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Memorial Day Entertaining

Tips and recipes from chef Michael Lomonaco for summer's first big weekend. Plus, great wines to serve with your outdoor feast

Laurie Woolever
Posted: May 24, 2007

Memorial Day weekend is coming up, which means it's time to string up the hammock, blow up the pool toys and eat some smoky, juicy grilled foods. Wine Spectator Online asked chef Michael Lomonaco, of Porter House New York restaurant, for some help in putting together a simple, wine-friendly Memorial Day meal that can be cooked and eaten indoors or out. Lomonaco, who admits to slipping into the "backyard cooking warrior mentality" whenever he has the chance to escape with his family to their upstate New York country house, was happy to share his ideas, recipes and advice.

Let the grill get hot. Think of your grill like an oven: You've got to preheat before you bake or broil, and the same is true when you're grilling. Lomonaco says, "People think that once they turn on the gas, they can start cooking, but the grill is still cold." To keep your food from sticking to the grates or cooking improperly, he recommends preheating for 10 to 15 minutes.

Oil the food, not the grill. Rubbing oil on your food is much safer than oiling a gas grill, says Lomonaco, and the extra flavor imparted by an olive oil rubdown doesn't hurt the final result, either. "It's important to keep your grill seasoned and clean," he adds, "but it's easy to get burned by flare-ups if you're oiling the grill while it's hot." A better approach is to scrape the grill after you've turned it off but while it's still hot, and lightly oil it while it's cooling.

Vary the heat. The ideal setup, says Lomonaco, would be to have two grills going simultaneously: one for slow-cooked items like pork ribs or chicken, and one for items that can take more direct heat without losing their moisture, like burgers, sausages and steaks. If you don't happen to have two grills, though, don't worry. A gas grill can create different heat zones through selective use of the grill's burners (i.e., keeping one side turned off, or on very low heat), while charcoal grillers can build their fire off to one side of the grill's kettle, rather than in the center. "You don't want to burn anything, and moving food around is part of the sport of outdoor cooking," Lomonaco explains. "Grilling is not just 'burn and go.' Controlling the heat naturally gives you more control over the cooking."

Drink good wine. "There's no reason not to bring a great wine that you love to a barbecue, none at all," says Lomonaco. "In fact, it's maybe more enjoyable to sit outdoors with a great wine." For the white wine sangrias that he likes to make with whatever summer fruit is perfectly in season, Lomonaco says that his chosen wine "isn't just a plonky white wine, it's got to be something that I would drink on its own. The fruit is a highlight and makes it more refreshing, but you should still want to taste the nature and the character of the wine." His current favorite wines for sangria are the whites of the Finger Lakes region of New York, specifically dry and off-dry Rieslings and Gewürztraminers. He recommends pairing his burger recipe with an Australian Shiraz, and his swordfish and bacon club with a Pinot Noir or a Chardonnay. And, he says, in the summertime, "I really move toward the rosés, which I find just perfect for barbecued meats and grilled fish." (Here are some tasting notes for 10 recently-rated California rosés.)

Inspired by Michael Lomonaco's advice? Try his recipe for grilled sirloin burgers with tangy red onion jam.
Want to turn your picnic into a surf 'n' turf? Try Lomonaco's swordfish and smoked bacon club sandwich.

Following is a selection of recently-rated Australian Shiraz to complement the burger, and recently-rated Pinot Noir and Chardonnay to serve with the swordfish club.


Wine Score Price
THORN-CLARKE Shiraz Barossa Shotfire 2005 92 $20
Polished, focused and gorgeously balanced to display its raspberry, cherry and red plum notes in impressive harmony. The flavors linger against a touch of oak and refined tannins on the long finish. Drink now through 2015. 15,000 cases made. —H.S.
COORALOOK Shiraz Heathcote 2004 90 $22
Polished, open-textured and appealing for its generous blackberry, cherry, wet stone and dried tomato flavors, lingering effortlessly on the medium-weight finish. Drink now through 2010. 7,500 cases made. —H.S.
PARINGA Shiraz South Australia 2005 87 $10
Supple and fragrant. A lithe mouthful of currant and pomegranate shaded with hints of fresh red pepper. Drink now through 2009. 40,000 cases made. —H.S.

Pinot Noir

NAVARRO Pinot Noir Anderson Valley Méthode à l'Ancienne 2004 92 $25
My favorite Navarro Pinot of all time. High-toned black cherry and wild berry flavors are intense and concentrated, with hints of hazelnut and spice. Wonderful balance, focus and length. Should also age well. Drink now through 2011. 5,224 cases made. —J.L.
TAMAR RIDGE Pinot Noir Tasmania Devil's Corner 2005 88 $15
Supple and appealing for its pretty cherry and raspberry fruit. Finishes with a silky texture. Drink now through 2010. 8,000 cases made. —H.S.
ERATH Pinot Noir Oregon 2005 87 $16
Light and fragrant, with pretty blackberry and mineral flavors, lingering on the tartly balanced finish. Drink now through 2009. 50,000 cases made. —H.S.


Wine Score Price
MOUNT EDEN Chardonnay Edna Valley Wolff Vineyard 2004 92 $17
Ripe and intense, with rich, perfumed apple, pear and spice flavors that pick up a note of butterscotch from oak. Turns elegant and stylish on the finish, showing a hint of lemon and citrus. A great value. Drink now through 2010. 7,532 cases made. —J.L.
CONCHA Y TORO Chardonnay Pirque Marqués de Casa Concha 2005 91 $19
Shows a nice mix of dried pineapple, papaya, pear and fig flavors, with a long, minerally finish. Has a nice layer of toast, but stays fresh and pure. Drink now. 7,200 cases imported. —J.M.
HOGUE Chardonnay Columbia Valley 2005 87 $9
Smooth and round, with spice, tangerine and pear character in balance. Remains refreshing through the finish. Drink now through 2010. 65,000 cases made. —H.S.

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