Thursday, August 28, 2014

Wines for Labor Day : Spice Up the Last Holiday of the Summer with Some Fun, and Food-Friendly Wines

By Liza B. Zimmerman


Labor Day when I grew up in New York was either meant for picnics in the Park or a sultry, long weekend on the Jersey Shore. It was always about simple food, hamburgers off the grill or some fresh seafood salad someone brought from home. Ideally everyone was sent home with shoes full of dirt or sand.

Bubbles are divine for all occasions but as the weather gets cooler Lambrusco, slightly chilled, is always apropos. It is as flexible as Pinot Noir in terms of its pairing potential; it is great with light meat, works as an appertivo and is even delicious with tomato-based seafood salads. Lini has long been a great producer, who has upped the ante on classic production styles. The wines often cost a bit more but are worth it. I also had the Sorelle Casa “Secco,” which ironically is not that dry although that is what the name means in Italian, and it was lovely and refreshing.

Something for Those Burgers
I don’t always love classic Sangioveses as I often find them too fruit-forward and lacking in acidity and structure, but Morellino di Scansano is great—and quite affordable—producing area. The town is also home to some great local food and wine festivals, including the Sagra or festival of Morellino, which takes place in the town’s Medieval Center an hour or two’s drive from Florence. It is worth taking a detour to, I went many years ago and it was unbelievably fun.

The innate fruitiness of Zinfandels pairs well with meat, particularly fatty meats such as hamburger or ribs. Their generally high level of alcohol also lends them a hint of sweetness that helps them synergize incredibly well with tomato- or fruit-based sauces. Texas or Kansas City ribs will do well with these wines. South Carolina mustard-based BBQ might need something with a little more acidity and “sass.”

A Malbec, particularly from Southwest France, or the cooler climes of Mendoza might do the trick. Cahors—which is primarily produced from Malbec—has long been a favorite French region for me. How could a visitor not enjoy piles of duck confit and foie gras? The wines from this region are also particularly good values, as they are lesser-known than many other regional French wines.

Pairings for Seafood
Crisp Sauvignon Blancs are almost always wonderful with seafood. I don’t like them too grassy, so I generally adore the French and Chilean styles much more than some of the New Zealand brands. The South Africans are also doing a solid job of making some food-friendly and well balanced Sauvignon Blancs. Sancerre and lesser-known areas of the Loire Valley, such as Touraine are making some great wines. 

Fairly dry Gew├╝rztraminers can also be amazing with seafood. Alsace is well-known for making some divine, pretty dry examples of this wine. Anderson Valley, a handful of hours north of San Francisco has also been doing an excellent job. Drier Rieslings are also great to share before or with a light meal. A handful of them may be among the best with which to share a toast after a lovely, long and casual meal on Labor Day.

Cheers from DrinkUpNY!

Liza Zimmerman has been writing and consulting about wine and food for two decades. She is principal of the San Francisco-based Liza the Wine Chick wine writing, education and consulting firm. She has worked on staff and freelance at national magazines such as Wine Enthusiast, The Magazine of La Cucina Italiana, Wine Spectator, Where SF and the Examiner. She currently contributes to Cheers, Wine Business Monthly and the Examiner, among others.

Zimmerman focuses on demystifying wine and transforming it into a tool for business and networking for companies all over the country. Past clients include Genentech, Roche and IBM.

She has visited all the world’s major wine regions and is one of select few in the U.S. to hold the Diploma of Wine & Spirits (D.W.S.), the three-year precursor to the Master of Wine.

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