Wine Talk: Wine Pairings for Fall Grilling Classics

September 7, 2020 Updated: September 7, 2020

Fall is a beautiful time of year for a barbecue.

Over the years, I’ve stumbled across several fall classics that have become favorites because they steer me toward wines I’ve pretty much ignored during the warmer summer months.

I will share three.

First up is the grilled, boneless leg of lamb. While this dish might seem a bit ambitious for the grill, it’s actually quite easy and delicious and almost always foolproof. I season mine with kosher salt, coarse black pepper, and rosemary. I also take it out of the fridge about an hour before I put it on the grill, allowing it to come up to room temperature.

Coat thoroughly with extra-virgin olive oil, and place on the lower rack for 15 minutes. Flip it for another 15 minutes on the other side. It’s a crowd-pleaser because the narrow part of the leg will be well done, the ends medium-rare, and the thickest parts rare.

Serve a beautiful Duckhorn or Nickel & Nickel merlot, and you will likely be crowned the barbecue king by all of your guests.

Baby back ribs are another classic for fall grilling. I roast my ribs in the oven for two hours at 375 degrees F, or until the meat begins to shrink and pull away from the bone, and then finish them on the grill for that smoky flavor. Use indirect heat on the grill so the flame won’t burn the barbecue sauce you will carefully slather on during the final cooking stages.

Serve with a spicy zinfandel from Runquist in the Sierra Foothills or a smooth and balanced Napa Valley zin from Grgich. The combination of sweet and spicy in the zin marries beautifully with the sweet, spicy, and savory combination in baby backs!

Finally, I like to go against the grain and serve a buttery chardonnay with grilled salmon. The preferred narrative for salmon in recent years has been to pair it with pinot noir. That works, and I enjoy that combo as well. But I tend to shy away from rich chardonnays during the summer months, so it’s a joy to go back to these great wines as the weather cools, and I am more inclined to consume heavier whites.

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A rich, oily chardonnay works beautifully with salmon, a rich, oily fish. (Evgeny Karandaev/Shutterstock)

A rich, oily chardonnay works beautifully with salmon, a rich, oily fish. Chardonnay also has the flavor oomph to handle the strong flavor of salmon. Serve up a beautiful Tongue Dancer, Lighthouse, or Dutton Goldfield chardonnay and demonstrate your brilliance when it comes to matching great food with great wine.

Tasting Notes

Wines are rated on a 100-point scale. Wines are chosen for review because they represent outstanding quality or value, and the scores are simply a measure of this reviewer’s enthusiasm for the recommended wine.

Chappellet 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon, Hideaway Vineyard, Napa Valley ($140): The Chappellet family has probably done as much as any other family to cement the Napa Valley’s reputation for world-class cabernet sauvignon. Its Hideway Vineyard cab from this vintage is a monumental red that delivers a massive palate of ripe blackberry and black currant fruit, with hints of cassis, oak vanillin, and smooth, supple tannins. Rating: 98.

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Chappellet 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon, Hideaway Vineyard, Napa Valley. (Courtesy of Chappellet)

Paraduxx 2016 X2 Red Wine, Napa Valley ($100): When Duckhorn started its Paraduxx project some years ago, the idea of blending cabernet sauvignon with zinfandel seemed fairly radical. Over the years, the combo has produced exceptional results, and Paraduxx wines now stand as some of the most impressive reds in the Napa Valley. The X2 is the World Series of Paraduxx blends. The winemaking team chooses only from the best barrels from the finest vineyard blocks of each vintage, ensuring a spectacular result. The 2016 X2 is a monumental wine, remarkably complex and spicy. It has a juicy palate of red- and black-fruit aromas, firm tannins, and the potential to improve with age for years to come. Rating: 98.

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Paraduxx 2016 X2 Red Wine, Napa Valley. (Courtesy of Duckhorn)

Calera 2017 Pinot Noir, de Villiers Vineyard, Mt. Harlan ($75): This vintage from the de Villiers vineyard is richly layered, with impressive depth and complexity of fruit expression, beautifully integrated tannins, and a touch of earthiness. Rating: 96.

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Calera 2017 Pinot Noir, de Villiers Vineyard, Mt. Harlan. (Courtesy of Calera)

Cascina Castlet 2016 Barbera d’Asti ‘Passum,’ Italy ($65): Castlet’s Passum Barbera from Asti is a muscular red with impressive structure, fresh acidity, intense aromas of black cherry and blackberry, and a beautiful note of oak spice. It’s built for the long haul, so additional cellaring is highly recommended. Rating: 95.

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Cascina Castlet 2016 Barbera d’Asti ‘Passum,’ Italy. (Courtesy of Cascina Castlet)

Merry Edwards 2018 Pinot Noir, Olivet Lane, Russian River Valley ($72): This is perhaps the top vineyard in the galaxy of splendid Merry Edwards vineyard designates. The 2018 Olivet Lane shows fresh raspberry and a hint of forest floor on the nose, with excellent depth on the palate. The tannins are supple and smooth in this vintage, and the persistence of flavor through the finish is impressive. Rating: 95.

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Merry Edwards 2018 Pinot Noir, Olivet Lane, Russian River Valley.

Duckhorn 2017 Merlot, Carneros ($78): Sourced from the coolest district in the Napa Valley, Duckhorn’s Carneros merlot is a beautifully structured red that exhibits power and richness on the palate; shows aromas of ripe plum, blueberry, and cassis; and finishes with excellent persistence of flavor. Drink now, or cellar another five to eight years. Rating: 93.

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Duckhorn 2017 Merlot, Carneros. (Courtesy of Duckhorn)

Follow Robert on Twitter at @wineguru. To find out more about Robert Whitley and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at Creators.com. Email Robert at whitleyonwine@yahoo.com. Copyright 2020 Creators.com