This Labor Day, Go for the Grill and the Chill

Wednesday, August 30, 2006


Although Labor Day weekend marks the traditional end of summer, for wine lovers the fun is just beginning. The outdoor grill provides a great excuse to get out on the patio or deck with a tasty glass of wine to match the barbecue fare.

Since the weather is still warm, it's best to go with wines that can be served chilled. They include reds as well as whites, many of which sell for $15 or less.

For a crisp aperitif white wine, look to California, which produced excellent sauvignon blancs in 2005, owing to a short harvest that reduced yields but increased the concentration of the fruit. Excellent choices for around $15 include Two Angels Sauvignon Blanc High Valley 2005 ; Chateau Souverain Sauvignon Blanc Alexander Valley 2005 ; Justin Sauvignon Blanc 2005 ; Simi Sauvignon Blanc Sonoma County 2005 ; Girard Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley 2005 ; Honig Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley 2005 ; Sterling Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley 2005 ; Kenwood Sauvignon Blanc Sonoma County 2005 ; and Whitehall Lane Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley 2005 .

South Africa is coming on strong with chenin blanc. Its wines have the excellent acidity of a dry French Vouvray, with an extra wallop of fresh fruit. Excellent choices in the $15 range include Ken Forrester Chenin Blanc Stellenbosch 2005; Ken Forrester Chenin Blanc Stellenbosch Petit Chenin 2005; Man Vintners Coastal Region Chenin Blanc 2005; Waterford Stellenbosch Chenin Blanc 2005 ; and Simonsig Stellenbosch Chenin Blanc 2005 .

A rather unusual white wine choice is Gruner Veltliner , the most widely planted grape in Austria but almost unknown in the United States. Its high acidity and distinctive white pepper and citrus notes make for a superb match with grilled fish or white meat poultry in a lemon-lime marinade. The best guide to these relatively obscure wines is the careful selection of the importer. Look for those from Terry Theise Estate Selections , Vin Divino and Weygandt-Metzler . The 2003 and 2004 vintages were particularly successful.

Although red wines are traditionally served at room temperature, young, light reds take a chill quite well.

From France, Côtes du Rhône powers out copious ripe fruit with a minimum of tannins. Typically made from a blend of grenache, mourvedre, syrah and other Rhone grapes, it is less overtly grapey than Beaujolais and works well with many foods. Excellent wines were produced in 2003, 2004 and 2005, but the 2002s, never much good to begin with, are over the hill now and should be avoided. Producers to look for include Chapoutier Belleruche , Guigal, J. Vidal-Fleury , Brusset , Domaine du Pesquier , Gabriel Meffre , Dela s , Domaine de la Ja nass e , Perrin & Fils Réserve and Paul Jaboulet Aîné Côtes Parallèle 45 .

Dolcetto, sometimes described as Italy's answer to Beaujolais, is a surprisingly complex wine that seems to be getting better every year. Much dolcetto is produced as a sideline by top producers of pricey Barolo and Barbaresco, on soils that are not suitable for the nebbiolo. It offers good structure and notable acidity on the finish, and lots of fleshy fruit to complement barbecued meats and poultry.

At prices that average between $15 and $20, it's an excellent value. The ripe, lush 2003s are superb, and the still evolving 2004s are good, provided they are decanted 45 minutes ahead of time to allow them to soften a bit. Good choices include Pio Cesare Dolcetto d'Alba, Prunotto Dolcetto d'Alba, Marchesi di Grésy Dolcetto d'Alba, Luigi Einaudi Dolcetto di Dogliani, Seghesio Dolcetto d'Alba, Gigi Rosso Dolcetto di Diano d'Alba and Castello di Neive Dolcetto d'Alba .

Finally, for both reds and whites, please don't overdo the chill. To avoid numbing the palate, remove the wine from the refrigerator at least 15 minutes before serving.

Do you have a question for wine columnist Ben Giliberti? E-mail him

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