Friday, August 17, 2012

Summer Barbecue Wine Options

Summer is in full swing! It's time to barbecue as much as possible, to have your friends over at every opportunity, and to enjoy the sun whenever you can. To that end, I've lined up a slew of affordable reds and whites for you to pair with barbecued foods and backyard shindigs.

Keep in mind that these are all bigger, more full-bodied red wines Anytime you have big flavors from meat, you need to get big wines to stand up to what you're grilling. The addition of sauces, marinades, and rubs also adds intensity, further pushing palates away from pinot-land.

The white wines, on the other hand, are crisp, dry, and full of refreshing acidity. On a hot day the last thing most of us want is a big, heavy, oaky chardonnay weighing down our taste buds. To that end, I assembled a panel of well known producers' white wines to taste and talk about.

Here then are two lists, of whites and reds, for your consideration as you barbecue this summer:

2010 Parducci Small Lot Blend Sauvignon Blanc: Despite the $11 suggested retail price, this is single vineyard sauvignon blanc, from Hildreth Farm in Mendocino County. Crisp notes of green apple, grass, and zesty citrus mix with summer melon to create a balanced, food-friendly wine. Very drinkable and at a great price. Pair this with ceviche, fish tacos, chicken salad, or solo on a hot day.

2010 Parducci Small Lot Blend Pinot Gris: I think it's telling that I tasted this and thought it might be a steel-tank-fermented, un-wooded, cheap chardonnay. 6% Muscat Canelli was added to the gris, creating an intersting, barely-off-dry citrus and melon set of flavors. If sauvignon blanc or 100% pinot gris is too dry for your friends, I bet they'd love this. Very pretty aromatics, so don't over chill it. $11 srp.

2011 St. Supery Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley: Loads of tropical fruit beats down a touch of green grass that dares show itself. I like that though. Crisp acidity frames the melange of passion fruit, kiwi, and lime flavors. There is a subtle but welcome minerality at play, enhancing the texture. Pair this gem with grilled-shrimp quesadillas and fresh guacamole. $15 srp.


2009 Parducci Small Lot Blend Merlot: The bouquet is all red cherry and licorice, with a bit of a medicinal quality. On the palate it's spicy, cherry, and vanilla oak. This brings the easy-drinking flavors you expect from an inexpensive merlot. Give this one to your "I don't like red wine" crowd. SRP: $11. 13.5% abv.

2010 Hey Mambo "Sultry Red" Red Wine: An explosion of red fruit; think cherries and raspberries mixed together. It's sweet and easy-drinking, with ample ripe fruit flavors and a tease of vanilla-oak lurking in the background. The finish is just dry enough to stand up to bigger foods. Another "I don't like red wine" crowd pleaser. SRP: $10. 13.5% abv.

2010 Graffigna Centenario Malbec Reserve: This bouquet is all dark aromas, think baking chocolate, spices, and leather. Some black cherry and blueberry peek out too. More full-bodied than the previous two wines, the Graffigna has ample tannin to stand up to steak. Flavors of black fruit, herb, and bittersweet chocolate create a nice texture on the palate. Worth opening a few hours before your party. SRP: $15. 14% abv.

2008 Ash Hollow Headless Red: This one is intriguing, it smells a little reductive but revels aromas of maple and bacon, black fruit, and wood. 58% merlot, 26% cabernet sauvignon, 13% syrah, 3% malbec. There maybe some volatile acidity here too, but it's not a big deal. More maple flavor comes through on the palate, along with spices and black cherry. This one is smooth and easy to sip, while retaining enough tannin and acid to stand firm against a steak or summer sausage. 30 months spent in oak. 14.1% abv.

2009 Parducci Small Lot Blend Cabernet Sauvignon: When I first opened this bottle, I was walloped over the head with a bag of oak. The wine has settled down a lot, with the oak partially retreating and letting some warm red fruits, earthy funk, and green herb come out. Firm tannin restrain that red fruit on the palate, creating a simple yet effectively structured wine to pair with steak or ribs. It's more complex than expected, especially at the $11 price point. 14.0% abv.

2011 Big House Red: The fact that this wine has over 15 different grape varieties should tell you something. My sample showed up in a 3L cask or bag-in-box, in an effort to prove that quality isn't lost. 3L is about four bottles, making this a $5.50 per-bottle red wine. The nose is an explosion of fruity aromas, think raspberry jam, strawberries, blackberries. It's no different on the palate, with jammy fruit leading the way, thankfully reined in by a bit of acidity. It'll go great during the summer when you're headed to a bbq party, and fits the very definition of "crowd pleaser". 13.0% abv.

2009 Ravenswood Sonoma County Old Vine Zinfandel: Joel Peterson consistently produces great wines at reasonable prices. This zinfandel, coming in around $15 a bottle, has all the hallmarks of old vines from warm climates. Aromas of wood smoke, tar, plum, and spices rush out of the glass. I like the complexity, especially at this price point. Lots of dark, intense red fruit to pair with ribs too, along with a wonderful peppery flavor that contrasts with some dark, dusty soil. A tight, clean package of deliciousness. 14.5% abv.

2009 Ravenswood Vintners Blend Petite Sirah: Imagine a bowl full of blueberries and blackberries sitting in a field of dark, earthy soil. Now imagine someone burning oak just a few hundred yards away. That's the nose of this petite sirah. It tastes spicy and rich, with lots of black fruit, dark chocolate, and firm tannin to restrain those two primary flavors. Practically begs for a thick steak, and is a really good deal at $7.99. 13.5% abv.

To test the wines out in more real-life conditions, I had them all open for a barbecue that several of our friends attended. Each wine was tasted along with the food, which included ribs and hot dogs, among other things. My personal favorites were the Ravenswood wines, and the Graffigna Malbec. The group did enjoy the Big House Red and Hey Mambo for what they were, big, fruity, easy-drinking reds.

Each of these wines is worth a pop 'n pour when you are grilling and want something to please a wide range of palates. Perhaps the best part is the pricing, all can be found for between $10 and $15, save for the Big House, but you get a lot of wine in that octagon!

These wines were media samples.

Beau Carufel

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