• Burgers. That sparkling red (Frank Family Rouge nonvintage, Napa Valley, $28) nosed out Zin (Rosenblum Carla’s Vineyard 2003, San Francisco Bay Area, $28) with beef burgers; the Syrah rosé (Renwood 2003, California, $9) and Petite Sirah (Concannon Select Vineyard 2003, Central Coast, $15) were tied for a close third. With salmon burgers, we liked the blanc de noirs (Gloria Ferrer nonvintage, Sonoma County, $20)—no surprise there, Pinot being the operative grape. The sparkling red came on strong too. And with veggie burgers … sparkling red again.
• Hot dogs. Time to turn the special-occasion rule for bubbles on its ear; they worked well here, in the form of the blanc de noirs. So did the Syrah rosé and Chenin Blanc (Clarksburg 2004, Sacramento Delta, $10). Put chili on the dogs and pour that sparkling red.
• Barbecued chicken. Right, sparkling red. But blanc de noirs, Pinot Noir (Jekel 2001, Monterey, $15), and Zin were solid contenders.
• Baby back ribs. Yep, sparkling red (“close to perfection,” according to one panel member); the more traditional bubbles (blanc de noirs) came in second. Other great choices: dry Riesling (Bonny Doon Pacific Rim 2003, eastern Washington and Mosel, Germany, $10), Syrah rosé, and Zinfandel.
• Grilled pizza. With classic cheese and tomato, Syrah rosé or bubbly, in either form. With meat in the picture, make the bubbles red—again.