Summer is here! This declaration is of some importance considering the winter that we in Western North Carolina endured at the beginning of 2014. Accompanying summer is the ongoing circuit of cookouts. “Your house? My house? Our friend down the street?”
[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he cookout is a holy endeavor punctuated with barbeque sauce and special dry rubs on racks of ribs and chicken, hot dogs, and perfectly sculpted burgers charring on the grill. We stand around the blazing cooking surface talking about baseball, soccer, or an upcoming football season while the kids run amok in the yards and parks playing tag and hide-and-go-seek. Fireflies flare up their illuminating language and puppies yip and roll in the grass. The cookout is a magical time that seems to slow down the rest of our chaotic world.
What really sets off this immaculate conception of food, friends, and the sweet smell of freshly cut grass? Silly to forget one of the underpinnings of such gatherings, but I won’t begrudge you.
Wine. It is the oldest and simplest of beverages discovered by humans. Its liquidity flows through those slow evenings at cookouts and birthday parties like a cool, babbling creek. Are you there yet? Glass in one hand, plate in other, laughing at your friend’s best one-liner? Good. So run to your local, independent bottle shop for the perfect mix-matched case to go with this exceptional evening.
First off, the chilled white wine. I bet the varietals that probably came into your head when I mentioned white wine was Pinot Grigio and Chardonnay. Aunt June and Cousin Patty would be satisfied with these selections and there is nothing wrong with them (in fact, wine choices are never really wrong to the person with the glass in their hand), but for this particular season you may want to consider more. If I’m right, continue reading.
This summer’s cookouts deserve something different and possibly more exciting. Now close your eyes and think “acidity” and “brightness” on your tongue. Is the idea in your mind? Take another minute and really think. Next, open your eyes with that good looking bottle shop clerk and say, “I want a Sauvignon Blanc or a Chenin Blanc. Or maybe a Torrontes?”
Don’t worry about the budget. You are in the huge sweet spot of eight to fifteen dollars a bottle for these kinds of wines. For example, Hill & Dale Sauvignon Blanc from South Africa over delivers in the acidity (in this case, the part that gives you the citrus fruit notes) and balancing factors of semi-rich textures (the way the wine feels in your mouth) and some smoky vegetal-ness. California, of course, kicks out some great Sauvignon Blanc with more candied fruit, while New Zealand exudes a leaner body and more green pepper on the palette.
Chenin Blanc holds up in the summer cookout line up just as well. This is not as popular as the mainstream varietals I spoke about previously. Chenin Blanc originated in France in the Loire Valley but globetrotted as far south as South Africa (I know, they do the best summertime wines though). There, Chenin, or steen as it was called, sports very ripe tropical fruit tones that marries with spicier foods very comfortably. Glass of this and some hot wings and you won’t think twice about Chenin Blanc. Ken Forrester Petite or The Royal are some great brands to bank on.
Third in the white wine cookout line up: Torrontes. A Spanish grape that migrated to South America during colonial times and cropped up on the American wine scene with another obscure wine, Malbec. Torrontes is usually produced in Argentina and is the country’s answer to Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio. Usually light in the mouth and floral on the nose, Torrontes delivers some great acidity without the citric tones of some of these other whites. Tilia, Pascual Toso, and Kaiken are wonderful producers, with their price points coming in under fifteen dollars.
[quote float=”right”]The cookout warrants easier tannins and maybe lighter consistency.[/quote]Do you need red? Of course, that was a silly question. The key here is to push the Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlots to the side when it’s a quieter evening and dinner is a rare steak and some potatoes. The cookout warrants easier tannins and maybe lighter consistency—there is a theme to the structure of these wines that resonates more for the reds than the whites. It’s hot outside, the humidity is through the roof and to drink a heavy wine with a heaped up chilidog is like chugging milk and running a mile. Don’t dwell on it further.
Choices for accommodating reds should start out with Pinot Noir (but of course, in your best French accent). Pinot is still one of the most popular wines on the shelf almost a decade after Sideways came out and for some great reasons. It can pair with a lot at holiday meals including chicken and pork. Tone down those wings and the ribs a little in the spice department then pour yourself a healthy dose of Pinot Noir. The cherry dominates the fruit profile, and the lighter texture of the wine accommodates our charcoal smoking soiree. Finding the buys in Pinot are harder but are out there like Felicite from South Africa (I know, I know) and Zorzal from Argentina.
A good lighter Zinfandel can make it at the cookout as well. Zin’s body can be mercurial in that the texture is not always this sticky heavy fruit bomb that is so popular. Sometimes we can find a truer Zinfandel that is lighter on the residual sugars, and with less heft on the palette it becomes that perfect summer wine. Less on the white pepper and jammy consistency and more acidic with the fruit that in essence lightens the body. Zinfandel is one of the perfect burger wines out there so make it a steady part of your grilling agenda. Usually from California look for Four Vines or Three for values while maybe considering taking a walk on the wild side and trying the Hyatt’s Zilla Gorilla from Washington state.
Finally, on the red front, a more obscure wine from Spain, a place I feel is making amazing, food-friendly and value-centric wines. I give you Monastrell in all of her even keeled and balanced glory. Monastrell translates to Mourvedre, which the French in the Rhone Valley use as a blending grape to balance out their Côtes-du-Rhône reds. In Spain, Monastrell is its own single varietal wine and traditionally exudes dark fruit without over ripening. It has the body of the lighter Zinfandel I described, but the tannin structure is a little more forward resulting in a just a hair more austerity. I would give a glass of this with a slider to a very traditional wine drinker and watch them smile. A couple of fan favorites to scout out: Hecula and Casa Castillo, which typically don’t retail over twelve to thirteen dollars.
I think we have sufficiently supplied this Saturday’s wine list for burgers and wings. Just remember that these wines are at your local indie bottle shops that count on you and your social graces of never arriving empty handed to thrive and grow in your community. Now, turn up the Steve Earl and Otis Redding on the stereo and pour up a glass of wine because summer is here and the food is on the grill!