~ by Jenny Benzie, Advanced Sommelier + Certified Wine Educator, Proprietress of Épernay Wine & Spirits ~
Summertime on Nantucket is not complete without grilling as much and as often as you possibly can. Whether it’s fresh corn and other produce from Bartlett’s Farm, your catch of the day after fishing on the Herbert T, the Albacore, or the Just Do It, Too, or simply making s’mores from the glowing embers of your fire, the smell of cooking out is something that lingers long after the last sip of wine you drank with your meal.
You’ve seen the quote before. “I cook with wine, sometimes I even add it to the food.” It is only apropos to quench your thirst while taking the helm and captaining the grill. As we start to roll into the end of summer, now is great time to start tasting some lighter reds that are perfect for char marks and cool evenings.
Barbera is an indigenous Italian grape variety that is the most planted in Northwest Italy. Being that it is the most traditional wine among the Piedmont region, it is considered a daily staple of life there. This grape produces a wine that is known for its deep crimson color with a low tannin structure that makes it an extremely quaffable red on a hot summer day. It also has high levels of acidity, which make it perfect for pairing with grilled meats with or without a sauce.
These wines tend to offer aromas of fresh red and black fruits (think mixed berry pie). The wine is typically aged for a short period of time in used, slightly toasted, oak barrels that help to smooth the intense fruitiness that is predominate in the grape. The toasty oak also brings out slight hints of mocha, vanilla, and hazelnuts in the wine. It adds complexity that would otherwise be lost amongst all that fruit. This will also allow the wine to age in your cellar if you like a couple years longer than if it wasn’t aged in oak. It is important to find a quality Barbera that will balance the amount of this fruitiness with the high acidity and low tannin. The sweet sensation you may experience in this wine is essentially due to the moderate acidity and to the delicacy of tannins. This is a perfect pairing for spicy sausages with grilled zucchini and squash. RECOMMENDED WINE: Marchesi di Barolo, Barbera d’Alba, “RUVEI” 2012
Tempranillo happens to be the most planted red grape variety in Spain. Where in the country it is grown will determine the outcome of the wine, based on the differences in climate. The softest style expression of this grape comes from the Rioja region, located south of the Cantabria Mountains along the Ebro River, which has a continental climate. Unlike other regions in Spain that grow Tempranillo, such as Toro and Ribera del Duero, red wine from Rioja tends to be blended with other red varietals versus being made as a single varietal. Garnacha Tinta (Grenache) adds some body and alcohol. Mazuelo offers seasoning flavors of pepper and exotic spices, Graciano adds more color and the ability to help the wines to age. The soil in this region is clay based which imports dry, dusty earthy tones on the palate.
Wine from Rioja is moderate to high in tannin and moderate to high in alcohol. The wines from this region are classified by different styles based on how long they have been oak aged. The longer the wine is aged translates into the higher the quality of wine from this region. A wine labeled Crianza has spent at least one year in oak and one year in bottle. A Reserva has been aged at least one year in barrel and two years in bottle. A Gran Reserva, made only in the best of years and considered top of the line, sees at least two years in oak and three years in bottle. This highest classification will produce a wine with a layered tannin structure. It has potential to age even longer, but is amazing to drink upon release as it has already been aged at least 5 years before it is available. This wine will have exotic layers of dried fruit, leather tobacco, vanilla and clove with a lingering finish. Delicious with your grilled and marinated pork tenderloin. RECOMMENDED WINE: Hacienda Lopez de Haro, Rioja, Gran Reserva 2008
Zinfandel is a well-known grape grown in California, although it is not widely planted across the state. Zinfandel has been long thought of as “America’s vine and wine” since it was produced in larger quantities by Italian immigrants when they first immigrated to California and started planting vines more than 50 years ago. The grape itself has been genetically linked to the Croatian grape Crljenak Kastelanski and also the Primitivo variety traditionally grown in Apulia, the region known as “the heel” of Italy.
Zinfandel produces a robust red wine. Due to the higher content of sugar found naturally in Zinfandel, this wine tends to be higher in alcohol and sometimes can even exceed 15% alcohol by volume as the norm. When grown in slightly cooler climates, the grape exudes red berry fruit flavors of ripe raspberries where warmer climates bring out more blackberry and anise. Either way, black pepper and tobacco are common in any zinfandel.
When blended with Syrah or Petite Sirah versus being bottled as a straight varietal wine, the wine can tend to be jammy, briary and have sweet concentrated fruit. These wines typically are aged about a year in new oak in order to get that juicy, rich texture associated with their flavor profile. This is perfect for a wellmarbled steak that needs a lot of tannin to cut through the fatty meat. RECOMMENDED WINE: Quivira, Zinfandel, Dry Creek Valley/Sonoma County 2012
Malbec is more of an inky, purple hued grape variety known for its robust tannins. Its origin is from Cahors in Southwestern France and is used as a blending grape in the Bordeaux region. Its recent popularity hails from Mendoza, Argentina.
Even though the skin color is dark in hue, the grape itself is thin skinned therefore producing lighter style wines than the similar dark colored Syrah. The wine tends to be plum like in flavor with moderate, juicy tannins. Argentina’s prized Malbec is grown in high altitude vineyards located in the foothills of the Andes Mountains. These tend to be softer and more elegant in style than wines grown in the heat of the valley floor. They also are typically aged in French oak for a short duration of time to enhance the layers of complexity without making the wine too chewy or extracted in flavors. Think lamb chops on the grill that compliment the slight gaminess of the wine. RECOMMENDED WINE: Don David, Malbec Reserve, Calchaqui Valley 2013
Whether you are brushing up on your grilling skills, trying new rubs or marinades for your meats or keeping it just plain simple, remember that finding that perfect food and wine pairing takes patience and some experimentation to get it right. Be sure to keep this in mind and purchase a couple different bottles of wine to sample with your grilling masterpiece. Who knows, you might even use some of the wine to add to the food.