A small but very versatile set of wines serve this purpose in summer weather, wines that can and should be chilled, wines that have enough tannin to take whatever's on the grill but not so much as to taste hard or brittle when cooled down. A properly chilled red (in the fridge undisturbed for about half an hour, tops) is a revelation. The wine's natural acidity is revealed; it becomes juicier, brighter, more thirst quenching, even as it still performs like a red wine on the palate. Here are three inexpensive and worthy directions to take.
An obscure Italian varietal wines from the Piedmont, a bit more exotic than the usual fare of Barbera and Dolcetto (both of which would be perfectly fine chilled for a barbecue). Pelaverga is a bit like Italian Beaujolais -- simple, fruity, lightly tannined, with blueberry and red plum accents. Look for Castello di Verduna 'Basadone,' G.B. Burlotto.
France's most cheerful red is also one of its most versatile. Choose a village-level or cru-Beaujolais like Chenas, Brouilly, or Moulin-a-Vent, which will have enough tannin to provide a foil to grilled meats, and a modest earthiness to complement the char. There are many to choose from, but look for wines from Jadot, Trenel, Thivin, Guy Breton.
1. American Carignane:
Carignane is a Mediterranean variety with a long history in the U.S. A small but sturdy collection of older vineyards outlasted Prohibition's ravages, 60 to 100 year-old vines producing outstanding balanced, succulent fruit, with dark plum flavors and a touch of tannin that sharpens with a chill. Look for Bonny Doon's Contra, Broc Cellars' carbonic bottling, or Marietta Cellar's marvelous non-vintage Old Vine Red, which includes Carignane in the blend.