Summers in Pennsylvania are three glorious months bracketed by two major holidays.
This is the time when meals move outside and the backyard grill takes center stage. To me, this means the menu turns toward beef in its many forms, and red wine is the perfect beverage to complement this style of culinary indulgence.
The naturally occurring tannins in the skin of the grapes match with the fat of the bovine to produce a flavor on the palate that, if not magic, is at least alchemy. My choices for this all-American meal are quaffs from the southern hemisphere. These wines are usually on the chewy side, but who needs elegance in a season where casual is the word and buttoned down is for serious dining?
Shiraz is the Aussie moniker for Syrah, the main grape in the Rhone Valley. Known for its fruit-forward personality, it deserves a place on everyone’s table to go along with the products of the grill. The biggest fruit bombs come from the Barossa Valley with their typically high-alcohol content. I prefer wine from the McLaren Vale, which is more nuanced and textured. Since most Shiraz comes from southeast Australia, look for bottles that have better balance and not so much bang for the buck.
Malbec started life as one of six grapes from France’s Bordeaux region, where it was blended to give more personality to mediocre vintages. It was taken to Argentina, where it thrives in the volcanic soils and high Andean altitude. In recent years, it has become an international superstar. Most bottles come from the Mendoza region, a huge geographical area, which means that there are many variations of this spicy quaff. Try to find young wines at reasonable cost, since the expensive reserves usually need aging. It may seem a difficult task with all the selections available, but, once you find one that suits the menu, it is a welcome addition to your outdoor feast. After all, this is the country that invented the asado, perhaps the ultimate cookout.
The country of Chile contributes two wines to our grilling meals. Cabernet sauvignon is known worldwide as the king of red wines. The ones from this narrow nation are simply wonderful. Situated on land between the Andes Mountains and the Pacific Ocean, the grapes develop in a way that makes for totally unique flavors with pronounced fruit and subtle tannins. My favorites are the ones from the Maipo Valley. Look closely on the bottles.
Carmenere is the grape that nearly vanished after the phylloxera plague destroyed the European vineyards in the 19th century. It was discovered again in the 1990s after DNA testing on odd “merlot.” It is one of Chile’s great wines with its own character of smooth fruit and lighter tannins. You should give it a try, especially with its reasonable pricing and unique character. In fact, try one now!
Keep sipping, Steve
Author: Steve Juliana