The unofficial “end” of summer is usually marked by the warm-but-rapidly-dimming September weekends. For many Chicagoans, the conclusion couldn’t come soon enough. Although many might be pining for the weather that accompanies the official autumnal equinox in a few weeks, remember – there’s an old Chicago sage muttering: “Be careful what you wish for.”
Perhaps a meteorological turnabout might be in the offing; snow-covered leaf piles, anyone? The unofficial or traditional end of summer has poignancy to it, and so, many regard it as a last hurrah by the barbecue. Unofficial or traditional beverages for the Labor Day grill-a-thons usually include plenty of beer. No disrespect to that age-old barley-malt (corn in some bottlings?) beverage, but Labor Day weekend can usher in a great opportunity to toss tradition aside for a bit, and break out some delicious, value-priced red wines.
Now, that doesn’t mean to scuttle the barbecue plans (or the beer). Simple, charbroiled burgers and brats, or lovingly prepared low-and-slow pork ribs create some of the best pairings for red meat/red wine lovers. For people who want to frolic at the beach or go waterskiing, the quick-flip burger or brat preparation is the best laid plan. Others want to be at one with their barbecue pit for most of the weekend – dreaming of winning a rib cook-off someday.
All of these preparations lend themselves to good-quality, unfussy red wines. Ribs, in fact, present one of the great wine-and-food pairings of all time.
“If I’m having barbecued ribs, I will usually have wines from Southern France,” says Doug Dunlay, co-owner of Chicago’s Smoke Daddy BBQ. “Wines from this region that have a blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre are a great pairing with any smoked meat, especially pork.”
One thing that’s certain: Life gets hectic after Labor Day. Whether it’s school, school sports, work deadlines or fall chores, the long weekend is chance to relax. So, there’s no point in wringing one’s hands over the perfect wine; the value sector has plenty of offerings to make an unofficial break from the unofficial beverages of the unofficial end of summer. Here are a few suggestions:
Stray Dog Zinfandel 2010: A delicious, full-bodied Zin from Lodi, it still retains enough structure to not be flabby. So, it doesn’t need to be paired only with ribs that are slathered with gobs of sticky sauce – although that wouldn’t be a problem either. Aromas are of spice and dark berries, with chocolate and black cherry on the palate. Try with ribs, burgers made with coarse-ground meat and seasoned with onion and black pepper, or garlic brats. $14.
Rock & Vine Malbec 2009: Many wine directors around Chicago continue to be amazed at Malbec’s longevity. Sometimes, they’re even perplexed. But, the Rock & Vine is a softer – but plenty juicy – Malbec from the high-elevation Lake County, California. The aroma is compelling, of herbs, vanilla and a hint of spice, while the palate is supple – featuring Mt. Ranier Cherry, cassis and a touch of mocha. Works with all the barbecue favorites; try ribs with a dry rub and mellow sauce, or a burger made with the more luxuriant ground brisket. $13.
Errazuriz Single Vineyard Carmenère 2010: Lots of black fruit and good mid-palate structure, with a touch of fig – and only a trace of the vegetal/green pepper aspect that’s heavier in other hastily made Carmenère. This is a truly complex wine with a beguiling aroma – more than that of the smoke coming from the grill! Carmenère is the “lost grape of Bordeaux,” and a great conversation-starter for late summer barbecuing. $15.