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Wines For The Fourth

Declare your independence from beer for the cookout


It's that time of year again, when hot sunny days inspire the primitive urge to make fire and roast up large hunks of meat for tribes of hungry carnivores. In other words: barbecue season. Now when I say "barbecue," I'm not talking about the kind they have in Memphis or Kansas City. No, I mean what you grill in your own backyard: burgers, steaks, chicken and maybe the odd fish filet. While most folks are content to wash down their BBQ fare with gallons of cheap watery beer, I've got a better idea: wine.

Unlike flavorless beer (not that I'm a wine snob or anything), wine has the power to take your barbecued beast (or even veggie burgers) to new heights of flavor. When choosing wines for barbecued vittles, think bold & beautiful. Barbecue flavors are far from wimpy, so your wine shouldn't be either. You need something big and fruity, with plenty of pepper and spice, to stand up to all that smoldering meat and smoky-sweet BBQ sauce. Overly tannic or oaky wines need not apply.

Zinfandel and Syrah/Shiraz are considered classic BBQ wines because they have lots of fruit and spice, without too much oak and tannin to get in the way. Medium to full-bodied Merlots are also good matches for BBQ fare -- especially the red meat and sausage variety.

If you're grilling something other than beef, the story changes. The subtle smoky flavor of barbecued chicken calls for a light and fruity red wine, like Beaujolais or Tempranillo (the Spanish grape in Rioja). Top that same grilled chicken (or even swordfish) with a tropical fruit salsa, and you're better off with a rich, aromatic Pinot Gris/Grigio or a spicy Riesling or Gerwurztraminer. For barbecued salmon, Pinot Noir is a match made in heaven.

Whatever you're tossing on the grill this 4th of July, there's a wine out there to make it taste even better. You can always drink that watery beer while you're waiting for the food to come off the grill. BBQ WinesKenwood 1999 Sonoma County Zinfandel This Zin has spicy black cherry/berry flavors and a nice balance between fruit and tannins. Throw some sweet Italian sausages on the grill (or portobella mushrooms, if you're the veggie type) and enjoy. $16 ********* 1/2

Coppola 2000 Blue Label Merlot With a little Syrah mixed in for complexity, this wine has plum, raspberry and blackberry flavors. Serve it up with some grilled chicken sausages or juicy burgers. $17 *********

Valley of the Moon 1999 Syrah This one's got a nice berry smell and a spicy mix of cherry and black pepper flavors. It's a nice match for grilled sausages, burgers and other red meats. $17 *********

Ca' del Solo 1999 Sangiovese "Il Fiasco" Light bodied and easy drinkin', this one has tasty cherry, raspberry and blackberry flavors. Though it's too subtle for big ol' steaks, it's a good match for grilled chicken and mild sausages. $15 *********1/2

Perry Creek 2000 ZinMan Zinfandel This balanced wine from California's Sierra Foothills has a slightly veggie smell at first, which gives way to spicy raspberry and cherry flavors. It's tasty with barbecued red meats. $12 *********

Carmen 2001 Chardonnay While I generally wouldn't recommend Chardonnay with BBQ fare, this one from Chile is a different story. It's made in a refreshing, non-oaky style, with lots of yummy tropical fruit flavors (think pineapple). This winning combo makes the wine a great match for grilled chicken sausages, especially the chicken-apple variety. A great bargain! $8 ************

Tina Caputo

Bonny Doon Pacific Rim Riesling Aromatic, with scents of pineapple and flowers, this wine has zippy-on-the-tongue qualities that make your mouth feel alive. Extremely quaffable and great with anything spicy. Cheap, too. $10 ************

Taylor Eason

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