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Fall Classics

Robert Whitley on

Whether planning a Labor Day cookout to say goodbye to summer or gearing up for a tailgate party, 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, 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.

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.


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