Does reading a German Riesling label leave you scratching your head and running for the beer aisle? Too much information on a label can be daunting especially when the words are in German. What the heck does “Kabinett” mean anyway? Thankfully, there is a method to the madness. The many designations on the label are designed to be helpful so that you can select something that you will like. Once you crack the code you can be confident in what you are buying and even (to some extent) what it will taste like.
As with all fun, festive celebrations, beverages are key to your Fourth of July party. And because you’re celebrating our nation’s birthday, keeping the wine American is a nice tribute. After all, our wine industry has come a long way since Mr. Jefferson’s attempt at vine growing in Virginia. As we gear up for the grill and what will go on it, I’ve been pondering the question – What to pair with it all?
Here are some wine picks for some typical 4th of July grills – some are common matches, but that’s because they work so well!
So these choices are slightly typical. But We’ve got a great deal on the Rubicon Cask Cabernet Sauvignon ‘05, and it’s one of my favorite California Cabs (organic grapes, too!) – it’s perfect for a small gathering as it’s a more pricey wine. It would be amazing with a grilled ribeye with just a little salt & pepper. Yum…
For larger get togethers, you’re going to want fun AND affordable – stock up on Avalon Cabernet Sauvignon ‘06 – good producer for under $20.
Love Syrah with meat. I’m often torn between peppery, spicy Syrah vs. Juicy, fruit-concentrated Syrah… It’s great to find a wine with both and the Havens Hudson Vineyard Syrah ‘04 does just that. But it’s also on the more pricy side, at the $40 mark – but SO worth it! If you’re really adventurous, try pairing it with grilled leg of lamb.
Oregon Pinot Gris– my pick for chicken and/or veggies
Oregon Pinot Gris is so delightful in the heat. It’s refreshing, but also so aromatic and lovely to sip over a summer evening. It’s hard to recommend producers as I have not yet had an Oregon Pinot Gris that I didn’t like! Some favorites include Adelsheim, Elk Cove, Willamette Valley Vineyards, Eyrie, Willakenzie Estate and King Estate. Most are on the ‘07 vintage, which was a cool vintage so the wines are nice and crisp. 2006 was warmer and that vintage produced a richer style of wine.
Rosé – My pick for pork, chips & salsa or anything with a spicy kick!
Rosé can be a great aperitif before the dinner, but a hearty one will go great with pork or another meat, especially if you have some spice on it. From lighter style to heavier style & from dry to sweet – Etude, Bonny Doon & Red Truck’s Pink Truck are nice matches. Note that the Pink Truck is off dry, so some spice is nice (try salsa on the pork).
Zinfandel –My pick for burgers
The great American grape. With the great American food. The sweet fruits & spice are a great match to a juicy burger. Bogle Old Vines or Gnarly Head are great value Zinfandels. If you want to go a bit higher, try the Murphy Goode Liar’s Dice – it’s got some kick to it. Ravenswood is a reliable producer with lots of different single vineyard wines to try and Ridge is a classic – the Three Valleys is a great burger pick.
Bubbly – My pick for fireworks
Okay, so you’re not grilling fireworks, but you definitely need some bubbles when you watch them! At the $20-ish mark, I love the Roederer Estate, Gloria Ferrer Blanc de Noirs and Schramsberg Mirabelle Brut Rose. Also a great choice is the Argyle Brut – best bubbly in Oregon! So pop the cork and watch those fireworks sparkle.
“Off the Beaten Path” wines, or OBP as we call them, are some of my favorites to talk about. If you think about how many grape varieties there are, most would classify as “off the beaten path,’ since the average wine drinker only recognizes about 10 – 20 different varietal wines. When consumers do see varietals they don’t recognize, they often pass them over since they are unsure of what to expect.
