Wine Notes – Red, White and Blue
American Wines for Summertime
Countrymen … and women … with Independence Day upon us and socially distanced barbecue season in our midst, it’s time we take action! We must seek out the best and most interesting wine parings to share with friends and family who we hope will serve us green vegetables, smoky ribs, crispy chicken and grilled striped bass.
Barbecue season presents interesting challenges for wine lovers, as pairings are difficult to find for savory, smoky and spicy flavors. In the end, we don’t want to succumb to drinking Bud Light. And this summer we face another challenge, as wine stores haven’t been allowed to offer tastings, making it a lot harder to get a feel for what we want. For assistance, I turned to an expert — Andrea Lewis of Andover Classic Wines — who helped me discover this year’s best All-American red, white and blue wine selections.
Red wine at a barbecue must be able to pair with burgers, hot dogs and, in the case of this author, my famous barbecue chicken glazed with sweet and spicy sauce. To make these pairings work, you need to stay away from wines that have high tannins, like malbec and cabernet sauvignon. These wines just don’t taste good with ketchup and mustard. The tannins conflict with the sweet flavors, so you’ll be reaching for a beer after your first sip.
Instead, find a wine that allows the fruit to shine through and has a smooth mouthfeel. Seek out zinfandel, syrah or grenache grapes to fill this slot. A nice example is “Folie à Deux,” which draws its name from a French expression meaning “a madness shared by two.” An American zinfandel produced in the Dry Creek Valley of Sonoma County, California, it presents a rich, full-bodied expression of the zinfandel grape — the notes of black cherry, mocha and strawberry jam will have you reaching for more. It’s modestly priced, so bring two bottles to share with your friends.
If you are prepared to spend a little extra cash, treat yourself to a bottle of Unshackled’s California red blend. The winemakers at The Prisoner Wine Co. in Oakville, California, have pulled out all the stops with this crazy offering. They have sourced zinfandel, malbec, petite sirah, syrah and grenache grapes from Monterey, San Benito, Paso Robles, Lodi, Sonoma’s Dry Creek, Mendocino’s Redwood Valley and Lake County California. On the back label, you will see the words “Freedom Is a State of Mind” at the top. Their “Freedom to Blend” has been taken to the extreme, producing a wine of unshackled creativity that you should surely experience.
It’s hard to believe, but some people serve a lot of vegetables at a barbecue, and you may be presented with a fresh arugula salad or grilled artichokes. Not just any wine will work with these bitter greens, but you can count on viognier (“vee-own-yay”) to fill this slot. Andrea suggested the Illahe (“Ill-uh-hee”) viognier from Willamette Valley, Oregon. Aged in stainless steel with no malolactic fermentation, the smooth acidity of this wine will shine through the strongest tasting vegetables. It offers notes of apricot, nectarine and kiwi, and will be appealing to those who typically drink chardonnay.
As I’m sticking with American-made products, I’ll skip over my favorite white wine, a sauvignon blanc from Marlborough region of New Zealand, and turn instead to the Honig Vineyard & Winery in Rutherford, California. This American sauvignon blanc has the full and flowery bouquet that I expect from this varietal. Being aged in stainless steel tanks, it also presents with the crisp flavors of peaches, lemons and white grapefruit without that buttery vanilla oak taste that torments me in California chardonnay. This is your choice to pair with striped bass, salmon or shrimp.
To complete our patriotic wine selection, plan a trip to New Hampshire to pick up a bottle of Hermit Woods Petite Blue, which is made in Meredith. This award-winning blueberry wine will remind your wine-loving friends that good wine can be made from fruit other than grapes. A full pound of wild Maine blueberries goes into each bottle of this unique wine. Crisp and well balanced, it is totally dry, unlike most fruit wines. It is aged in stainless steel and is my favorite to enjoy with smoked ribs.
I hope your Independence Day is filled with red, white and blue wine, but please don’t drink any of these selections from a red plastic cup. Salute!