Some BBQ Wine Tips For The Grillin’ Season!

Now that we are in the thick of summer grilling season, you’ve probably overheard conversations about a wine being a “good BBQ wine”. But what makes a wine better than others for a BBQ? After all, it’s not like you’re tossing the bottle on the grill! For me, there are 3 characteristics that a wine has to possess in order for it to qualify as BBQ-worthy.

1) For a white wine, it needs to have crisp acidity and lots of citrus and/or tropical fruit flavors. With the heat we’ve had this summer, I’m not looking for a white that will weigh me down like some of the big, oaky Chardonnays tend to do. I want something light on its feet and refreshing to help cool down on these hot summer days. So typically I will reach for a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, Sancerre, Vouvray or even a dry Riesling (not all Rieslings are sweet people). Plus, these wines typically make great pairings for chilled shellfish and seafood salads which always seem to find their way to the appetizer course before the grillin’ starts.

2) For a red wine, it’s gotta have enough structure to hold up to those typical grilled meat dishes (steaks, ribs, burgers, etc.) as well as enough tannins and spice to stand up to various BBQ sauces. Lighter wines like Pinot are good for openers, but they will get overpowered by most BBQ menus. So for me, BBQ reds are all about big fruit, gripping tannins and zesty spice that you will find in California Zinfandel and Petite Sirah, Rhone Reds (CDP, Gigonadas, Cotes du Rhone), Priorat and Mendoza Malbecs. Sure I’ll grab a Napa Cab here and there, but only if I know that nice piece of NY Strip or Ribeye is coming off the grill.

3) It needs to be affordable! There are very few BBQs that offer a fine dining experience. Meaning you are typically drinking out of plastic cups on a hot summer day and probably even mixing in some beer, sangria or those fruity summer cocktails. So BBQ wines are all about having fun and hopefully finding an enjoyable pairing somewhere in the mix. Plus these BBQs can sometimes carry some big crowds, and there’s nothing worse than cracking open something really nice and finding an empty bottle when you go to get your first taste of it!

The last “X” factor in selecting a BBQ wine is this… make sure its a wine that suits your palate. If you are going to have family and friends ransacking your home while you slave over a hot grill all day for them, the least you can do is drink some juice that you like! Pairings don’t mean a thing if the wines don’t mesh with your palate. Below are some of my favorite selections for the BBQ season, use in good health!

Whites  (all under $20)

Brancott Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, NZ

Sancerre La Reine Blanche, Dom. Jean Reverdy et Fils

Eroica Riesling, Columbia Valley, WA Chateau Ste. Michelle & Dr. Loosen

Vouvray Sauvion

Conundrum (Caymus) White, CA

Reds (all under $20)

Terra D’oro Zinfandel Amador, CA

Cotes du Rhone Villages Cuvee Centenaire, Domaine La Grand Ribe

McMannis Petite Sirah, CA

Vall Llach “Embruix” Priorat

Bodega Norton  Malbec Reserva, Mendoza

Premium Selections (over $50)

Napanook (2nd Label Dominus) Cabernet Blend, Napa Valley, CA

Zaca Mesa Black Bear Block Syrah Santa Ynez Valley, CA

2010 and 2011 Napa Cabs… The Green Era

Nowadays when people throw the word “green” out there, they are usually referring to something being ecologically sound or environmentally beneficial. When it comes to wine, green means something entirely different. Sure, it can refer to a wine being made organically or bio-dynamically, but it is typically a way to refer to wines (usually reds) as being somewhat under-ripe. If you are a Napa Cab drinker and plan on drinking those wines from these two vintages, you should become familiar with this dynamic.

There is a saying that good wine is made in the vineyard, meaning that without great fruit there is not much you can do with the juice. A large factor leading to quality grapes being produced has to do with the weather that particular growing year which is early spring to fall in the Northern Hemisphere. Yes, vineyard location plays a pivotal role and so does vineyard management, but without the right temperatures, rainfall and climate… those vines can be in danger of producing a small amount of grapes and not very quality ones at that.

The last two years have been tough weather wise in Napa, and for a late ripening grape like Cabernet Sauvignon that can mean trouble. When grapes are not ripe enough at harvest they can be a bit green… but what does that mean? It could result in a stalky characteristic, possibly an herbaceous or grassy nature  or even reminiscent of a rhubarb flavor. However it comes out, unless it is in minmal amounts it is not very desirable. In these last two vintages, that green effect is going to be tough to avoid in Napa Cabs. Of course the best vineyards and the best winemakers will still be making quality wine, but it may need some aging and there won’t be a lot of it so it will most likely be more expensive than the previous vintages.

