I’m still grilling. I actually like it this time of year every bit as much as in July. Maybe a bit more, truth be told; when I bring my maillarded treasures back inside, I’m not sweating.
Far more important, I’m just happier in general with the bold red wines which return to the table this time of year. Sure, I drink rosé all year round like you’re supposed to—but not a lot of it. I don’t want cool, refreshing acidity. I want big, comforting, spicy warmth to accompany the perfectly cross-hatched flap steak I got at the hipster butcher shop.
Napa Cabernets (and their ilk) can do many things. I like them best with a bit of cheese and conversation, because to me they are self-contained vessels of pleasure, in no need of embellishments. But if one is in need of comfort, and a sure thing, you can rarely go wrong. And with seared meat—well, follow me to these three winners.
BV Cabernet Sauvignon 2017
There are reasons that BV cabs appear on so many restaurant lists—especially at steakhouses. These are well-made crowd-pleasers, with a pedigree going back 100 years to Georges de Latour. It was Messr. de Latour who brought guru André Tchelistcheff over from France to really get Beaulieu going—thereby changing West Coast wine making forever. Along with rich dark California fruit, this wine offers up butterscotch and caramel notes. My notes say “cherry jubilee” and there’s plenty of baking spice there too, all warmed up by the toasted oak barreling. This big company makes many pricier wines—almost always a good sign for its weekday bottles. Plenty sturdy with a marinated flank steak, the sub-$30 wine is such a pleasant drinker that you’ll finish it off for dessert.
Cliff Lede Vineyards
2017 High Fidelity
Here’s a treasure from what’s considered a mixed vintage in Napa (there were fires then, too, among other setbacks). A stylish operation making wine since 2002, Cliff Lede (pronounced “lady,” btw, and named after its Bordeaux-fan founder) is one of the top Stags Leap District makers. This rich $95 blend (“inspired by the Right Bank,” the winery notes) is instantly seductive, with a dark roundness in the mouth, and waves of fruit. Deeply ripe blackberries and blueberries yield to soft plum and tobacco notes. One review I found online described the wine as “plush,” and that couldn’t be more apt. Made up of 48% Cabernet Franc, 43% Merlot and 9% Cabernet Sauvignon, you could almost mistake this for a young Pomerol, but its enduring dusty sweetness sings a sweet New World song. With a dry-aged New York strip? Mercy, merci.
2018 Cabernet Sauvignon
Priest Ranch is part of Somerston Estate in Napa Valley’s eastern Vaca Mountains. The expansive 1,682-acre property features numerous microclimates for its 244 planted acres—and the 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon ($50) shows the winemaker’s art, blending fruit from 24 different blocks, ranging from 850 to 1,650 feet above sea level. The result is a full-bodied wine with appealing berry and black cherry notes, with a top layer of spiciness. What makes this so dynamite with food, though, is the backbone of vanilla and oak, with palate-rinsing tannins that support your entire dinner. I went big here, a T-bone, and had no regrets.