Bold Enough for Barbecue 

Wines that can hold their own with grilled meats may overwhelm when sipped on their own.

If the weather holds, we've got one more month of barbecue season in the coastal East Bay. Throughout most of the country, beer goes with barbecue, but given the chill of our summer evenings, wine can be a smarter choice for people who want to sit outside and not grow cold because of what they're drinking.

Last weekend, Judy and I entertained our gracious neighbors Wendy and Fredi and their two Swiss house guests, Monika and Rolf. Fredi, a world-class Swiss bargain shopper, procured us five budget-priced bottles that he pronounced well-suited to a backyard barbecue. It was an instructive lesson in drinking wines with food.

Yet our opener was not a wine and didn't go well with food. Verdi Raspberry Sparkletini ($4.99), a low-alcohol, wine-like malt beverage that calls itself "Italian Spumante," is made to be sipped on a hot afternoon. But like the wine coolers it is reminiscent of, it's an acquired taste. Wendy compared it to Jolly Rancher candy but liked it. Fredi called it too sweet "but not unpleasant." Basil described it as künstlich (artificial) and reminiscent of chaugummi (bubble gum).

We broke into the real wines well before I started grilling the chicken thighs. The 2007 Borsao ($6.99), a blend of Garnacha and Tempranillo we have enjoyed previously, struck most of us as a bit bold. Monika poured hers out, Rolf pronounced his leicht bitter (slightly bitter), and Undeveloped Palate was prompted to observe that she doesn't even like wine. The equally assertive Feudo Arancio 2006 Nero D'Avolo ($7.99) from Sicily won a couple more friends. Fredi pronounced it bold and tannic, and Judy said she was unmoved but would drink it. But Monika called it ä pfützä (swill).

Then I served dinner and an interesting thing happened. Wendy upgraded the Borsao from "nothing special" to "very special with barbecued chicken," and Judy changed her vote from "tart and sour" to "delicious with food." In fact, once dinner was served, we all loved everything. Monika said da isch schpitze (this wine is top!) about the Charamba 2006 Douro ($5.99) from Portugal, and Rolf called it allerwelt's wii (wine for everything). Wendy said it flies away with food, and even Undeveloped Palate called it "lite." I liked it too but found it astringent the next day on an empty stomach.

Everyone's favorite was the Rosenblum Vintner's Cuvée XXXI ($8.99). Wendy said she could drink it every night, Rolf called it fruchtig (fruity), and Monika said it was sehr guet (very good).

As a final test of the importance of food to these wines, we offered the Token Canine a whiff of the leavings from our spit jar. She turned up her nose and looked at us quizzically. But then again, she didn't get any chicken.


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