Barbecue Season Begins With a Toast to the Troops

The Memorial Day weekend is almost here. It’s our once-a-year opportunity to honor the men and women who lost their lives while serving in the United States military, protecting our cherished freedom.

In other words, it’s not just another three-day weekend. Especially among those of us who have family members that have served, it’s a time for reflection and gratitude.

In the Johnson household, we always take time over the weekend to raise our glasses to all of those who have served, and offer special thanks to those who paid the ultimate price.

We then celebrate our country and the unique place it is, joining the millions of Americans who also cite the Memorial Day weekend as the official start of barbecue season.

If you’re grilling steaks or hamburgers — especially if the meat is well seasoned — be sure to have a good bottle of Zinfandel on hand. There are great California renditions available from Sonoma County (especially the Dry Creek Valley area), Lodi, Paso Robles and elsewhere.

But there are lots of other ways to use that grill, including some unexpected. Here are a few ideas… accompanied by wine-pairing suggestions…

* Grilled Cheese Sandwich — This is a real grilled cheese, and its buttery goodness calls for a rich, buttery Chardonnay.

• Grilled Vegetables — Veggies can sometimes be challenging to pair with wine, but the grill serves as a useful intermediary. If the veggies are green (such as broccoli or asparagus), opt for Sauvignon Blanc, especially one from New Zealand. For other veggies, a chilled rosé-style wine will pair nicely.

* Grilled Sweet Onions Wrapped in Bacon — If you love onions and bacon, you’ll thank us for giving this combination a try. Serve them with a dry sparkling wine.

* Grilled Pork Chops — Lots of options here, including Viognier, Riesling, Chenin Blanc and Pinot Noir. Heat some apples on the grill as a topping, and the wine choice becomes Gewurztraminer.

* Salmon — Its naturally high fat content makes it perfect for grilling. The go-to wine choice for salmon almost always is Pinot Noir. The char of the grill also brings a nice, fruity Gamay into contention.

We’ll have a lot more pairing suggestions — classic and otherwise — throughout the grilling season. But this weekend, don’t forget to salute the men and women who made your opportunity to grill and drink fine wine possible.

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