The kickoff of football season always reminds me of burned brats, warm white wine and that sinking feeling when you learn no one remembered to bring a corkscrew. Tailgate parties don't have to be a disappointing launch into an otherwise glorious autumn afternoon, though they often are.
Over the years, I've learned a few lessons that I will now share with those inclined to want wine instead of beer at the next tailgate party.
1. Do not fear the screw cap. Stranded and thirsty in a sun-drenched parking lot, the once onerous screw-cap closure could be your best friend. Once upon a time, screw caps were an indication of poor quality. The Aussies and Kiwis changed our thinking some years ago when they started selling many of their finest wines in bottles with screw-cap closures. Now everyone does it, and the convenience factor when you are camping or tailgating is off the charts. Do not let the absence of a corkscrew spoil your party.
1. Do not fear the tall, slender wine bottles popular in Germany and Austria. Too many wine enthusiasts equate this bottle shape with sweet dessert wines. Not so. Dry rieslings and gewurztraminers from stellar producers such as Dutton-Goldfield and Navarro Vineyards are poured from the same type of bottle, and these might well be the best match for your grilled sausages and brats.
3. Do not fear pink wine. Once upon a time, most domestic pink wine was sweet and icky. Not so anymore. Domestic producers have embraced Europe's love of crisp, dry rose wines that are both refreshing and oh-so-versatile with just about every savory morsel served up at a typical tailgate gathering.
4. Do not fear high-octane zinfandel. There is no doubt the average zinfandel, if it's made in the bold, ripe style zin fanatics love, packs a wallop. The alcohol by volume sometimes exceeds 15%, and most of the time that's not necessarily good with refined cuisine. But we're talking tailgate party here -- burgers, steaks, chops, sausages, brats, etc. There is no better red wine for the challenge of the tailgate than zinfandel. Just remember the three Rs: Renwood, Runquist and Rodney Strong!
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.
Eberle 2017 Syrah, Steinbeck Vineyard, Paso Robles ($30) -- Winemaker Gary Eberle had the vision in 1975 to plant syrah in Paso Robles, where it has thrived ever since. In 1978, Eberle produced the first 100% syrah wine in the United States. This long history with syrah and long association with the Steinbeck Vineyard has served Eberle well. His syrah is among the most complex and elegant outside of its native Rhone Valley (France). Though he is no longer the winemaker (that role is now managed deftly by Chris Eberle, not related), the tradition continues. The 2017 is a beautiful example. Unlike other Paso syrahs, the 2017 Eberle is restrained without being light or uninteresting. It opens beautifully in the glass, revealing depth and complexity as notes of blueberry, blackberry, coffee and spice emerge. Well balanced, it will benefit from additional cellar age, although it is perfectly drinkable now. Rating: 92.
Eberle 2017 Cotes-du-Robles Rouge, Paso Robles ($30) -- This Chateauneuf-du-Pape-style red highlights the red-fruit aromas of grenache (64%) with the backbone of syrah (24%) and the deep color of mourvedre (8%) and durif (4%). It's a complex spice bomb that pairs beautifully with grilled sausages, chops and roast chicken. Rating: 90.
Tenuta Perano 2015 Chianti Classico DOCG, Tuscany, Italy ($26.99) -- This estate is owned by Frescobaldi, and the underlying quality shows. With a restrained style, the 2015 Perano Chianti Classico delivers elegance and freshness, exhibiting inviting notes of cherry and truffle along with firm acidity. Rating: 90.
Alara 2017 Pinot Noir, San Benito ($41) -- California's Central Coast is home to some of the state's finest pinot noir vineyards, so this beauty from the relatively obscure Alara Cellars isn't a complete surprise. Showing notes of cherry and spice, with supple tannins and a long finish, it's a pinot noir worth seeking out. Rating: 89.
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 www.creators.com. Email Robert at email@example.com.