As we celebrate our national birthday with barbecues and fireworks, we should celebrate our American wines, too
I recommend greeting your guests with a glass of Argyle, Oregon’s top sparkling wine. Since its founding in 1985 by Cal Knudsen, Argyle’s Champagne-styled wine commanded respect, and my recent glass of the 2013 Argyle Willamette Valley Brut earned it again. Its 60 percent pinot noir brought body and a full mouthfeel, while the 40 percent chardonnay delivered a crisp, citrus aroma and flavor. The long finish will continue to please. 88 points. Retail prices range from a good value of $20 to a lesser bargain at $30.
In the 1980s, Matanzas (ma-TAN-zahs) Creek winery always had a place on my wine list at Le Delice restaurant. Back then, Matanzas Creek merlot, chardonnay and sauvignon blanc were all the rage. It required coaxing or horse-trading with my distributor to get that extra case.
Then, as what often happens in America, the wine cognoscenti anointed a new queen for a day, and Matanzas fell out of favor. But my appreciation of these wines was not such a fickle affair.
For me, Matanzas Creek’s sauvignon blanc is one of California’s best. Whether it was made by David Ramey in the mid-1980s under the winery’s founder Sandra MacIver, or by the current winemaker, Chilean-born- and trained Marcia Torres Forno of Kendall-Jackson Wine Estates, who bought the winery in 2000.
The Sonoma County rendition will please those who like their sauvignon blancs with pungent citrus and crisp acidity. Its lime character was very good with my braised chicken thighs, diced celery and carrot. 88 points. At $12 to $15, it’s a great choice for a summer party white wine.
My preference was for the clear-as-spring-water Alexander Valley bottling with its fragrant jasmine and mouth-filling lime and lemon-thyme flavors riding on a line of acidity. It was delicious with a tuna-avocado roll, followed by scallop risotto, then, a plate of Epoisse and a creamy goat cheese. 90 points. Retail is approximately $20.
Another favorite sauvignon blanc is Dry Creek Vineyard’s Fume Blanc, first produced in 1972 by winery owner and winemaker David Stare, an MIT graduate. (Fume Blanc is a name created by Robert Mondavi in the late 1960s when he could not sell his sauvignon blanc wine. The name change was successful, the wine was the same; so much for a discerning public.)
Stare purchased an old prune orchard with the vision of making Loire Valley-styled wine. He was not deterred when several famed viticulturists advised against planting sauvignon blanc in Dry Creek. Nor was he fazed by the amusement of the locals watching this New Englander uproot productive fruit trees to plant the first vineyard in Dry Creek since Prohibition.
The 2016 Dry Creek Vineyard Fume Blanc Sonoma County is the newest release by Stare’s daughter, Kim Stare-Wallace, and her husband Don. It’s pure sauvignon blanc with no oak aging. Floral and pineapple scents are a pleasing introduction to the lemon-thyme flavor and mild acidity. A touch of sweetness in the finish will be appreciated by those who stand back from aggressive citrus-laden sauvignon blancs. 87 points. The $15 price tag offers good value.
If your party plan includes grilled steaks, here’s a duo of California red wines to pair with sizzling meat, caramelized onions and roasted rosemary-scented potatoes.
Shafer Vineyards is one of the founders of Napa Valley’s prestigious Stag’s Leap District, and owned by its founder John Shafer and his son Doug. Their 2014 Shafer Vineyards Merlot Napa Valley blends 78 percent merlot with 14 percent malbec and 8 percent cabernet sauvignon. It produces black-plum and herbal aromas and immediately appealing black-cherry and plum flavors. The flavors are underscored with a vanilla accent from the nearly two years of aging in new French oak barrels. 88 points. Pricing is a wide range from $48 to $70; shop accordingly.
If your guests are cabernet sauvignon aficionados, serve them the 2013 Lyndenhurst Cabernet Sauvignon. Made by Napa Valley’s historic Spottswoode winery, Lyndenhurst is 73 percent estate grapes with the balance purchased from quality-driven Napa growers.
In 2013, Napa Valley wineries produced rich, intensely flavored wines. The Lyndenhurst bottling is loaded with up front, pungent black fruit, and dark-chocolate aromas and flavors with a finish that calls to mind the pleasure of cappuccino. You’ll do best by decanting this wine for an hour before putting the strip steak or T-bone on the grill. 90 points. A wide price range accompanies this wine: $68 to $90; for collectors, the estate grown 2013 Spottswoode cabernet sauvignon is $160 to $240.
There is another outstanding locale and grape for your July Fourth party: Willamette Valley and pinot noir.
Versatility flows from Oregon pinot noirs. They will be a good partner to steaks, but the spicy (think cinnamon or Chinese five-spice powder) and red-fruit aromas and flavors—ranging from cherry to cranberry to strawberry or raspberry—make pinot noir a palate-pleasing mate for other grills. I enjoyed these with grilled chicken marinated with Provencal herbs, garlic, lemon zest and olive oil, tuna loin with tapenade, and grilled eggplant rubbed with rosemary and garlic.
Two weeks ago, I pan-seared a Hawaiian big-eye tuna loin, coated it with black-olive tapenade and poured a glass of the 2014 Adelsheim “Breaking Ground” (Chehalem Mountains) Pinot Noir, from the first vineyard planted in this northern Willamette Valley location David and Ginny Adelsheim.
The 2014 Adelsheim Breaking Ground pinot noir’s translucent cherry hue, and nutmeg, black-cherry and floral aromas are instantly pleasing. Lively black-cherry and red fruit flavors are delivered with soft tannins and cleansing acidity, giving this wine a long, tasty finish. 90 points. Retail prices range from $34 to $50.
Wishing you a tasty barbecue with company as sparkling as that glass of Argyle Brut I recommended, and fireworks to match.
Photos by John Foy