb Zin. It’s excellent for pork ribs or grilled beef recipes,” says Cressler, adding that she loves to “pair it with everything from burgers to smoked brisket. It’s also excellent with grilled tri-tip with a Zinfandel wine reduction sauce.”