Summertime is barbeque time. The coals are lit, the meat and vegetables are marinating, and it’s time to open something tasty to drink. But what to choose? The setting is casual and easy, the food simple and straightforward-nothing too fancy, but nonetheless, we’re sure it will be really, really good. So that’s just what I’m looking for in a wine to sip with my supper.
Let’s say we’re having a mixed grill tonight, with chicken, steak, and seared ahi served with grilled vegetables. Three bottles emerge as favorites: one light-bodied import and two fuller-bodied Santa Barbara County wines. As a group, they are moderately priced, extremely well made, and offer outstanding value for the money. Most importantly, they are each delicious, and all available locally. (In this case, prices are from The Winehound at 1221 Chapala Street; thewinehound.com.)
• 2005 Domaine de Pallus “Les penseees de Pallus” Chinon, $19.99: The classic red grape of Chinon in France’s Loire Valley is cabernet franc and this cuvee offers a very tasty example of the variety’s potential. Winemaker Bertrand Sourdais has some of the best vineyard sites in Chinon and that quality is very apparent here. Juicy plum and ripe raspberry fruits are embraced by an inviting, gravelly earthiness and fragrant whiff of fresh herbs. Relatively light bodied, the texture is smooth and supple, yet there is enough tannic backbone to support the fleshy fruit along with a subtle streak of acidity to refresh the palate. This is Chinon done in a modern style: clean and plumply fruity, yet its Loire Valley roots are clearly evident. In all, really lovely wine and, tonight, its lighter weight make it both a great aperitif as well as excellent match for the seared ahi. And remember, don’t be afraid of imports! Especially at the more modest end of the price scale, they very often offer the best value for your money. See rarewineco.com.
• Non-vintage Ojai Vineyard “Ojai Red” California, $15.99: Friendly as a Golden Retriever and abounding with sappy, berry-cobbler fruit, this non-vintage red hits a homerun as a crowd pleaser. The blend is made from barrels that did not quite make the final cut for Ojai’s single vineyard cuvees and may vary with each release, but generally includes pinot noir, syrah, and/or grenache combined to produce a delicious, fruit-forward elixir that offers great bang for your buck. The aromas are very fresh and primary, and the texture is soft and round. Barbequed chicken slathered in tangy sauce proved a great match for the succulent fruitiness of the wine. See ojaivineyard.com.
• 2005 Beckmen Vineyards “Cuvee Le Bec” Santa Ynez Valley, $17.99: This classic “Rh’ne-style” blend is comprised of 53 percent grenache, 34 percent syrah, 8 percent mourvdre, and 5 percent counoise. It’s one of those “the sum is greater than the parts” kinds of wines, where careful blending adds dimension and increases complexity. Dark red and blackberry fruits mingle with a sprinkling of spice and hint of smoke and violets. Softly framed by finely grained tannins, its expansive palate presence and nicely persistent finish really show off the wine’s underlying quality. This is unquestionably juice for red meat. Its inviting smokiness and white pepper perfume are echoed in the savory charred character of the steak to mouthwatering effect. See beckmenvineyards.com