June 21, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

California Red Wine Pairings for Barbecue Season

Every summer, my wine tasting group—which distinguished itself during COVID by stepping in as the professional team creating The Jewish Link Wine Guide rankings—dedicates a tasting to red wines that pair well with summer barbecue foods. This event has become an annual favorite as we all enjoy the opportunity to check in with well-loved kosher wineries and winemakers based out west.

Since last year we limited our tasting to only California cabernets (Napa cabs being my all-time favorite, and Herzog just does them incredibly well), this year we shifted to focus on red single varietal wines. We tasted a curated range of pinot noirs, zinfandels, a syrah, a grenache and an outlier (in this case), a cabernet sauvignon. While we generally liked everything we tasted, we are looking forward to incorporating those we are not highlighting in this article into another tasting featuring another variety trending in California and worldwide kosher winemaking: malbec.

Far and away, the biggest crowd pleaser of our tasting was the Hagafen Napa Valley Cabernet Franc 2018, from the Coombsville/Wieruszowski Vineyard. This is a bold wine that unfolds slowly in the mouth. It’s replete with blueberry, currant and blackberry essences as well as vanilla and spice. It has truly mouthwatering, bracing tannins and a long, lingering, beautiful finish. “It’s delicious; this is a home run,” said Jeff. While Hagafen tends to produce beautiful, bold wines, this wine showed especially well on the evening we tasted it; fully developed and ready to drink. This would pair well with sausage or any red meats, or as a red wine aperitif. This is a special wine and retails at around $50. Celebrate a birthday or anniversary with it!

The nicest surprise of the night was the Twin Suns Reserve Zinfandel 2019, from grapes harvested in the Santa Ynez Valley. This is a jammy, figgy wine that offers a truly full California red experience. “It starts fruity but then it pulls back and becomes very elegant,” said Yeruchum, who was happy to see that the former garagista winemaking brothers from Shirah Winery—Shimon and Gabriel Weiss—have truly embraced their roles as winemakers for the Twin Suns line in partnership with The River’s Ami and Larissa Nahari. Daphna suggested pairing this wine with pasta and meat sauce, or foods with a tomato base. At $29, this is a nicer wine that is worth seeking out.

The same varietal, Zinfandel, was also rendered, with quite a bit more spice and tertiary aromas, in the Mensch Zinfandel 2020, made from Lodi, California grapes. Mensch, from Covenant, is their budget-friendlier, more limited line of wines. Jeff Morgan, Covenant’s winemaker/CEO, told me he had great pride in this particular vintage. The 2020 Zinfandel is “undoubtedly the best Mensch red we have ever made,” he said, while noting that this vintage, unlike previous years, is not mevushal. The wine is not very dry, but certainly not sweet. It’s characterized by black and red fruit notes, and very light tannins. The alcohol tasted a bit high at the moment; if given the choice we might save this vintage to open with a main dish of sausage and peppers, or a charcuterie platter (if they are still en vogue) next summer. It’s a great deal at $20.

We also had a lovely time enjoying the Hadju Grenache 2019, made with grapes from San Benito County, on the central coast. It has a powerful mouthfeel, necessitating pairing with heavier foods, like steak, said Greg. “It feels like a high quality wine and like a grenache, but not a light one,” he added. A California grenache wine, made by Jonathan Hadju, a cult legend type who also is Covenant’s co-winemaker, seems much different from the restrained French Rhone wines, possibly similar to the warmer weather garnachas from Spain. As good as we thought it was now, several in the group thought this wine would benefit from another year or more of bottle aging, to bring all of its flavors into balance.

Finally, we have to celebrate one more wine that just doesn’t disappoint—ever. The Weinstock Cellar Select Cabernet Sauvignon 2018 is an easy drinking, expensive-tasting, beautiful wine that costs only around $20 (though the excellent 2017 vintage went on sale on kosherwine.com last year for $16.99, and was featured last year in our California Cabs article). It has soft, velvety tannins, an essence of red and black fruit, and oak. This is well worth it as a Shabbat wine to drink every single week and enjoy, or great to open on a weeknight, since you won’t feel guilty about the cost. “This wine is great; it goes with everything,” gushed Yeruchum. Perfect with grilled chicken, beef, burgers or even vegetable dishes.

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