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Monday, December 15, 2008

How about a splash of wine?

Let’s talk about wine. I’ve referenced wine on more than one occasion on this site. For some grillin and chillin means BBQ and beer. I completely agree. But it doesn’t only have to be beer. Wine can be an excellent way to accomplish the chillin aspect of this glorious hobby.

I pride myself on my wine knowledge, but I am by no means a wine snob. Sure I’ve met a Bundschu from the Gundlach-Bundschu winery. I’ve spent a few hours chatting it up with the Meekers who make some incredible stuff as well. And even met Todd Williams who is the Vintner of Toad Hollow. Todd has a very, very dry sense of humor which is a bit ironic since his brother is Robin Williams.

That being said I have two rules about wine.

  1. Wine is not supposed to be pink. I know that Rose's and Blushes are making a come back after the backlash against White Zin, but wine is just not supposed to be pink.
  2. Wine is not supposed to come in a box. I know some boxed wines are getting 90 points from Parker and WS, but don't go there. Inside that box is a plastic bladder full of wine. The only bladder wine should go through is yours!?!?!
Screw tops, synthetic corks, are perfectly OK. Pink and boxes are not...Find what you like and drink it. If it's two buck chuck or a 1998 Rosemount Balmoral Syrah, enjoy it...

Now a little about pairing wines. Basically think of the food you are grilling and find a wine that will complement that food. For the most part what we cook on the grill is not mild and full of subtle flavors. Usually BBQ has powerful flavor. In that case you need something that can stand up to the flavor of the food and not get overpowered by it. So let’s talk about wines that fall into that range. For the most part we are going to be dealing with reds, but I will touch on whites as well.

But first let’s talk about a sort of continuum of red wine in terms of flavor. At one end of the continuum we have Pinot Noirs. Very light, flowery, delicate, with many subtle flavors. Next variatal along the continuum you have a Merlot. Very smooth and velvety with strong fruity plums, cherries, blueberries and blackberries mixed with black pepper tones. It has more zip than a Pinot but not nearly what the Shiraz and Cabs have. At the far end of the spectrum we have Zins, Cabernets and Syrahs/Shiraz' (same thing). These wines are much more zesty, meaty, and spicy. These are often referred to as powerfully flavored and do well standing up against a very smoky slab of ribs or a beautifully done steak.

Pinot Noir is excellent with fish. Yes you can drink reds with fish. A Pinot can be consumed with fish or meat. Pinot is excellent with salmon, chicken and turkey. Here is a great Pinot we had with some Salmon in Michigan last summer. John Taylor Russian River Valley Pinot:

If you were to smoke that salmon, chicken or turkey and thus the flavor will be more intense, then a Merlot might be a better idea. Steak? Cab, Shiraz or Zin are all good choices. Ribs would be the same as steak. Here are a couple great Shiraz'. Epsilon Shiraz:

Schild Estate Barossa Shiraz:

For seafood, you want to go with a white for the most part. And which whites are usually highly dependent on the palette of the drinker. In my experience people new to wine tend to like the sweeter wines such as Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Semillon, Fume/Sauvignon Blanc (same thing). For me, if I’m going with seafood I want a buttery unoaked Chard. Pierano Estates fits this to a tee and for only $13/bottle.

A couple of notes. For those that start off liking the sweet whites I have noticed, for the most part, as they drink more and more wine the sweet wines are not as enjoyable to them. As their palette develops they tend to appreciate the dryer whites more and more. This is not the case for everyone of course...

Also, red wine is not supposed to be consumed at room temperature and white wine is not supposed to be consumed at the same temp as a Budweiser. I prefer my reds between 55-60 degrees. I prefer my whites around 45-50 degrees. Without buying a wine fridge how does one regulate the temp? The 30 minute rule. Keep your whites in the fridge. Pull it out of the fridge for 30 minutes to let the temp rise above 34 degrees. Reds should not be kept in the fridge. But when you are ready for a bottle of red, toss it in the fridge for 30 minutes to drop the temp below room temp. The time varies from fridge to fridge but you get the idea.

There are a few exceptions to the temperature rule. For example. In the summer I keep a couple bottles of Pinot Grigio in the fridge. If it’s really hot I crack a bottle of that and drink it ice cold. It’s a very light and refreshing wine. I’m probably committing some wine sin by doing this but that’s the way I like my Grigio in the hot summers.

Food makes wine better. That uber dry Chard that almost makes you pucker every time you take a sip is a whole different animal if you are munching on something while drinking it. A decent wine can become a great wine if paired properly. A great wine can become phenomenal if paired properly.

Not all Rieslings are sweet. Alsace Rieslings are quite crisp and citrusy. Great for hot summers as well.

Ever wonder why you see people spitting out the wine at wine tastings? Because after a couple of glasses of wine the taste buds start to numb and thus all the flavors cannot be truly realized. Knowing this, when I am entertaining I generally have one or two really good bottles of wine, depending on how many people are involved, and then some second tier wine after the first bottles have been polished off. Why throw out a $40 Argyle Nuthouse Pinot for people to drink after they have already had 2 or 3 glasses of wine? That Argyle will be wasted on them. I will talk about second tier wines a little later.

Along with the Pierano Estates....

....I mentioned above here are a few wines that I really enjoy for under $20:

Marquis Phillips Sarah’s Blend Shiraz:

Shotfire Ridge Shiraz:

I know it sounds nuts but Little Penguin Cabernet Sauvignon is a 91 point wine and I find it on sale all the time for less than $6/bottle. The Little Penguin Chard is my tier two white that I keep on hand. Also around $6

Castoro Cellars Chard and Zin. This is the Zin with a NY Strip and some scallops:

Milton Park Shiraz – Some say that this is actually made by Shotfire Ridge but the company (Thorn-Clark) won’t admit to it. Still a really nice wine for the price:

Piccolo Cru
Stelzner Claret
Yangarra Shiraz
Red Truck and White Truck. Both very decent and only $10:

Rosenblum Chard -Fool's Pappy has been raving about this one
Pillar Box Red – Awesome for $10:

Vina Alabra – hard to find but GREAT!!
Ravenswood Zin and Shiraz are really good – And don’t go for the more exotic locations like Lodi that gets a 91 point rating for $30 when the $10 bottle gets an 89 rating. I’ll give you the extra 2 points and keep my $20
Penfold's Koonunga Hill Cabernet Shiraz has been running around $8-10 all over the place lately in St. Louis and is a 91 point wine:

7 Deadly Zins Zinfandel
Benton Lane Pinot Noir:

McManus Cab makes a nice tier two wine at about $9
Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc

And here are a couple solid labels that makes good wine all the way around:

Wolf Blaas
Gundlach Bundchu

If you are a wine person you will notice that I lean heavily towards Californians and Australians. I tend to avoid the Europeans because I don't know anything about them and they tend to run more expensive than the Californians and the Australians. Every now and again I will try a European wine on the recommendation of someone who knows them, but I'm not one to dabble in the Europeans other than Alsace Rieslings. Maybe one day but I could die a happy man just drinking Californians and Australians for the rest of my life.

If you are having a hard time finding wines you like call your local wine stores. Most of them do tastings from time to time for little or no charge. Go. Sample. Find what you like and enjoy it...

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