It’s Labor Day weekend in the USA, and that means two things: the unofficial end of summer and three days of going to barbecues and outdoor parties.
But what bottle to bring? You could take the easy way out and bring beer — if you do, at least make it something adventurous, such as a small-craft local brew. Personally, I like Belgian ales and Weisse beers for summer sipping — which can be either imported or made domestically (they call them “Belgian-style” or “Hefe Weizen-style”). But wait, this is a wine blog, so let’s get on to the wines.
White wines and light reds seem best suited to an outdoor party. The weather is hopefully sunny, the conversation casual, and the atmosphere easygoing — so a wine that has similar character is ideal. Herewith a quick list of easy drinking wines that would be welcomed at any BBQ:
With their “tweener” status and flexibility to match with nearly any dish, pink wines were seemingly invented for the barbecue. Any dry rose is perfect for an outdoor party, and some of the sweeter ones will be enjoyed by many party-goers. I like to opt for roses from Spain and Portugal for their value and freshness, and when I have a few extra dollars will choose bottles from France — but there are excellent examples from all over the world. Some of my favorites: Toad Hollow, Pink Criquet, Chateau Laulerie, Chateau Calissanne, Mas de Gourgonnier, Artazuri, Chapoutier “Belleruche”.
While you can never go wrong with a rose for a BBQ, you’re nearly as fail-safe with a white. Pick up just about any white off the shelf and it will probably go with something being served at the outdoor party — or it will be fine as an aperitif. Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc are no-brainers, but there are many, many others. That said, I won’t go into the details of varietals to choose from — we’d be here all day — but instead will suggest some “off the wall” whites that you might not otherwise have known or considered: Antinori Bianco, Nederburg Lyric, Nyakas Muller-Thurgau, Clean Slate Riesling, Blanck Pinot Blanc, Duca di Salaparuta Colomba Platino, Conclass Rueda.
The Gamay grape is the standard by which all other fun, light and easy reds are measured. California Gamay is OK, but the real deal comes from Beaujolais, France. Don’t buy a Nouveau, because it peaked before Easter. A “Cru” however, will have bright cherry flavor and enough structure to match with a variety of foods. Georges Duboeuf is the easiest to find and in my mind the most reliable, with Louis Jadot a close second. Favorite Cru: Morgon, Brouilly, Regnie, Fleurie, Julienas, Chenas.
The movie Sideways turned nearly every winery into a Pinot Noir factory, and as a result there are tons to choose from at various price points. Typical inexpensive Pinot Noir is light- to medium-bodied and, like Beaujolais, has a nice bright cherry character with ample acidity and enough tannin for food. My suggestions: Fleur, Estancia, Robert Mondavi, Drylands, Acacia “A”, Cono Sur.
Garnacha / Grenache
Some Grenache-based wines are borderline full-bodied, but others are lighter. The biggest clue to figuring out which is which is the price — the less the cost, likely the lighter the wine. Look in the Spain aisle, and seek out labels with the region Catalayud, Jumilla, Campo de Borja, or La Mancha — all four have been exporting enjoyable light reds in the ten-dollar range. Try: Wrongo Dongo, Garnacha de Fuego, Zeta, Borsao, Vinos Sin Ley.
There are some nice light-bodied reds from this French region. My favorite is Les Deux Rives, a soft red that is light enough to match with fish, yet has just enough to be passable with burgers.