Officially, about a month of summer still remains on the calendar, but few would argue with Labour Day on the horizon the end of the long warm days is near. To prepare for the coming cool evenings and to celebrate the roots of Labour Day as it approaches, I wanted to explore my latest list of "workhorse" reds you can enjoy all fall but are great for barbecuing in the meantime.
The job of any workhorse red is to be widely available, tasty and affordable - no easy task in the modern wine business. Sources of such wines lead us to Argentina for malbec and malbec blends, Spain for garnacha-based labels, the south of France for grenache/syrah blends, Australia for shiraz and shiraz blends, California for zinfandel and even Italy for sangiovese cabernet blends.
The styles all differ but the texture and tannins for the most part are soft and round and inviting. They're often better with food, usually something like grilled chicken or beef dishes or a piece of cheese. The protein helps to mitigate any youthful tannins or rough edges that can dry out your palate, especially in the finish.
Two Spanish red blends get the ball rolling, beginning with the Castillo de Liria Bobal & Shiraz 2007 ($9) . The bobal takes its name from the Latin bovale referencing the shape of a bull's head. In fact, the wine is a bit gamy with roasted pepper, tobacco, herbal, cherry aromas and flavours but with a soft, easy-sipping demeanour. A barbecue red at a fair price.
Look for a soft, dry pleasant entry from Lujuria 2006 Merlot - Monastrell ($10) , also from Spain, a 70/30 blend of monastrell (mourvèdre) and merlot. The flavours mix coffee, dark chocolate, plummy red fruit with spice and smoke throughout. Good value and fun to drink. Love the price.
Serious oenophiles should gravitate to the Espelt Sauló Garnacha Cariñena 2007 ($16) . It's awash in a black raspberry nose with bits of leather and a warm palate with meaty, peppery, cedar, black cherry and raspberry flavours. An excellent food wine from a winery whose vineyards border the great Spanish restaurant, El Bulli.
France remains the master of the red blend especially in the south. Languedoc is the home of Chateau de Cabriac 2006 ($15) , a mix of syrah, grenache, carignan and mourvèdre that over-delivers for its price. Expect a dry palate with smoky, plum, liquorice root, resin, peppery, cedar flavours. Think grilled flank steak or a fall stew for the perfect match.
A favourite summer discovery is the Louis Bernard Côtes du Rhône Rouge 2007 ($15) , a blend of grenache, syrah and mourvèdre from the villages of the Côtes du Rhône. I love the supple, smooth palate and the big black cherry, liquorice, peppery, mineral flavours. Grilled sausages will take this excellent red to an even higher level.
Argentina is on fire right now and you can pick from a variety of labels. Among the consistent and affordable is Trivento Reserve Malbec 2007 ($13) , or the Pascual Toso Malbec 2008 ($14) or the Alamos Malbec 2008 ($17) .
Interesting new offerings include the Xumek Sol Huape Malbec 2007 ($22) , an appealing style of malbec from north of Mendoza in San Juan. The nose is fragrant; the palate is silky smooth with bright black fruit flavours. Equally appealing is the Valle Las Acequias Malbec 2005 ($20) . The nose is an enticing mix of violets, red fruits and plums. The palate is an impressive mix of silky high Medrano fruit with intense flavours of plums and liquorice. Steaks, anyone?
I can't resist one last highly recommended malbec: Don Miguel Gascon Malbec 2007 ($17) . The Gascon is built with soft edges and plenty of warm, smoky, white pepper and floral fruit. Rich and balanced, it totally over-delivers for the price. Try this with barbecued spareribs or grilled chicken.
California has been riding under the wine radar for some time with its pricey red blends playing second fiddle to many Old World offerings, but there are labels that boast the ripe fruit that made California wine so popular two decades ago.
The Mad Housewife Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 ($14) is simply fun. Look for a soft, supple entry with bright cherry fruit marked with bits of milk chocolate and mint. No rough edges here in what is really a friendly-style California cabernet that delivers for the price. If you are looking for a bit bigger bite and something a little different, the Bridlewood Syrah 2005 ($17) opens with soft, silky textures and follows that with meaty black fruit/blackberry flavours flecked with liquorice.
Italian wine fans should seek out Le Volte 2007 ($34) and its delicious mix of sangiovese (51 per cent) merlot (34 per cent) and cabernet sauvignon (15 per cent). You notice a fragrance and freshness seldom seen in New World reds, not to mention a sense of balance and harmony that keeps you coming back to the glass. Impressive.
Finally from Australia, it's worth noting the Penfolds Bin 138 Shiraz - Mourvèdre - Grenache 2006 ($35) . The mix here is 39/32/29 shiraz/grenache/mourvèdre all matured in five-year-old French and American oak. Glossy candied fruit with spicy orange, mineral cedar and tobacco fill out its considerable but soft length. Grilled lamb chops come to mind.
For those on a tighter budget, look to the Thomas Hyland Shiraz 2006 ($20) a red made from select parcels of South Australian shiraz in the Adelaide region. The style is dry and peppery with lovely density and richness throughout. The palate is packed with plummy/blueberry/boysenberry fruit you can drink all day. Or seek out Hellbent Shiraz Cabernet 2006 ($17) , a shiraz/cabernet sauvignon blend with plenty of blackberry jam, cola, cassis and liquorice flavours.
Okay, you've got a good list of workhorse reds as long as your arm to get you started. Now fire up the barbecue and enjoy the last few weeks of summer before the 2010 entourage takes over the town.
Anthony Gismondi is a globetrotting wine writer who makes his home in West Vancouver, British Columbia. For more of his thoughts on wine log onto www.gismondionwine.com