Here are some less-common white grapes to look out for this summer and a bit about their flavor profiles:
Torrontés – This grape hails from Argentina (although its DNA roots are likely from Spain or another Mediterranean country). It is fresh & aromatic, with a nose full of white flowers and ripe pear or peach. The palate typically has crisp acid with citrus, floral and peach or pear flavors. It’s refreshing, but also has an almost creamy texture. Crios de Susana Balbo is a classic Torrontés, consistently good year after year.
Grüner Veltliner – The great grape of Austria is increasing in availability! Hurrah! Grüner (sometimes called GRU-VEE) is a wonderful grape. The aroma and flavor of white pepper is a telltale sign of a good Grüner, and adds a spicy kick to the wine. This spiciness is backed by ripe fruits and an excellent acidity. Very good food wine and at it’s best, can be very complex.
Chenin Blanc – Once over-planted and over-produced in California, Chenin can make a bad wine. But it can also make fantastically delicious wine! Wines from Chenin Blanc range from very dry to very sweet, come from France, South Africa & California, and are really worth trying! In blind tastings I often mistake Chenin for Sauvignon Blanc. The dry style has zesty acid and crisp citrus notes, but also some tropical fruit and a touch of honey, especially if any late harvest grapes were used. If you want to try the dry styles, go for Chenin from South Africa of a Savennieres from the Loire. A touch of sweetness can be found in Vouvray, Coteaux du Layon, some other Loire regions. California Chenin Blancs can vary. so find out about the producer’s style before you buy. Dry Creek Vineyard is an great Chenin producer in the dry style.
Arneis – Hailing from the Piedmont region in northern Italy, Arneis makes interesting wines. They are nutty in aroma and flavor, with medium acidity. They can become oxidized after a few years, so drink it young. That said, the wines are delicious with peach and pear and sometimes a bit of chamomile. This wine can hold up to some food. Vietti makes an excellent Arneis and is one of my favorite producers of all things Piedmont.
It’s summertime, and the drinking is easy… and more often – we’re sipping wine during the day at BBQs and parties, in the sun and occasionally out of a plastic cup. I think of wine as seasonal and this is the season for crisp whites, juicy reds, and of course, the ultimate summer drink, rose! A good number of these wines are ideal for summer’s most popular container – the plastic cup.
Some of my favorites that fall into this category:
Sauvignon Blancs – Sauvignon Blanc is a perfect summer wine, particularly on those very hot days. They are excellent when served superc old, and their acidity is so deliciously refreshing. It makes a day gone bad become good. Chile and New Zealand are doing some excellent wines right now- some of my favorite producers include Santa Rita Floresta & Seresin.
Rosé – I am a rose junkie. From about April to September it’s what I like to keep constantly stocked in the fridge. Just can’t get enough of the dry pink drink. Crisp and refreshing like a white wine, but with lingering characteristics of the red wine it never became. California, Australia, South Africa and France are my favorites for dry rose. For specific producers, check out Mulderbosch, Bonny Doon, Chateau d’Aqueria, and Angoves.
Riesling – Riesling is too often overlooked because it’s the feared “sweet” wine. Not in every case! Not even in most cases. And the wines that are slightly sweet are balanced by a searing backbone of acidity, which gives it balance – something a good white wine needs. Add this to the reasonable alcohol level and you’ve got a perfect wine for BBQ food and long days in the sun. Try Pewsey Vale from Australia or Dom. Schlumberger from Alsace.
Zinfandel – Jammy and fun, Zinfandel is the typical wine for BBQ. It’s got the fruit, spice and tannins to match all that spice & sauce. Just watch the alcohol, it can be dangerous… Some great Zins are made by Murphy-Goode, Kenwood and Ridge.
Sustainable, organic and biodynamic are the current buzz words coming from wineries across the globe. Wineries and winemakers are making big green strides in the vineyard, as well as the cellar by utilizing these practices. Here’s a bit about all these concepts and what they mean for the wine you’re drinking, particularly what it means when Wine.com calls a wine GREEN.
