When the desert monsoon stirs up dust, lightening and sometimes (thankfully) rain, we head for cover. But that doesn’t stop the party, as festivities around the pool and grill make their way indoors to the dining room and usually a bottle of wine or two.
Keep a few bottles on hand - both white and red - and a corkscrew at the ready. Have a back up plan when your barbecue moves indoors and chill a few good cheeses or salami in the fridge.
Here are a few conversation starters - if the weather isn’t already enough. Cheers!
• Cherry Tart 2012 Pinot Noir by Cherry Pie, California. When I heard the maker of Layer Cake wines was dabbling in Pinot Noir, I anticipated the result as anxiously as my son’s countdown to his 13th birthday. But no gimmicky video game surprises here, just juicy, tasty wine. Sure enough, cherry pie impressions come to mind, along with strawberries, cranberries and plum. This is full-bodied Pinot Noir with vanilla oak and food-friendly acidity. $25.
• Toad Hollow Vineyards 2012 Mendocino County Unoaked Chardonnay “Francine’s Selection,” California. Unoaked Chardonnay is a magical thing. The clean, crisp, beautiful fruit comes to the forefront with all of its tropical-citrus notes. This vibrant Chard in particular, which celebrates its 20th vintage, underwent slow malolactic fermentation which added richness to the mouthfeel. The wine is refreshing by itself, but is only enhanced with complementary foods like cheese or a roasted chicken. $15.
• Frisson 2010 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, California. OK, big shot, time to pull out something special. Esteemed winemaker Wayne Donaldson pulled out all the stops on this luxurious yet affordable Cab, which exhibits wonderful aromas of blackcurrant, blackberry and dark chocolate spice. The layered palate of dark cherry and coffee dances effortlessly on the palate. Serve with that chunk of beef you’re roasting as the monsoon howls outside. $65.
• Tin Roof 2010 Merlot, North/Central Coast, California. Don’t let the screw cap throw you off. Relax, your guests won’t turn their noses on a good glass of wine. This fresh and juicy Merlot serves up ripe plum and dark chocolate-coffee aromas and flavors, balanced with firm tannins. Pair with burgers and brats, perhaps shish-kabobs. A value play at just $10.