The season's first grilled pizza emerged from my Weber this past Monday. I made a "bianca" - white pizza with no tomato sauce. It was topped with boiled fingerling-potato slices, a dusting of fresh rosemary, lots of olive oil, sea salt and parmesan cheese.
At home, barbecues are the only way to achieve the necessary heat to emulate the crisp crusts achieved in Italian wood-fired ovens, at least without breaking city fire-code bylaws. The dough cooks in no time, assuming your propane tank isn't on its last few breaths, as mine was. So the toppings must be precooked or of the type you can eat raw. The results can sometimes be magnificent (not that I'd have entered my slow-cooked bianca in a contest).
Increasingly, Canadians are using their 'cues in creative ways. Webers and hibachis aren't just for red meats and whatever questionable ingredients go into hot dogs these days. We're grilling not just pizzas but all manner of fish as well as tofu, eggplant and even desserts such as bananas and pineapple slices. Once, I even made a grilled salad of romaine heads sliced in half topped with prosciutto, olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Yes, a bit weird, but I'm not a lone fool; I stole the surprisingly excellent idea from a restaurant in northern California.
So, what about wine? A standard barbecue accompaniment recommended by experts is red zinfandel. Jammy and full-bodied, it pairs well with charred red meats, burgers and glazed ribs. But zin is going to assault a white pizza like hyper-active firefighters on one of those burning-schoolhouse fireworks. I ate my herbaceous potato flatbread with a fiano from Sicily, a delicate white that cut the oil while keeping the whole experience lively, in keeping with the pizza and a warm summer's night.
If you're entertaining over hot gas or charcoal some time soon, consider including one or more of the following in your beverage rotation. They're all from Saturday's Vintages release in Ontario.
Tenuta S. Anna Extra Dry Prosecco ($15.95, product No. 169128). Sparkling wine for a barbecue? No wine tastes better outside than bubbly, though there is a strong case to be made for Provencal rosé. Think of weddings you may have attended. Or think of beer or soft drinks, which are carbonated. The bubbles, racy acidity and cold temperature invigorate the palate, much like a crisp salad. This wine from Italy is better than most proseccos, with a core of almost-sweet red apple, orange-juice and lemon flavours. Serve it as an aperitif or with cool appetizers.
Bodegas Agnusdei Terra Firme Albarino 2008 ($13.95, No. 166751). Stick the business end of a nine-volt battery on your tongue, then try this wine. The experience is not entirely dissimilar, except the wine tastes better. It comes from Spain's Rias Baixas appellation in the cool, verdant northwest, where the wines retain acidity uncommon in most of the rest of the sunny country. I like this Rias Baixas a lot, with its notes of lemon juice and zest, apricot and orange and long, racy finish. A good white for salad or shellfish.
McManis Family Vineyards Viognier 2008 ($19.95, No. 658112). Heat often comes in two forms on the barbecue, and if you're serving lighter foods with lots of peppery spice, this California white would be a good candidate. Almost oily in texture, it's brimming with opulent flavours of honey, peach and orange rind.
Turning to reds, I can recommend two savoury offerings from France's Rhône Valley. I like lamb, especially chops, best on the grill. Even if you coat them in a bit of spice or Dijon mustard (the latter a predilection of mine thanks to the excellent Union Square Café Cookbook), E. Guigal St. Joseph 2006 ($29.95, No. 30031) will stand proud against the flavour onslaught. Black currant and licorice lead the way in this nicely concentrated syrah. But the knockout bargain, if still premium-priced, is Le Gravillas Vieilles Vignes Gigondas 2007 ($22.95, No. 78808). Super-ripe, it's dense with flavours of blackberry, plum, tar, spice and wild herbs. Lots going on in this full-bodied red which, though cellar-worthy, is beautiful right now.
And for cool desserts featuring such elements as berries or sorbets, I can't recommend a much better bargain than the newly released Cidrerie St-Nicola Pom'Or Tradition Crackling Cider ($12.95 in Ontario, No. 179473). A flavour of pure baked apple gets lift from zippy acidity in this dry nectar. The effervescence is delicate, more akin to a Moscato d'Asti from Italy than a full-blown sparkling wine.
Picks of the week
Bodegas Agnusdei Terra Firme Albarino 2008 ($13.95, No. 166751) contains notes of lemon juice and zest, apricot and orange and long, racy finish. A good white for salad or shellfish.
Le Gravillas Vieilles Vignes Gigondas 2007 ($22.95, No. 78808) is dense with flavours of blackberry, plum, tar, spice and wild herbs. Though cellar-worthy, it's beautiful right now.