It should have the aromatics to stand up not only to smoke but to the flowers of spring and the evening's breezes. It should be flexible, able to adapt to a wide range of marinades, sauces and rubs. Most of all, it should be fun. Here are some thoughts and a few suggestions:
Few foods and wines are as compatible with each other as lamb and Zinfandel. Both are dense and rich, with firm backbones and chewy flavors. Sangiovese, Barbera, Syrah or one of the secondary Rhone Valley varietals (Mourvedre, Carignane, Grenache) also will work well.
New York or flank? Porterhouse or tri-tip? It doesn't much matter. As long as the beef is rich and succulent, the wine needs to be full-bodied, ripe and firm. Merlot, Malbec, Barbera and Sangiovese will work if the meat isn't heavily seasoned, but as the sauces and rubs intensify look to Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah, Mourvedre, Zinfandel and Syrah.
If the chicken is lightly seasoned, grab a bottle of White Zinfandel, Sauvignon Blanc or Riesling. As the marinade, salsa or rub ratchets up, adjust the weight of the wine accordingly, moving to Chardonnay, Viognier and, finally, a youthful Petite Sirah when the bird is glazed with a sweet and thick barbecue sauce.
You can't miss with a ripe, jammy California Zinfandel or a peppery Australian Shiraz. A juicy, lively black-cherry fruitiness, generous dashes of black pepper and a lean but firm structure add up to a Shiraz substantial and agile enough to stand up to ribs with a traditionally sweet and spicy but not too thickly applied sauce.
White wine with fish? Not always, and especially not when the fish is salmon, whose rich, fatty flesh is best complemented by the fruitiness of a husky Pinot Noir. But for the purists in the crowd, also have on hand a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier or Semillon. For example: Mike Lee made a staggering 46,000 cases of his Kenwood Vineyards 2000 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir ($20). The quantity didn't affect quality, as shown at the recent Riverside International Wine Competition, where it was a sweepstakes nominee. Go ahead and burn the salmon; no one will complain as long as they have a glass of this pinot noir in front of them.
OK, back to the old-time rule - white with white. Swordfish has the sort of firm flesh best complemented by a forward Chardonnay, whether from California, Oregon or Washington. The sweetness and snap of shrimp just off the grill calls for a white wine with plenty of fruit and zip, and the two varietals that best fit the bill are Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio/Pinot Gris.
No matter how much they are blended together, or with what, hamburgers are casual and comforting, and call for a casual and comforting wine - Zinfandel, Merlot, Syrah (also called Shiraz).