In our houses, the grill can be going any time of the year. Snow? Give us a shovel. Rain? Give us an umbrella. But for most people, the starting gun to fire up the grill is Memorial Day. With that now behind us, it’s time to plan ahead for the tsunami of summer barbecues.
There is more to the grilling ritual than making smoke. First, there’s some serious thought that goes into selecting steak, burgers, ribs or fish. You can’t even start that discussion without a glass of wine. Then, there’s a serious discussion with your spouse about who to invite to a party. Really, do you want to start that without a glass of wine? Then there is a debate over what wines to pour that won’t cost more than a bag of charcoal. Better open another bottle as you peruse our list of the Top 12 red wines for a perfect summer barbecue.
Grilled or smoked foods – “barbecue” is technically smoked – is often accompanied by tomato-based sauces. Together with meat's fat-and-juicy nature, sauces are best matched with boisterously juicy red wines that are focused on upfront fruit. Fortunately, these don't have to be expensive, which is good news if you have a crowd to please. Zinfandel, zinfandel-blends, syrah and malbec are good choices because they satisfy all these elements.
Gary Sitton, director of winemaking for Ravenswood, attributes the success of the zinfandel-barbecue match to the grape variety’s “approachability, ripeness of the fruit profile and its acidity, which helps to balance fat.”
Zinfandel is also an all-American grape for an all-American holiday.
Ravenwood is one of the most historic zinfandel producers in (Sonoma County), thanks largely to its founder Joel Peterson. At one time Ravenswood claimed one out of four zinfandels sold in the United States. It's iconic $10 Vintner's Blend is largely credited with that success, and today it's still the brand's cash cow.
Here are our dozen suggested red wines to put next to this weekend's grill:
Ravenswood Old Vine Zinfandel Napa Valley 2014 ($18). We liked the layers of fruit in this classic old-vine zin. Vibrant cherry and jammy blackberry flavors with hints of clove and vanilla.
Predator Old Vines Zinfandel 2015 ($16). Made from Lodi vines ore than 50 years old, this complex zinfandel is a blockbuster. Deep and soft raspberry flavors with a dose of spice.
Cigar Zinfandel 2015 ($20). Behind the creative label here is a broad-shouldered wine that struts generous aromas and juicy, dark berry flavors with a dash of mocha.
XYZin Reserve Zinfandel 2013 ($30). Geyer Peak's successful XYZin rises to a new level with this juicy, jammy version. Good tannin with forward blackberry and raspberry flavors.
Artezin Mendocino County Zinfandel 2015 ($16). Mendocino County produces some of California's best zinfandel because its warm days and cool nights provides balanced acidity. About 15 percent of wine is made of petite sirah grapes which give the wine a deeper color and more power. It starts with cherry, red currant and black pepper aromas and ends with forward, raspberry flavors with a good dose of clove.
Quivira Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel 2014 ($25). One of our favorite zinfandels year to year, the Quivira is one of many zinfandel stars in Dry Creek Valley. Dark fruit aromas range from plums to blackberries while the flavors are found, concentrated and lasting.
SAVED 2014 ($25). This blend is made mostly from malbec grapes but blended with syrah, merlot, grenache, zinfandel, petit verdot and souzao – quite a mouthful but nonetheless delicious. With an attractive label designed by tatoo artist Scott Campbell, it has masculine written all over it. Great with barbecued and smoked foods, it has ripe plum and black cherry notes with a good dose of cocoa and round, slightly sweet texture.
Columbia Crest Grand Estates Syrah Columbia Valley 2014 ($12). This very well made syrah is emblematic of Columbia Crests consistent performance producing high quality varietally correct wines at a bargain basement price. The wine opens with a mocha and berry nose with ripe fruit flavors and ending with a black pepper note. Decidedly syrah and very pleasing.
Burgo Viejo Rioja Crianza 2012 ($14). Kysela can be counted on to import some of the best values to the U.S. This simple crianza has soft and generous black fruit flavors, a floral nose and a good dose of vanilla.
Rutherford Ranch Two Range Red Wine 2014 ($25). This delicious blend of petite sirah, merlot, cabernet sauvignon and syrah bursts on the palate with forwrad, juicy strawberry and raspberry flavors and a healthy dose of chocolate.
Argento Malbec Mendoza Argenäna 2015 ($14). A traditionai style Argentinian malbec this is a very good example. Bright plum and cherry nose and flavors with a hint of cedar. Would pair well with most beef dishes.
Santa Cristina Rosso Toscana 2015 ($13). One of the best buys on the market today, this delicious, everyday wine is a blend of the native sangiovese, cabernet sauvignon, merlot and syrah. Loads of ripe cherry fruit with tantalizing hints of mint and spice.