Sippers for Grillers: Wines to Kick Off Summer

By Gabe Saglie
(published in the Santa Barbara News-Press on May 24, 2012)

The weather’s cooperated enough lately that many of us have had already had a few chances to hone our grilling skills.  I’ve been firing up our own barbecues – our charcoal-charged Weber as well as our propane-powered Kenmore – a few times a week.  And charred edges never tasted so good.

As the official launch of the summer season, though, the upcoming Memorial Day weekend will be when we really put our grilling knack to the test.  Cooking food over fire is as much a culinary exercise as it is a social one, so the stakes are high.  And what we drink will be noticed, too.

A great cold beer will always be a winner.  And as you’ve read in this publication in the last several days, several local brewers – most noticeably Firestone in Paso, Telegraph in Santa Barbara and Island Brewery in Carpinteria – are coming off major international wines.  They have a growing local following – many, many winemakers, themselves – for a reason.

But if wine is on the mind, these suggestions are real winners, too.  Locally made, and at a wide range of price points.  They lend themselves to casual sipping on any summer day, and have the added bonus of pairing perfectly with a bevy of grilled favorites. 

Fontes & Phillips Panky Rosé 2011
To be fair, any local rosé will be worth popping open this Memorial Day weekend.  After all, summer is when a lot of us get to rediscover these visually pleasing and flavor-driven wines.  Presqu'ile and Tercero – both with tasting rooms in Los Olivos -- make great rosés.  But this Panky, made by Alan Phillips, continues to impress vintage after vintage, especially if you like your rosé pretty, lively and brilliant.  The 2011 Panky, just released, is equal parts cinsault, grenache and syrah, all grown in Santa Ynez.  Bright fruit in the mouth and a sparkling clean finish.  This is what you sip while you’re grilling; fuel for the steady focus any good BBQ’er must possess.  And then use it to pair any fish you pull off the rack, and any of that fresh summer fare on your table.  $15.

Dierberg Chardonnay, Santa Maria Valley, 2009 
The Santa Maria Valley has always been a haven for some of the finest chardonnays in the state.  And this Dierberg release – its latest -- is an example of just how complex and beautiful a Central Coast chard can be.  The 12-year-old Dierberg vineyard, in the western-most corner of the valley, enjoys cool maritime climate and sandy, loamy soils.  The chardonnay that results is fresh and clean one moment – plenty of crisp acidity and minerality as it hits the palate – and then opens up to a lush, round, fruit-driven wine on the back end.  Winemaker Andy Alba aged this wine for 10 months in Hungarian oak barrels and has put out a wonderfully balanced wine.  Chicken breast and turkey burgers coming off the grill? $32.

Fess Parker Winery Frontier Red, Lot No. 122, Barbecue Edition
Few labels conjure up feelings of an Americana-inspired summer as Fess Parker.  This pioneer – including TV, real estate and hospitality – left behind a wine legacy that manifests itself in some of the best reds in the county, year after year.  This wine, produced by a team led by winemaker Blair Fox, is the perfect no-frills, uncomplicated, easy-going wine drinking experience.  Ideal for summer grubbing, right?  It’s Rhone inspired, blending syrah, grenache, petite sirah, mourvedre, cinsault and carignane; Parker once told me syrah and Rhone wines were his ideal drink, so I don’t doubt he would have loved this one.  For a value wine, it’s amazingly smooth and tasty, offering bright bounce on the palate and loads of dark berry and ripe stone fruit flavors; lots of blackberry, cherry and plum, and a subtle smokiness.  Drink this as you grill, and pair with anything you cook, especially burgers, hot dogs and steak.  And pass the bottle around; any guest who’s a fan of classic American TV will get a kick out of the image of Parker as the beloved frontiersman Davy Crockett featured on the label.  $12.

Palmina Barbera 2009
When a lively group of wine lovers gathered at our house a couple of weeks ago, we tasted several Santa Barbara-made Italian wines blindly; that is, we tasted through them with labels covered and revealed the wines only at the end.  The overall favorite that night was this wine, made by Steve Clifton from barbera grapes sourced from Los Alamos, Santa Ynez and the Santa Rita Hills.  There’s a wonderfully lightness about this wine that makes it very approachable, and a perfect pair for anything tomato-based; keep this in mind when you bring out your grandmother’s lasagna recipe.  But this wine also delivers rich, developed, layered notes of cherry, dark berries and earth, making it an ideal candidate for grilled fare.  If you like herbs on your barbecue – sprigs of rosemary on your Porterhouse or liberal Italian seasonings in your turkey burger – this wine will be a crowd pleaser.  $24.

Consilience Petite Sirah
Summer or not, this has become one of those dependable pours for us over the years.  I most recently ordered a bottle while enjoying Mother’s Day dinner on the new harborside patio at Chuck’s Waterfront Grill, where our server, Ben, touted its popularity with patrons there, too.  A steady favorite with Consilience wine club members, this wine oozes power.  It’s full steam ahead here, with a muscular mouth feel and burly flavors of dark, super ripe berries and delicious overtones of toasted caramel.  But this is an elegant wine, too, with plenty of silkiness, balanced concentration and a sleek finish.  Winemaker Brett Escalera sourced the fruit from the Fess Parker estate off Foxen Canyon Road and, as with all previous renditions of this wine, has delivered a powerhouse beverage.  If you like your sirloin medium rare, your burgers juicy and your tri-tip tender, then this one’s for you.  $24

Gabe Saglie considers his grilling skills a work in progress, but he wouldn’t be surprised if anyone who’s had his grilled New York Strip begged to differ.  He’s also senior editor for  You can email him at

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