June 10, 2008

Uncork a Tasty Bargain

Nobody hanging out in your backyard on a 90-degree night chowing on Vietnamese chicken wings is going to be looking for hints of pie spices and pencil lead in their glass. That doesn't mean, however, you should pick wine from the $1.99 bin. Here are some wines that overdeliver on flavor for price.

Whites

Colombelle Vin de Pays des Cotes de Gascogne White, $8: Every year, the appearance of this wine marks the beginning of summer for me. Crisp as a snap pea, with a sharp grapefruit zing that wakes the tongue up even on the most lethargic summer days.

Gazela Vinho Verde, $7: Portugal's Vinho Verde is one of the great bargains of the wine world, and made for immediate summer drinking. So light it's almost a little fizzy, with cold, crisp, green grape flavor.

La Petite Frog Picpoul de Pinet, $3 0/3-liter box: Picpoul fuels the summer vacationers in the south of France, where this is made. It's as piquant as picpoul sounds, with a grassy, grapefruitlike brightness to its light, dry flavor.

Segura Viudas Cava Brut, about $8: Crisp, light, dry and bubbly. What's not to like, especially when there's shrimp on the grill? If it's too dry for you, add a splash of fruit juice for a summer cooler.

Three Thieves Bandit Pinot Grigio. $ 8/1 liter: You wouldn't know it from prices, but every year in California some amount of grapes go to waste. The Three Thieves run around California buying up the best of this juice to makes wines like this Pinot Grigio, a bright, fruity white in a 1-liter Tetra Pak, the same sort of packaging for juice boxes.

Reds

Banrock Station Shiraz, $ 8/1.5 liter: When it comes to grilled red meat, it's hard to go wrong with Australian shiraz. This is an affordable workhouse red with lots of grapey, spicy flavor.

J. Lohr Monterey Wildflower Valdigiue, $9: Buy this by the case for summer cookouts. With tangy, dark boysenberry flavors yet a light texture, this matches everything from grilled fish to teriyaki steak.

Penfolds Koonunga Hill Shiraz-Cabernet Sauvignon, $10: This is a good one to know about since it's stocked almost everywhere, and often discounted. It's simple and spicy, with lots of plummy shiraz flavor given a little extra structure by the cabernet.

Protocolo Red 2006 ($6): This old- school Spanish red remains one of my favorites. It's juicy with tempranillo's spicy cherry flavors, but it's also earthy, gamey even. Great with steak, even better with lamb chops.

Santa Julia Mendoza Malbec, $9: Jose Zuccardi's soft, spicy basic malbec is excellently suited for backyard events. And the Reserve version, with a little more sass to its blackberry and licorice flavors, is only $3 extra.

This accompanied a piece on backyard barbecues in the Denver Post.

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