Sustainable can be defined by three main goals – environmental stewardship, economic profitability and social and economic equity. That means that sustainable farmers are doing their best to give back to the environment and to the community, while also furthering their business. Sustainable farming may occasionally use synthetic materials, but only the least harmful and only when absolutely necessary. The goal is a healthy and productive soil that produces healthy vines and will continue to do so for future generations. Most certification organizations cover organic or biodynamic practices only. Because sustainable winegrowing is a broader term, there are less certification bodies for it. A few that do certify sustainable wineries are: LIVE (Low Input Viticulture & Enology) and the just-launched Oregon Certified Sustainable Wine, who promptly displays the tagline “Sustainability is a movement, not a buzz word,” on its landing page. Both are based in Oregon, the state that seems to be leading the sutainable certification process. We do think that more certification bodies for sustainable winegrowing and winemaking will pop up in the future, but at the moment there are not as many as the organic movement. Some sustainable producers I like: Argyle, Benton Lane, Domaine Drouhin, Willakenzie Estate, Willamette Valley Vineyards and Ponzi. Note that some of these producers may not have the green symbol because, while they practice sustainable agriculture, the wines are not specifically certified. Future vintages that do have certification will be green.
Organic farming is one step up from Sustainable. Farmers use no synthetic materials, but rely on natural fertilizers and pest control systems; the winery uses minimal filtration and fining materials and natural yeasts. The key here is excluding the use of any synthetic materials in the vineyard – no fungicides, no pesticides. Instead, crop rotation, cover crops, compost and biological pest control are used for the vines. Most wines termed “organic” are made from organically grown grapes. For a wine to be deemed fully “organic” by the USDA, it must contain no added sulfites. Sulfites act as a preservative, and while most producers using organically grown grapes use sulfites minimially, any addition of them deems the wine unworthy of the USDA’s “organic” label. But there are lots of other organizations other than the USDA that certify organic wines. Some of these organizations include California Certified Organic Foundation and Oregon Tilth. Some US organic producers that are delicious- Frogs Leap, Hagafen Cellars, and Sokol Blosser. Note that Sokol Blosser Evolution is not organic.
While trendy now, the biodynamic movement started almost a century ago in the 1920’s. In response to growing concern among European farmers regarding crop vitality in an industry increasingly dominated by chemical materials, Dr. Rudolf Steiner gave a series of lectures presenting the farm as a self-sustaining, living organism that needed to follow the earth’s schedule rather than the farmer’s. In 1928, the organization Demeter was formed. Demeter International is still around today and is the only certifying body for Biodynamic wines. Biodynamic practices use herbs, minerals and even manure for sprays and composts. They also plan vine care and harvesting schedules according to the astronomical calendar. The way Demeter so accurately sums it up: “Biodynamic® agriculture is an ecological farming system that views the farm as a self-contained and self-sustaining organism. Emphasis is placed on the integration of crops and livestock, recycling of nutrients, soil maintenance, and the health and well-being of the animals, the farmer, the farm, and the earth: all are integral parts that make up the whole.” If you look at some of their practices, such as using a spray made from manure buried in a cow horn for a year, it may seem a little hocus pocus, but all you need to do is taste the wines… the end product is usually stellar, and more and more wineries are starting to move towards these practices. A few producers who are certified biodynamic by Demeter USA: Benziger, Bonny Doon, Grgich Hills and Robert Sinskey. While their wineries are certified, not all of their wines are, since some grapes are sourced. We try to be as accurate as possible when calling a wine green so you may not see green symbols next to all these wines.
It’s also important to note that there are many organic and biodynamic wineries in Europe who have been practicing this type of farming for decades or longer, but they have not been certified due to the cost or bureaucracy involved. Some of them just don’t see the point – they dont’ care about it for marketing purposes and are just doing what has always made the best wines. Some green folks overseas who are certified include: Vietti, Chateau Beaucastel, Chapoutier, Seresin, Muga and Di Majo.
For finding “green” wines at Wine.com, look for our green wine icon. This represents those wineries using one of the above practices. Let us know which vineyards you know of who are practicing being green!