Red wines for the grill


Memorial Day is the official opening of grilling season, at least for those living in less hospitable Northern climates, so the four wines this month are designed to be drunk around the grill.

Two are in the lower price range, since what comes off the grill doesn’t always call for the finest Napa Cabs, but instead for a wine that’s easy to enjoy and blends well with the food. Both passed the half-bottle headache test, worth noting since the failure rate in this range can be quite high!

For a light red to go with salmon or chicken, try the Colombelle 2007 Vin de Pays des Côtes de Gascogne Rouge from Southwest France. Producteurs Plaimont, whose brand this is, was formed in the ‘70s, when several of the more enlightened wineries joined forces to produce wine that reflected the territory and yet was acceptable to the market. Their grapes come from the members of the group and their red is mainly Tannat, a traditional regional grape that is also becoming the signature grape of Uruguay.

To make it more market-acceptable, they blend some Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. What emerges is an agreeably light and fruity dry wine, relatively low (12 percent) in alcohol, and with none of the overbearing, over-ripe fruit flavors of some wines in this range.

Argentina may be even more addicted to charcoal than we are, and their signature wine is clearly produced with the grill in mind. The grape, Malbec, originated in Southwestern France and has prospered in the high altitude vineyards of Mendoza. The Elvira Calle winery began a decade ago as a joint venture involving Kirk Ermisch, at the time a Kendall Jackson executive and now the sole owner. His Alberti 154 2009 Mendoza Malbec is a fruity wine that’s almost sweet because the acidity is low, even though there’s not much residual sugar. These characteristics are the result of the way the grapes ripen and the tannins soften at the high altitude. It would blend well with many marinades and barbecue sauces with a hint of sugar.

The food-friendly reds from the lower Rhône Valley in France inspired several Californian wineries to work with the same grapes, and the Cline 2008 Cashmere is a good example. This family-owned winery has focused, since its foundation, on resurrecting the Rhône varietals that fell out of favor in the ‘60s and ‘70s. The blend is mainly Mourvèdre, with Grenache and Syrah, and the alcohol (15 percent) is fairly high, meaning that the grapes were fully ripe, the tannins softer, and the acidity lower. The wine has a similar hint of sweetness, again without containing much actual sugar, to the Malbec. However, the Mourvèdre contributes a more intense, dark fruit flavor so that it can go well with a variety of meats.

Last, a wine for steak rather than ribs or burgers.   Zinfandel and Primitivo are both descended from an ancient Croatian grape. Zinfandel arrived in California way of Austria and the East Coast, and Primitivo, via Italy.   The Brutocao 2005 Primitivo from Mendocino comes from a family owned winery with an Italian heritage and the wine is made in a much more Italian, and food-friendly, style than that of a typical CA Zin. The vineyard is only 10 years old, so the wine doesn’t have the “old vine” intensity, and yet there is plenty of character and the balance between fruit and tannins and the clean, dry finish seem just right.   It’s definitely worth that bit extra.

Where to Find Them (Distributors in parenthesis): the Colombelle (Aleph) is $9 at World Market; the Malbec (Millenium) is $12 at Rollers and on the list at Mickey’s Pub, Daniel’s, and Angler’s Grill; the Cashmere (RNDC) is $15-17 at Down the Hatch and Rollers; the Primitivo (Grassroots) is $21-22 at A Wine and Spirit Shop and Rollers.