At this time of the year, we spend the weekday thinking about the weekend. Not only does the weekend spell us relief from the daily grind, it opens the possibility to outdoor grilling. There is nothing that happens in the kitchen that replicates the sensory experience of smoking coals and sizzling steaks. Get your hunger on.
Labor Day may be over, but that doesn’t mean it’s time to pack up the grill. A lot of us – depending on where we spend our winters – grill year-round. And those of us in northern climes grill until the snowfalls.
And why not? Grilling is a weekend past-time that can be enjoyed even in a pandemic. There’s always a glass in our hands while we grill and then a second wine to pair with the food.
As we have said countless times, choosing a wine to go with your grilled food requires primary consideration for the sauce. For instance, grilled chicken kabobs marinated in a citrus sauce demands a white wine with good acidity. Put a sweet rub on that chicken or slather on a tomato-based sauce and you better have a juicy red wine. Steak? Filets can be paired with pinot noir, but a fatty rib eye demands a tannic cabernet sauvignon.
Ribs with a barbecue sauce? Give us a zinfandel any day. Steak? Cabernet sauvignon. Burgers? Syrah, light Italian reds, Rioja tempranillos, beaujolais.
The most universal red wine in our book? Cotes du Rhone. The simple wines from this French region of the Rhone Valley are generally under $20 and are packed with acidity and tannin to match fatty foods, including ribs, pulled pork and even steak. We promise your crowd will be pleased.
Here are a dozen wines we recommend for grilled meat:
Rombauer Vineyards California Zinfandel 2017 ($22). Broad and jammy blackberry and raspberry flavors with good spice and big alcohol.
- Hamel Family Wines Zinfandel 2017 ($58). This is a dynamic, irresistible zinfandel from Sonoma Valley. Big and broad floral cherry aromas with wisps of earth and herbs. Deep cherry and raspberry flavors that avoid the raisiny profile and instead brace the palate with fresh, honed character. Layered spice and black pepper with long finish.
- Cellier des Dauphins Reserve Cotes du Rhone 2018 ($12). Jammy black cherry and blackberry fruit flavors with herbs, spice and enough tannins to allow this to stand up to grilled beef.
- 7 Deadly Zins Old Vine Zinfandel 2017 ($16). From Lodi, the epicenter of California zinfandel, this jammy wine has blackberry flavors and hints of spice and coffee.
- Cliff Lede Rock Block “Dancing Heart” Cabernet Sauvignon 2017 ($110) The producer likes his rock music, so the name of this wine comes from two vineyard blocks named after songs: Rush’s “Closer to the Heart” block and Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark” block. Big wine with ripe blackberry and plum flavors and a soft landing on the palate. Complex and serious, it’s a wine that calls for steak.
Lohr Hilltop Cabernet Sauvignon 2017 ($35). Reasonably priced, this smooth cabernet sauvignon from Paso Robles has a lush texture, plum and blackberry flavors with a hint of chocolate.
- Paraduxx Atlas Peak Napa Valley Red Wine 2016 ($82). Duckhorn uses this series of wines to showcase blends. This one includes sangiovese and cabernet sauvignon. Generous red fruit aromas and rich raspberry, cherry flavors. A versatile wine that would do well with beef and lamb.
- Saldo California Zinfandel 2018 ($32). Brought to us by the makers of The Prisoner, this rich and ripe zinfandel is a perfect match to grilled foods accompanied by barbecue sauces. Raspberry and pomegranate flavors with hints of vanilla and chocolate. It is blended with cabernet sauvignon, petite sirah, syrah and charbono.
- Cellier des Dauphins Cotes du Rhone 2018 ($14). Simple and quaffable, this blend of grenache (80 percent) and syrah shows off black cherry and currant notes with a dash of spice.
St. Supery ELU Estate Napa Valley 2015 ($75). Although this is technically a Meritage wine which utilizes at least two of the traditional red or white Bordeaux varietals, we don’t see this term used very often anymore. It is 74 percent cabernet sauvignon with the balance of the blend filled out with merlot, malbec, cabernet franc, and petite verdot. All French oak barrel aging gives this red blend an elegance that justifies the price tag. Black raspberry, plum and cedar scents and flavors dominate with a firm acid, soft tannin finish.
- Bella Union Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2017 ($80). Break out the beef tenderloin for this delicious, complex cabernet sauvignon. Founded by the partners of Far Niente and only in its second vintage, it is blended with malbec, petit verdot and cabernet franc. Supple tannins and generous notes of cola and blackberries with hints of anise and cocoa.
- Cameron Hughes Lot 625 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 ($24). Cameron Hughes has built a reputation on buying wine and juice on the secondary market. He cannot disclose the names of the vineyards but attests they are very well known. The value, then, is the consumer gets a quality wine for a lot less money. This is a terrific cabernet sauvignon for the price. Extracted and lush black cherry and blackberry flavors with hints of spice and chocolate. Available online.
Silverado Vineyards Mt. George Cabernet Franc 2017 ($55). We loved this layered blueberry and plum flavored wine with hints of tobacco, herbs, and cocoa. Long finish.
- Landmark Vineyards Overlook Chardonnay 2018 ($27). This Sonoma County gem reveals apple and peach aromas followed by ripe stone fruit flavors and a hint of nutmeg.
- Fattoria Selvapiana Pomino Rosso Villa di Petrognano 2016 ($21). This blend of sangiovese, merlot, and cabernet sauvignon is an excellent representative of the values of super-Tuscan wines. Only two producers make wine in this historic region, so it’s unusual. Firm tannins, fruit-forward flavors of blackberry and cherry.