Even though summer just began June 21, the grilling season has been with us for some time now. If there is doubt, just look in all the life style magazines. Grilling and outdoor parties have been the main topic for the last two to three months showing us everything from how to make the most awe inspiring cole slaws to go with the expertly grilled hot dogs, to the machines that chop the cabbage into the proper shape and size. Of course, paper plates are not white anymore, they have to color coordinate with the napkin and cup in a pattern that hides the three bean salad that gets dumped on plates despite protests.
There is one thing about the grilling that makes it the highlight of the summer, the wine that accompanies all these dishes. Neither wine nor food is made to stand out, but instead accompany one another making a harmonious blend of culinary delight. Despite the heat of summer when light to medium bodied whites are the rage, they do not have that same taste that seems to fit so well with a steak or a pork loin, or what ever comes off of the grill. And while I will hold to my ideal that everyone should drink what they like, a good red wine does something for me in my relationship with grilled food no white will ever do.
Let us at this point be more specific. When it comes to grilling, the red of choice for the past several years has been, and still is, Zinfandel. A full bodied red wine with a hint of sweetness that makes it markedly different from Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel was made for grilled meats with its taste of dark fruit and spice that is followed by a long finish, aged in a judicious amount of both French and American oak. It has become a major component in what is considered by many to be the art of outdoor cooking.
A zin that sits atop many good wine lists is 2008 Cline’s Ancient Vine Zinfandel ($12.99 in some stores), a wine that almost defies description. The vines themselves are approximately eighty to one hundred years old or more and produce only a small amount of fruit, but with a very concentrated flavor. Cline takes this concentration and turns it into very deep, spicy richness that excites the senses and brings the grilled product into a world of sophistication all its own.
Just when the standard has been set, along come the Argentinians with their Malbecs. After several years of not having to worry about what to serve when grilling, this wine has arrived with a depth of character never before imagined from a non European wine. Running a close second behind Zinfandels, Malbec offers a new and exciting twist on the harmony everyone hopes to arrive at when pairing wine with grilled foods.
Case in point being the 2007 Trinchero Golden Harvest Malbec which was presented to me recently as a gift from my daughter, Emily. After allowing it to breathe for about thirty to forty minutes, the taste blossomed into a smoky, dark fruit phenomenon where not only was the fruit prevalent, but also the presence of the land from which the grapes were grown was blended in for an experience that could only be described as magnificent. There was not enough wine in the bottle to make it last until the next grilling, however the components were there that pointed to this wine being an excellent pairing for a meal fresh off the grill.
Whether or not it proves to be true, grilling in the Summer of 2011 has all the indications of taking a major turn with not only the development of more sophisticated Zinfandels, but also the addition of some of Argentina’s best: Malbec.