All-American Grilling Wine

Written by Monica Chappell. Posted in Food + Drink

Unlike many other reds, Zinfandel is very compatible with food and especially loves the grill.  LamorindaWeb serves up some stellar summer combos. 

All-American Grilling Wine

As a proud flag waver for America’s own grape, Zinfandel, Zin epitomizes California. Known as the quintessential California grape variety.  Much of the appeal of this American treasure comes from the grapes complexity. At the same time, Zinfandel tends to be very approachable and a shoe in for casual summer gatherings.

Style and Stylish

This uniquely American fine-wine grape has a history of moving in and out of fashion. Classic red Zinfandel has fruit aromas of dark cherries, plums, raspberries and blackberries and can range dramatically in style. These stylistic variations influence how the wine will likely pair with food. The styles you may encounter include:

  • Medium-Full Body; expressive fruit with some barrel age; often spicy
  • Full Body; ripe, higher alcohol, often more tannic and oaky
  • Late Harvest; dessert style, sweet, port-like, high alcohol

All About The Food

Unlike many other reds, Zinfandel is very compatible with food and especially loves the grill. Food pairings that work well include:

  • Heartier dishes that have been grilled, braised or smoked
  • Many salty dishes as Zin is better than most reds due to its forward, sweet berry fruit
  • Fruit based sauces particularly those with berry fruits
  • Sharp cheeses like Manchego and washed rind cheeses like Taleggio 

A Few Zins To Try

I recently participated in a 2009 Sonoma County Zinfandel tasting (yes, it was fun) and here are my top picks:

  • Seghesio Family Vineyards Home Ranch
  • JC Cellars St. Peters Church
  • Carlisle “Carlisle Vineyard”
  • Ridge Vineyard Pagani Ranch
  • Ravenswood Sonoma County

A schedule of Wine Appreciation classes taught by Monica Chappell, wine writer and educator, can be found at www.wineappreciation101.blogspot.com.

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It’s harvest time – a perfect time to visit a winery.  I can think of at least three compelling reasons to spend time in a wine region. First, if you’re already a fan of a particular region’s wines, it can be an exciting experience to meet the winemakers who are passionate and eager to talk about their art.  Second, there is no better way to explore the world then by visiting great wine properties; many older wine estates are built on the most spectacular sites. Third, where there is a first-rate wine, delicious food is rarely far behind.


Living in Northern California affords us the opportunity to visit wine country as often as we care to. Here are a few tips to make your visit a success:


  • Book the winexries in advance. You can try simply showing up at the winery but keep in mind that the finest places are often the least accessible.


  • Observe the basic rules of etiquette. If you have an appointment, call if you’re running more than 15 minutes late and don’t be a no show. Word gets around.


  • Dress comfortably. Wine touring requires a lot of footwork. If you’re sampling in a wine cellar, the floor will probably be cold and damp so come prepared.


  • Show interest. Listen to what the pourer is saying and ask questions but don’t pretend you are an expert. You’re there to learn and have fun.


  • Offer a few words of praise. Start slowly; odds are your host will begin with the lesser wines and work up to the more serious in the portfolio. Offering too much of a fuss too early on will seem insincere.


  • Remember to spit. You won’t be expected to drink everything you are given to taste, but if you drain each glass, your day will be over before lunch.


  • Do comparative tastings. Tasting rooms offer a terrific opportunity to taste wines against each other. If there are two chardonnays being offered for tasting, taste them side- by-side.  You’ll enjoy tasting the differences.


  • Buy a bottle. You don’t have to but it’s a polite gesture, and if you’ve had a nice chat with the winemaker ask him to sign the bottle. Some wineries charge to taste and often deduct that fee from the cost of a bottle.


A visit to wine country can often be as entertaining as it is educational so get out there and enjoy!


Monica Chappell is a local wine writer and educator.  To read more of Monica’s wine tips or to contact her, visit www.wineappreciation101.blogspot.com


Monica is teaching “Entertaining With Wine” on Thursday November 17th from 6:30 – 8:30 p.m.  Register online at lafayetterec.org


Want to put these great wine tasting tips to good practice right here in Lamorinda?!  Next week, we’ll take you behind the scenes of some of our great local wineries and introduce you to the Lamorinda Wine Grapegrowers Association.