Wine Reviews Tasting Notes and Education for the Non-Snob, by Vino Joe, a Certified Specialist of Wine (CSW)

Buying Wines for Labor Day Weekend Barbecue

Going to — or hosting — a BBQ this weekend and need last-minute wine shopping tips?

Hopefully if you’re hosting an outdoor party / barbecue, you’ve asked your guests to bring a bottle of wine — it’s the least they can do, right? But whether you’re hosting or bringing to the BBQ, the general rules of thumb are the same.

First off, understand the wine-drinking crowd. Are there snobs in the audience? White zinners who like their spritzers? Most likely there will be a mix, covering both ends of the spectrum. You don’t have to please everyone, and in fact, one idea is to please yourself and bring your favorite bottle — then, at least, you know for sure you’ll have something you like.

One thing I must point out is that there is nothing necessarily wrong with big bottles — i.e., 1.5-liter “magnums” — and in fact they are preferable with a large crowd. A number of palatable wines come in larger format bottles, such as Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon. Personally, when it comes to 1.5L bottles, I like to stick to wines from Italy — specifically, wines that are named after a place and/or those that have DOC designation. For example: Soave, Orvieto, Frascati, Valpolicella, Bardolino, Chianti are all wines named after the region in which the grapes are grown. My personal “go-to” in every situation is a dry Frascati — it’s a crisp, mildly fruity wine that matches with just about any dish, tends to be a crowd-pleaser, and is fairly inexpensive.

That’s really the key for a barbecue or summer party: wines that go with a variety of dishes — which is another reason why I lean toward Italian varieties. Italian wines, by nature, are made to go with food.

If my white “go-to” is Frascati, my red “go-to” is Bardolino — preferably slightly chilled for an outdoor event. Like Frascati, Bardolino can easily be found in a big bottle, matches with all kinds of dishes, and is relatively inexpensive. For similar reasons, I also like Beaujolais-Villages or a Beaujolais Cru. DO NOT buy a Beaujolais Nouveau, unless summer in your part of the world occurs in November. Beaujolais Cru are wines from the Beaujolais region in France, south of Burgundy, that have one of these specific place names on the label: Fleurie, Morgon, Saint Amour, Regnie, Brouilly, Cote de Brouilly, Chenas, Moulin-a-Vent, Julienas, or Chiroubles. Generally speaking, you’ll only find a Beaujolais Cru in a standard, 750ml bottle, so bring two to a big party. Prices vary, but you should be able to find them in $12 to $17 range. Flavor profile and structure depend on which Cru you choose, but regardless of which one you pick, chances are very good it will go well with a plethora of dishes found at a typical outdoor BBQ. The wines tend to be light in tannin, fresh and fruity, with ample acidity. You can serve them at room temperature or slightly chilled.

Now, if you know for sure there are going to be spicy dishes at the party — or actual, real, barbecue / smoked foods such as ribs, pulled pork, or BBQ chicken, then the ideal wine to bring is Riunite Lambrusco, which is available in party-friendly 1.5L bottle and 3-liter jug. Right here is where I have to make a huge disclosure: I work for the importer of Riunite, so I’m biased. However, I also know from experience that Riunite Lambrusco is PERFECT with foods glazed in barbecue sauces, smoked meats, cured meats (i.e., salami), and almost anything with some spicy heat, such as buffalo chicken wings. The wine must be chilled for ultimate enjoyment (old commercials had a song with the chorus “Riunite on ice”) and it has a bit of a fizz that puts smiles on people’s faces. Another great attribute: it’s only 8% alcohol, so you can have a second glass (or red Solo cup) without getting loopy. Oh, and it’s enclosed with a screwtop for easy access.

My final advice for a summer party wine is to get something pink — in other words, a rose. Ideally, a dry rose — though the truth is that many of the “dry” roses on the shelves these days have a hint of residual sugar, and that’s not a bad thing. How to choose? Here’s my hard and fast rule, assuming you know nothing else: stick to 750ml bottles, spend at least $9, and make sure the vintage a year previous to the present one. So, here in 2013, you’d want to purchase a rose from 2012. That doesn’t necessarily mean that one from 2011 or 2010 is bad, but you have to really know your wines and regions to know which ones still have vivacity and structure after a few years’ aging. Spending over ten bucks will almost always guarantee you’re getting a fairly decent, dry rose.

Most condescending cork dorks will scoff at the suggestions I’ve made above, and that’s fine. My approach to a summer BBQ is to enjoy easy drinking wines that I don’t have to think about. Also, if I bring a wine of simple pleasure, I don’t have to worry about “wasting” it someone who may not fully appreciate a more expensive bottle. At the same time, I might be able to introduce an easy-to-appreciate wine to a white zinner or beer drinker, and pull them out of the dark side. Now, if you know there will be a few wine geeks at the party, by all means, bring a bottle you love and think they might enjoy as well — it will be great for conversation.

That’s it — hope you found this helpful, and hope you enjoy your Labor Day weekend!

Have any of your own summer party wine tips, suggestions, or favorites? Post them in the comments.

Oh, and while we’re on the subject of barbecue, how’s this for a fascinating item? It’s a bundle of wood from wine barrels that you can use for smoking or grilling. They are oak staves pulled from actual, used wine barrels, so you can impart the scent and flavor of wine into your food. Pretty cool, eh? Click the image to buy from Amazon — they cost less than ten bucks a bundle ($9.30 as of this writing) and shipping is free if your shopping cart is at least $25.

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