By TOM MARQUARDT and PATRICK DARR
If you haven’t yet cleaned out the grill, now is the time. Your family is expecting a great outdoor meal with the arrival of the busy Memorial Day weekend – the symbolic launch of summer.
The holiday is one of our favorites because it puts us in a better mood. We’ve had enough rain to put spring to rest. The flowers will soon bloom and the grass will need cutting before you know it. Memorial Day is the starting gun for fun in the sun. We’re ready.
Many of you will be having guests over for burgers, ribs, pulled pork or whatever fits on the grill or smoker. If wine is on your menu, you will want to look for versatile reds and whites that can complement a wide array of food.
For whites, sauvignon blanc is a great choice because it has the freshness to serve well as an aperitif and has the acidity to pair with seasoned chicken and fish.
For reds, we lean toward the lighter wines – beaujolais, syrah, grenache, tempranillo and sangiovese. Pinot noirs are great wines but they are expensive and best suited alongside elegant dinners.
If you like sauvignon blanc, look for the 2020 Stags’ Leap Napa Valley ($32) for its minerality and stone fruit notes, or the 2021 Duckhorn Vineyards North Coast ($32) for the roundness and tropical fruit flavors that come from the addition of semillon.
If you prefer the tangy sauvignon blancs from New Zealand, try the 2021 Ponga ($15). There are an abundance of lime and grapefruit notes in this wine from Marlborough.
Chile also offers an alternative – the Cocha y Toro 2021 Grand Reserva Sauvignon Blanc ($15) is a great buy.
Pinot gris is another alternative to the usual chardonnay and is reasonbably priced. We like Oregon’s Acrobat Pinot Gris ($15) for its delicious pear and peach flavors. Alois Lageder Pinot Grigio from Italy was rated as one of the best values in wine and is equally delicious.
White wines are best for seafood and chicken, but look to red wine for the hamburgers, ribs, brats and most beef dishes.
One wine that has become a perennial favorite of ours is the Borsao Tres Picos ($19) from the Campo de Borja region of Spain. Made entirely from garnacha grapes, the wine
is loaded with forward, ripe blackberry and plum flavors – a good match to anything with ketchup on it.
Another good choice from Spain is the 2017 Beronia Rioja Reserva ($27).
Portugual is begging to be discovered for its red wine. We love the 2019 Vale do Bomfim ($13) from the Duoro Valley. It is a broad blend of tinta barroca, touriga franca, touriga nacional and tinto roriz. It has opulent, ripe plum and dark berry flavors to greet a big, fat hamburger.
The sangioveses from Italy’s Chianti region offer the same ripe and forward flavors. Two wines we like are the 2018 Querciabella Chianti Classico ($33) with its red berry and spice flavors and the 2019 Cecchi Chianti Classico Storia di Famiglia ($27) with its supple black cherry flavors.
Another wine we like from a different part of Italy is the 2019 Marchesi di Gresy Nebbiolo Martinenga Langhe. Nebbiolo is a medium-body wine that offers lively, fresh strawberry and black cherry notes.
There is a lot of grenache and syrah on the market to appeal to barbecue palates. Grenache is lighter and makes for a great aperitif too. Qupe from Santa Barbara County makes a delicious grenache for $30 and a tasty 2019 syrah ($20) that is blended with mourvedre, viognier and tempranillo.
Inexpensive zinfandel is easy to find on the market but for a little more complexity and power, try the Chappellet Las Piedras Napa Valley Zinfandel ($50). Tapping into old-vine Mt. Veeder fruit, this wine delivers ripe blackberry and plum notes that will do well against ribs, pulled pork and even steak.
If steak is your choice for the grill, you can break the bank with an expensive cabernet sauvignon or reach for the 2020 Precision Bound Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($25), a reasonably priced wine with ripe plum and black cherry flavors.
But if it’s just the two of you and you want a special night, try the 2019 Cliff Lede Napa Valley Stags Leap District Cabernet Sauvignon ($82). From the estate’s Poetry and Twin Peaks vineyards, this blend is rich and long in the finish with a velvet mouthfeel, ripe blackberry flavors, a touch of mineral and fine tannins.
We also like the 2019 Benziger Family Winery Joaquin’s Red Blend ($70). Estate-grown zinfandel, grenache and petite sirah go into this deliciously ripe and broadly layered blend. Strawberry, blackberry and plum notes with a hint of chocolate and spice.
Chalk Hill Estate Chardonnay Chalk Hill Appellation 2019 ($45). This is a fruit-driven and unctuous fruit bomb featuring ripe tropical fruits and a luscious, honied component. Just enjoy this wine as a treat all by itself.
Veramonte Carmenere Reserva Organic Colchagua 2020 ($12). If you favor the flavor profile of Beaujolais, then this bargain from Chile is for you. Very fresh cherry and raspberry fruit dominate in a straightforward uncomplicated package. We have often found this wine at single-digit prices.
Ehlers Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Estate Napa Valley 2018 ($90). This is a very complex yet drinkable wine. Deep red fruit flavors of plum, berry and cherry in a very soft elegant package. Ready to drink now but should age beautifully.