By Dave Eckert
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Although colder weather never really deters me from venturing out to the grill or the smoker, now that the hot and humid conditions have returned, my draw to the back deck is even stronger. I have smoked ribs, chicken, and pork in the last couple of weeks. A brisket is in the works, and salmon is being brined for smoking as I write this. As for grilled items, I couldn’t even list everything that’s been reversed seared and finished on my Himalayan salt block! While some of the foods I grill and smoke are compatible with a white wine, most venture well into red wine territory. When it comes to picking a red wine for the summer months, there are two qualities I seek! First, the wine has to be great with a wide range of grilled and smoked items. Second, I like that wine served with a slight chill to it. Again, I bit off more than I can chew (pardon the pun) with my research, so I’ve broken the choices down to two articles-one focusing on domestic wines and one on foreign bottlings. I start with my patriotic picks.
Somerset Ridge Vineyard & Winery, Paola KS, Buffalo Red ($15.99 SRP) ~ I wanted to begin with some local selections as buying and supporting local businesses has never been more important. I don’t generally gravitate to semi-sweet wines, but Somerset Ridge’s Co-owner Cindy Campbell-Reynolds convinced me that the semi-sweet Buffalo Red was killer in Sangria. You know what, she’s right! Because of the sweetness, Buffalo Red also works with Kansas City-style barbecue and all sorts of spicy cuisine. I’d recommend buying at least two bottles, so you can try Campbell-Reynolds Sangria (recipe included below) and have some on its own to try with some spicy chicken wings.
Fence Stile Vineyards & Winery, Excelsior Springs, MO Fire Pit Red ($25 SRP) ~ Drier and fuller-bodied is Fence Stile’s Fire Pit Red. A blend of Norton and Chambourcin, Fire Pit Red is just that-a great wine for sipping around the fire with family and friends. As for food pairings, smoked baby back ribs come to my mind. If they come to yours, give me a holler!
TerraVox, Westin, MO, Cloeta ($39 SRP) ~ TerraVox is Latin for “voice of the land,” and I’ll tell you what, these wines really spoke to me when I tried them recently. Cloeta is a medium-bodied wine, about the weight of a Beaujolais Cru. It’s perfectly suited to be served slightly chilled, which I did with some grilled chicken with a spicy barbecue sauce. The wine’s fruit notes mixed with hints of pepper and herbs were perfect with the chicken. I only wish I had another bottle. Seems a trip to Westin or one down to Cellar Rat is in my future.
TerraVox, Westin, MO, Norton ($55 SRP) ~ Norton is the oldest and most widely planted American grape varieties, and if you taste this wine, you will understand why. Deep, dark, and dense, yet beautifully balanced, TerraVox’s Norton is everything you could want in a red wine (not just a local or regional red wine). It’s elegant and complex with layers of fruit, well-integrated tannins, and a long, lingering finish. I had it with some burnt ends from Jousting Pigs BBQ, and it was perfect. Yeah, it’s pricey, but it’s also memorable.
Angela Vineyard Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, Oregon ($35 SRP) ~ Angela Vineyard is a new producer for me. I was so impressed with their Chardonnay, which I recommended in my white wine picks last week. I am equally impressed with this Pinot Noir, which comes from the Yamhill-Carlton appellation. Elegant and balanced, this Pinot shows the best of what Oregon Pinot Noir can be, somewhere in between Burgundy and California, yet very much its own expression of one of the world’s greatest grapes. This is a wine worth seeking out.
Ironstone Vineyards, Lodi, CA, Petit Sirah ($9.99 SRP) ~ Lodi is famous for producing big red wines with tons of fruit and high levels of alcohol. They’re not always balanced, but they usually pack a wallop. What makes the Ironstone Petit Sirah so good is it possesses all of the good qualities Lodi is known for but none of the bad. Full-bodied and rich, yet extremely well-balanced, the Ironstone Petite Sirah is perfect for that juicy steak or burger hot off the grill. The fact that it’s just ten bucks is a terrific bonus.
St. Francis Winery & Vineyards, Sonoma, CA, Old Vine Zinfandel ($22 SRP) ~ Zinfandel is not my grape of choice. I often find them to be rather simple and heavy-handed. But the St. Francis Old Vine Zinfandel has been a favorite of mine for years. With just the right weight and heft and delightful complexity afforded by the older vines, this Zin hits all the right notes. Give it a little chill then try it with some smoked pork shoulder or butt!
Chronic Cellars, Paso Robles, CA, Purple Paradise ($15 SRP) ~ Two Zinfandel picks in one article? What is the world coming to? After recommending the Old Vine Zin from St. Francis, I thought it would be fun to select something at the other end of the Zin spectrum. From the always fun folks at Chronic Cellars in Paso Robles comes Purple Paradise, a Zin that packs a punch and puts a smile on the face of any red-blooded fan of full-bodied, high alcohol, California reds. Keep it simple, food-wise, with the bad boy. Perhaps some smoked or grilled sausage could tame the beast?
Beast, Columbia Valley, WA, Wildebeest Red Wine ($24 SRP) ~ Speaking of beasts, Nina Buty’s Beast line of wines never amaze and impress. This wine, aptly named Wildebeest, is a blend of Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Grenache, and Merlot. The Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon do the heavy lifting, giving the wine its weight while the Cabernet Franc, Grenache, and Merlot provide more fruit as they lift the mid-palate. Each variety from each vineyard was aged separately for 20-months in older oak allowing the wine to develop complexity and elegance without soaking up too much oak, which would wreck the wine’s balance. A grilled tenderloin might just do the trick!
Reininger, Walla Walla WA, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pepper Bridge Vineyard ($40 SRP) ~ From one of the more established vineyards in Walla Walla comes this beauty of a Cabernet Sauvignon. Dark fruit aromas leap out of the glass and flavors of cherries, currant, and plum are quick to follow. There’s plenty of oak, but it enhances rather than dominates. The finish is long and the tannins are present but not aggressive. I’m saving this wine for a grilled rack of lamb topped with charred red pepper strips.
Cote Bonneville Carriage House, Yakima Valley, WA ($50 SRP) ~ One of my favorite Washington State producers and one of my favorite Washington State wines, the Cote Bonneville Carriage House is a Bordeaux-style blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc. The grapes are sourced from a special block of Bonneville’s famed DuBrul Vineyard, which I had the good fortune to visit just last year. The wine is layered, refined, and elegant with just the right balance of fruit, earth, acidity, and tannin. I’d open this along with the Reininger Cab with the rack of lamb. May the best wine win!
Rutherford Ranch, Napa Valley, CA, Merlot ($26 SRP) ~ Ok, I know Merlot is never the sexy pick, but a well-made Merlot with the right combination of fruit, earth, tannin, and oak can be a real joy. That’s exactly the case with the Rutherford Ranch Merlot. The wine is an absolutely cornucopia of fruit, a hallmark of Merlot. But lest you think that would make the wine flabby, all of that fruit is balanced by a solid dose of oak and soft, fleshy tannins. Grilled salmon in a cherry or raspberry glaze would be the perfect fit!
Somerset Ridge Buffalo Red Sangria Recipe
One bottle Buffalo Red In a glass pitcher with sliced lemons, limes, and oranges. You can’t overdo the citrus! Let the mixture integrate for six to 24-hours in the refrigerator, pressing with a large spoon several times a day. Prior to serving, halve, peel and pit three peaches. Grill two-three minutes to caramelize the sugars. Slice and add to the sangria. Pour into glasses and top with Lucky Dog Hard Cider to cut sweetness and add bubbles! Add sliced citrus and a piece of peach to each glass. Cheers!