I'm always looking for an excuse to invite friends over for a cookout, and there's no better one than living a bike-ride's distance from the beach on the Fourth of July. I'm also fortunate to know there are a wealth of wines, at every price point, to go with anything you can throw at the 'cue--from Santa Maria Style Tri-Tip to American Bison sliders (try them with carmelized onions and smoked tomato compote), or, if you live around the Chesapeake, steamed Maryland Blue Crabs doused with Old Bay. Here are some of our favorite domestic wines--we are celebrating American Independence after all--to make any Fourth crackle like a Roman candle.
If you're leaning toward the crab and Old Bay scenario, you need a sparkler of a wine, not necessarily something bubbly, and definitely or weighed down by butter notes or oak. The 2008 Dry Creek Vineyard Clarksburg Chenin Blanc ($9.99) blends lemon, apricot and nectarine notes with acidity that sings like the high notes in the National Anthem. Now, if you've steered clear of Chenin Blanc because you think it's sweet, hear me out: THIS IS DRY. There is nothing sweet about this wine, unless you're using the word as a slangy compliment.
If you're 4th is likely to be a "session" celebration, then it's probably a good idea to have some lighter-style beers on hand. The Maui Brewing Company "Bikini Blonde Lager" ($1.83 each) comes in convenient cans that can get tucked in a bag and cooled in the river or lake while you're getting your grill on. If you want something hoppier but that won't put you to sleep, try the Russian River Brewing "Blind Pig" IPA (500ml $4.30) or the aptly named Anchor Brewing "Liberty Ale" ($1.49).
Whole Rainbow Trout stuffed with lemon and rosemary come out fantastic on the grill, and the 2008 Chehalem "Inox" Willamette Valley Chardonnay ($15.99), with its Adriatic fig, lime and saturn peach-like fruit, and completely crisp palate feel, your fish will sing like that silly wall-mounted fish that appears in too many summer cabins. This would also go quite well with grilled veggies!
2007 Kunin "Westside" Paso Robles Zinfandel ($21.99) Paso Robles may not exactly be the "heart" of Santa Maria-style barbecue country, but it's definitely a ventricular valve. So it comes as no surprise that Seth Kunin's "Westside" Zin (actually, all of Kunin's reds) pairs perfectly with the garlicky, smoky meat, the fresh salsa and the pinquito beans. The Westside comes from the Cushman and Rancho Santa Margarita vieyards and is aged for 10 months in a combination of French and American oak, and it is spicy and rich, with plenty of bright red fruit and actual acidity (believe it) that will stand up to those thick slabs of tri-tip.
If you've never had a bottle of Ridge's classic "Geyserville," then you've been missing out on a quintessential California wine, as American as football or apple pie, but possibly better than both. The 2008 "Geyserville" ($29.99) is comprised of Zinfandel, Carignane, Petite Sirah and Mataro. It has a complexity that few varietal wines can offer, with briar fruits, tangy cranberry, spicy white pepper and an undercurrent of black olives on the nose that evolve into mocha, licorice and black raspberry in the mouth. Try will pair with the aforementioned Bison sliders, ribs, ribeyes, pork tenderloin or any number of other savory treats you lay in its path. If you're having a big party, try a BIG bottle, like the 2004 vintage in magnum ($74.99) or three-liter ($189.00).
I love Zuni- Cafe style roasted chicken (I do mine on a cast iron vertical roaster on the grill) and tomatoey panzanella with a juicy Syrah--it's actual my go-to Sunday supper--and I don't like to spend a lot on the wine that goes with it. Fortunately, some of my favorite Central Coast winemakers turn out lovely, balanced Syrahs that don't overpower the simply prepared bird or my wallet. The 2007 and 2008 Hocus Pocus Santa Barbara County Syrahs ($17.99) are a case in point, as is Wells Guthrie's "I-can't-believe-it's-entry-level" 2007 Copain "Tous Ensemble" Mendocino County Syrah ($17.99), which has brambly fruit, hints of smoke and a touch of dark chocolate to boot.
The 2008 Charles Smith "The Velvet Devil" Washington Merlot ($11.99), from Food & Wine Magazine's 2009 Winemaker of the year, could, single-handedly, change the way you've come to think about Merlot because it's anything but over-priced or over-produced. Juicy, plummy, from a state named for our inimitable first president and a good match for burgers and sausages.
Whatever you drink: Happy 4th of July! Be safe and have fun!