The first, warm, out-of-doors long weekend of the year is nearly upon us and that usually means some barbecue facetime for most of us. I'll leave the food to you, but I thought today I would come up with some stellar backyard wine picks to help you better celebrate three days off.
It's fair to say barbecue wines as a category didn't really exist a generation ago, even if we were in the backyard grilling. Beer was likely the drink of choice and while there is more beer than ever, today the list of barbecue wines is equally long.
The problem is filtering your way through all the junk, bulk wine that masquerades as best-bet barbecue picks. Too often retailers classify a barbecue wine as one with the lowest cost and the highest margin where they maximize their return and you get an overpriced ordinary wine for your money. This weekend our plan is to help you reverse that equation getting real quality for less.
Rosé continues its rise at retail with wine drinkers but it's a minefield to navigate on store shelves. Something dry or just off dry is the ticket and with very little colour. There are hundreds of pretenders on the shelf, but our pick is the real thing and it comes from the south of France.
La Vieille Ferme Côtes du Ventoux Rosé ($18.99 1.5L), is made by Famille Perrin, the same people who make the globally popular $60 Cotes de Province Jolie Pitt Perrin Miraval Rosé for Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt. Its palest of orange colour is super chic; the floral, strawberry, spicy aromas entice and the strawberry, cherry, citrus flavours make it a delicious drop to drink. Very food-friendly and in the 1,500-millilitre magnum format it impresses even though the price is equivalent to $9.50 a bottle.
There is growing interest in white wines of all sorts and while New Zealand sauvignon blanc has a lot of fans I'm recommending a slightly less acidic version with just a hint more texture. The Errazuriz Max Reserva Sauvignon Blanc 2015 ($16.99) is sourced only 13 kilometres from the Pacific Ocean. It spends about three months on its lees to add some creamy, voluminous textures to support its juicy lemon, tropical fruit flavours with a sprinkle of food friendly dried herbs throughout. Grilled fish or chicken are easy matches, and it also works well with vegetarian kebobs.
The viognier grape comes with a bit more perfume and fruit on the nose and palate that feels fatter in the mouth. It is a perfect match for some take-out style party foods like Thai or Indian foods, or standard barbecue ribs swathed in a sweet sauce. The pick is the bargain Cono Sur Bicicleta Viognier 2015 ($9.99) with its creamy guava flavours laced with pear, lime rind and apricot and peaches. It's real wine, produced sustainably even at $10, not some mass produced blend. Perfect with grilled halibut.Ormarine Picpoul de Pinet 2014 ($15.99) is an amazing summer sipper that makes almost any food better. Picpoul blanc is a lesser-known Rhône grape used primarily as a blending component to take advantage of its acidity. The name literally translates to "lip stinger," a nod to its bright acidity and fresh lemony flavours. Think of it as a squeeze of lemon on your food, assisted by notes of honey, quince and ginger. Pour this to add some electricity to your pre-dinner charcuterie plate or you can serve it with a pail of steamed clams or fish tacos.
Red wines that will make your weekend barbecue go smoothly begin with a soft juicy, mostly grenache from the southern Rhone. The Delas Ventoux ($15.99) is an 80/20 mix of grenache/syrah that comes out of the glass with a spicy, black cherry, licorice notes. The palate is similar with smooth, juicy, savoury black cherry fruits. The style is simple enough but it's one hard to find in the currently over-sugared world of cheap, red wine. Try this with barbecue ribs, pork kebabs or maybe the simplest and best barbecue item — the hamburger.
If you are a barbecue pizza fan we recommend a fun Chianti. No easy find, by the way, it's the Castello di Gabbiano Chianti Il Cavaliere 2014 ($13.29). Most toppings will work here but take your cue from this wine and keep it simple; two or three flavours are all you need for a great tasting pizza. Expect a fresh, red-fruited sangiovese with cherries and a touch of grilled mushroom and little or no tannins. It's ready to drink and offers real value in a simple but tasty European style red. Super value.
I'm a big fan of malbec and, frankly, in Argentina malbec and grilled beef is the match of the day, month, and year. One of my favourite authentic malbecs well under $20 is the Crios Malbec by Susana Balbo ($14.99). A touch of spicy bonarda is the perfect foil to the aromatic floral/violet, black fruit notes on the nose. The palate is a sweet and savoury mix of black fruit, spice in balanced measured way. Grilled beef and or chicken all work here. The price has been marked down $2 this month making it a pure bargain. Stock up for the barbecue season.
If you want to surprise your guests with your wine know-how consider serving a 10-year-old Spanish red you can buy for only $18. The Monasterio de las Vinas Gran Reserva ($17.99) is a fully mature mix of garnacha, tempranillo and cariñena now soft, complex and full of savoury flavours of tobacco, old barrels and spicy fruit cake. This is your lamb wine or, after dinner, pull out some old cheese to nibble on and open this to top off the evening. Ready to drink now.Two final mainstream barbecue picks sure to be a hit with guests are the Marques de Casa Concha Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 ($20.99) a delicious savoury, smoky, black fruit flavoured red that screams steak and the Heartland Shiraz Cabernet Spice Trader ($17.99) from Langhorne Creek, South Australia. A classic rich peppery, meaty shiraz that is magic with grilled meats or chicken. Enjoy the extra day off.
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.