Wines To Usher in the End of Summer

Grilled Peaches, courtesy mccun934
Grilled Peaches, courtesy mccun934

Bad news: The vacation is over. It is time to put away the flip-flops and get back to work.  Labor Day is here.

According to the United States Department of Labor, Labor Day is “a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.”  Judging by those criteria, it appears that originally Labor Day was meant to acknowledge the effort of the working stiff and allow some well-deserved respite from the grind. But the meaning of Labor Day has slowly evolved over time.  Rather than a celebration of the worker, lately the holiday has come to symbolize the end of summer Fridays, vacuuming sand from the trunk and the very dread of returning to work.  And the worker no longer uses the day to rest dem dry bones, but to tear off one last party around the grill.

That deserves a drink. Here’s what:

Sparkling.

Clams courtesy nfnitloop
Clams courtesy nfnitloop

Naturally, the first drink on the menu should be bubbly.  It is a celebration after all.

Lift a glass and, at the very least, thank the stars that there are still a few jobs to go back to in this world.

There are plenty of affordable choices to pick from among the sparkling wines. So why not splurge on the real thing?  If summer was good enough to celebrate its passing, the bottle should be quality too.

Go for it! Try a Champagne like Charles Ellner Cuvee de Reserve Brut.  This wine was not made to float fruit in, but that does not mean the good peaches have to go away. In honor of the barbecue, why not deconstruct the Bellini?  Start by grilling some ripe, halved peaches with a smear of honey. And serve them topped with a dollop of whipped cream or, even better, crème fraiche. The idea of going back to work is getting worse and worse, isn't it?

White.

Grilled Scallop courtesy Matthew Bietz
Grilled Scallop courtesy Matthew Bietz

After the sparkling wine, there are some decisions to make.  White? Red? Rose’? All of the above? Why not?  White works great with the grill and some of the lighter things coming off of it like fish and chicken breasts.   And if it is still warm out, a chilled white will be a perfectly refreshing antidote for a hot day. There are least two ways to go when picking a party white.

If the goal of the white wine is not the perfect pairing with the barbecued food, but something refreshing to drink with apps like cheeses and chips and dip, jazz things up with the Bebop Dry Riesling from Nodland Cellars. From the nose comes a sweet smell of fresh citrus and fall pears, matching it perfectly with the light appetizers.

But if this is a glass that comes with a plate of food, go for a choice like Terlato Vineyards Pinot Grigio.  It is a fresh, slightly spicy white with hints of orange melon and peach frozen yogurt, followed by a slightly acidic finish – it is versatile and a great deal for under $20. The beauty of drinking a wine like this with food is that it could [should!] be used to make the meal too.  Put a covered pan on the grill and use this wine to steam some clams open with bacon, butter and parsley then toss them in a bowl and suck up the sauce with a chunk of ciabatta bread – grilled, of course.

Rosé

Courtesy Round Pond
Courtesy Round Pond

It might feel like Labor Day is late in the year to be drinking pink wine.  But what better sense memory exercise is there than to finish the season with the very wine that began the summer?  The light, dry rosés of spring can easily take the place of the dry white being served before the meal and will likely help conjure great stories of beaches gone by. [For a great pour, check out the terrific rosé wines reviewed on The Alcohol Professor here for Memorial Day.]

If a rosé is to be served with the barbecue, it makes sense that it has to be one that can stand up to most of the food coming off the grill. For this an excellent choice is the rosé of merlot from the legendary Oakville vineyard, Paradigm.  When the weather is still too warm to put down a bottle or three of their famous, and hard to find Cabernet, the rosé is a terrific alternative to satisfy both the lust for Napa red and the need for light refreshment. The flavors of sour cranberry and unripe strawberry in the body of this wine are more of a nod to fall than the standard grapefruit and peach flavors which come off of many a rosé.  And because it is somewhat bold for a rosé, it stands up well to much of the standard fare of a late summer barbecue like Italian sausage, teriyaki chicken wings and bacon-wrapped scallops.

Red.

When the red meat hits the grill, the lighter wines will usually get crushed. This is the official end of summer - no more white. Nothing is going to match a grilled steak like a big red.

Ribeye steak, courtesy firsttubedotcom
Ribeye steak, courtesy firsttubedotcom

If this is a big party, and the wine purchase is by the case, choose a Malbec like the one from Lodi’s Peirano Estate Vineyards, a medalist in the NY International Wine Competition. It is deeply garnet red with fresh juice flavors and hints of spice and pepper that pair perfectly with a grilled skirt steak smothered in chimichurri sauce.

For a sit down outdoor dinner among a few friends, a big Napa Cabernet like the Round Pond 2009 is a bargain often found under $40.  This tannic rich, juicy Cabernet is everything good about Napa wine. Big strokes of dark chocolate, cinnamon and ripe blackberries beg for a big hunk of red meat to share its space.

Grab a bone-in ribeye and cover it well with salt and pepper – both coarsely ground – pimento (smoked Spanish paprika) and mustard powder. Rub a little oil on both sides and place it on the hottest part of the grill for about 4 minutes per side for medium rare. After it has had a chance to rest for five minutes, cut off a slice and wash it done with large swig of the Cabernet. Repeat.

After all of that wine, be sure to get some rest; there is a four-day work week ahead!