Robust barbecue reds jockey for grillmarks

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      Maybe the best reason for firing up the barbecue this week is to add a few degrees of comfort to the great outdoors. Still, there are new barbecue reds out there and plenty of them, so it’s the customary baker’s dozen today—on the cheap side, if $12 to $18 can be considered cheap—and another batch in a week or two for those critical barbecue occasions (like the boss coming to dinner).

      The two customary caveats apply: prices were correct at the time of tasting (within the past three weeks), and, in a more benign consumer climate, all of these would cost half of what they do in our town. Lotusland life, eh?

      Alianca Vista TR Tinta Roriz 2005 ($11.99) One of those perfect Portuguese sardine-grilling wines, this one is full and spicy and a little light on the nose, but big and punchy on the tongue. For grilled lamb or chilied ribs too, but if you can find some of those fat sardines, try ’em. Good value.

      Bodega del Fin del Mundo Southern most Patagonia 2006 ($12.95) This is the first of four Argentines in today’s lineup, a mix of Merlot, Malbec, and Cabernet. It has that old-Argentina red-wine aroma, with a deep, dark, stewy taste, but it’s just a little light on the fruit and has a short finish. Okay for the price, but there’s better to come.

      Lindemans Bin 45 Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 ($12.99) From Australia, this is smooth and full, rich and round and hearty. It’s the type of lower-end table wine Australia does so well. There isn’t a barbecue dish you can come up with that it won’t match handily, and it’ll stick around for late sipping after the food’s all gone.

      Trivento Amado Sur 2006 ($14.98) It’s made from mostly Malbec, with a little Syrah and some Bonarda, all solid Argentine grape varieties. Mellow, and maybe a bit too soft at that; the finish is short, but the Malbec has the upper hand here, and it tastes good with almost-charred burgers or fish.

      Trapiche Oak Cask Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 ($14.99) Also from Argentina, this hits the mark better with full and lively fruit—all those blackberry and cedar things you’re supposed to recognize. We couldn’t get enough of it with a wedge of old Manchego and another of applewood-smoked Cheddar, any kind of red meat too. A good, round drinking wine and fine value in terms of the goods-delivered-versus-price-paid ratio.

      Mad Dogs & Englishmen Shiraz Cabernet Monastrell 2005 ($14.99) This one is predicated on half of the total volume being Monastrell (an abundant Spanish variety I can’t really get next to) and nearly equal amounts Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon making up the rest. To start, there’s big Cabernet aroma more than anything, then good fruit, lean and muscular, making it ideal with anything that’s got a lot of fat in it. There’s a hearty bite as it finishes.

      Columbia Crest Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 ($14.99) Starts off pale, almost like an early B.C. Pinot Noir, and doesn’t show much aroma, but then delivers a little sweetness to the front of the tongue and the requisite black cherries and oak. Given the fact that a lot of Washington Cabernets cost two to three times the price, it’s a decent buy.

      Cookoothama Shiraz 2006 ($15.99) This was a big hit all around, crowding the Tinhorn Creek and A-Mano (below) for favourite. Deep purple colour with a sweetish, very grapey front palate, and lovely, fresh-cut-lilac nose. Great for sangria and an excellent everything-food wine, it’s another in the middling-price batch from Australia that deserves lots of attention this summer.

      Michel Torino Estate Don David Reserve Syrah 2006 ($15.99) Looks, smells, and tastes like Syrah but finishes tart and tannic (a year in new oak will do that), and the fruit just fades away. Argentina makes great Malbec, but Shirazwise (at least this Shirazwise) there’s not much here.

      Barahonda Monastrell 2005 ($15.99) This is all Monastrell, and I think the addition of other varieties (see Mad Dogs above) makes for a happier, mellower wine. Short and acidic, with a bite. I think there may still be some left.

      Brumont Tannat-Merlot 2005 ($15.99) This brings us the black, tough, southwestern French grape variety that usually wants something softer to mellow it, and gets it here with the Merlot, making it a surprisingly round burger blend. Of course, Alain Brumont can do no wrong, it seems, as master of the Gascony wine world. It asks for better-than-average burgers—like ground bison, maybe—with old Balderson Cheddar or blue cheese, Walla Walla onions, and Sun Wing Greenhouse heirloom tomatoes. For taste, versatility, and overall satisfaction, this is excellent value.

      Tinhorn Creek Cabernet Franc 2005 ($17.99) Despite having a pretty high alcohol content, this comes out quite tame in the glass, showing terrific, spicy fruit; a hint of chocolate; and some of those Madagascar peppercorns. If you can get some more come turkey (or goose) season, or when you cook up a big batch of beef rouladen, you’ve got your dinner companion here. (I found a bottle of the 2004 in the cellar and opened that too—holding beautifully and even mellower. Tinhorn has a good handle on the longevity thing.)

      A-Mano PUGLIA Primitivo 2005 ($17.99) Finally, a big, rotund Italian. It starts with the blessed screw cap and opens up without much finesse, but it has big, bold aromas of smoky blackberry canes and sweet, rich cassis, along with a big, fat, nearly endless finish. Short ribs with fennel seeds and black pepper, OJ, and balsamic, slow-cooked for about an hour and a half, served with truffled polenta—oh, yes! There’s cheaper Primitivo out there, as well as costlier, but I haven’t tasted much better.