So what can you do as a consumer? Taste some of these Napa Cabs from 2010 and see if they suit your palate. This under-ripening of grapes can also give wine a lot of acidity and low tannins which some people prefer. But if you like your Napa Cabs big and bold then you may want to check out some of the Paso Robles Cabs as they seemed to fair better. Or venture out to some of the Rhone wines from 2010. It was a fantastic vintage there and practically all the wines, from the everyday Cotes du Rhone to the single vineyard Chateuneuf du Papes, have been excellent thus far. Think of it as a good reason to expand your horizons or to buy some Napa Cab cellar selections instead of the everyday ones that are usually ready to drink.
Cheers!

Some Wines I Have Recently Enjoyed…

Having tasted a lot of juice the past couple of weeks, just thought I would point out a few wines that I really enjoyed and picked up for myself…

Primal Roots 2010 Red Blend, California ($7-12)

Can you say… “VALUE ALERT!”  This interesting red blend packs a lot of punch for the price. The soft and supple black currant and floral notes from the Merlot are well balanced with the black cherry and cassis from the Cab and the brambly berries from the Zin. It’s a big wine but not overpowering as it stays smooth on the palate through the finish.

Hanna 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander Valley ($24-30)

This Hanna Cab is my favorite from the AV region in this price range. It has so much elegance and charm, just a delightful wine. Classic Cab nose with cassis, black cherry and plum aromas. But it carries this floral note that stays with the wine through the finish giving it real complexity. Hints of smoky oak and sweet spices add to the playful balance of this wine.

Invetro 2009 IGT  Toscana, Tenuta Renieri ($15-22)

For those that like their Italian wines big, fruit forward and supple…look no further. Brimming with red berry fruit, spice and smoked cedar box this wine is really enticing from the get go. It has nice balance with soft tannins and simply coats the palate. Pair it with a nice piece of beef or a hearty dish of pasta, either way it will not disappoint.

Dry Creek Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 ($15-22)

Known better for their Zins, this Cab shows a lot of true Dry Creek character. The black fruit core meshes delightfully with the toasty oak, ground coffee beans and hints of eucalyptus. The tannins are firm but supple and the finish has that hint of chocolate from the trace of residual sugar. Comes out of the bottle ready to rock, no need to decant this one.

Belle Glos 2011 Pinot Noir, Las Alturas Vyd., Santa Lucia Highlands ($40-45)

It ain’t cheap but man is it tasty. Usually I like my Pinots lighter and more delicate in nature, but this one is tough to resist. It has the fruit and spice of Pinot but the body of a Cab or Syrah… but what else would you expect from a wine produced by Caymus!

Plan Pegau 2010 , Rhone ($15-22)

Crafted by Laurence Féraud of Domaine du Pegau, Plan Pegau has loads of character and personality.  Blackberry and dried herbs are layered over black pepper and savory, meaty notes. Like a baby version of their highly revered Chateauneuf du Pape for under $20.

Saffredi 2007 IGT Toscana Le Pupille ($70+)

Yes, this is a $70+ wine…and no I did not buy this one for myself (unfortunately I don’t roll like that). However this is possibly the best wine to pass these lips in some time and compares to the Sassicaias and Ornellaias of the world that fetch closer to $150+.  It is super concentrated with dark berry fruit, sweet spices and a super silky smooth texture. It just dances on the palate and grows in complexity with each passing second it lay there. It finishes long leaving behind floral hints and that lush dark fruit…As Ferris Bueller would say: “It is so choice. If you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up.”

Cheers!

One of the Best Under the Radar Chateauneuf du Pape’s in town!

Chateauneuf du Pape 2010 Cuvee Capelane, Domaine de L'Arnesque

This is truly an intricate and delightful CDP from l’Arnesque. The intense aromas are full of ripe raspberry, black cherry and peppery spice with hints of smoked meat. It is somewhat delicate yet has a dense core of fruit that carries from the palate through the long and lovely finish. It’s drinking well as a young wine now, but this should evolve for several years with age. – WWG

Background info: The Biscarrat family have been wine growers in the area for 6 generations. Marie and Julien Biscarrat (sister and brother) took over the domain in 2005 and changed the name to Domaine de l’Arnesque, after the famed lieu-dit Arnesque in Chateauneuf du Pape. This is where their 12 acre vineyard is located, on the southwestern hill-side of the Mont Redon plateau. The Cuvee Capelane is made from very old vine fruit from that vineyard, up to 100 years of age. 100% Grenache aged in oaks vats for 12 months.

Chateauneuf du Pape 2010 Cuvee Capelane, Domaine de L’Arnesque