Look to California for big wines that pair beautifully with outdoor cooking. (photo by Nanisimova; bottle photos courtesy of the wineries)

Last week, having closely watched the weather report, I gave my grill its thorough spring scrub. Swept the little back patio. Scrubbed down the rickety chair I sit on while the coals heat up. I love the first charcoal fires of the year, and the attendant dinners; it’s a taste of summer, and when you get back inside, you’re not sweating. 

Sure, I drink rosé all year round like you’re supposed to—but not a lot of it. I don’t want cool acidity. I want comforting, spicy warmth to accompany the perfectly cross-hatched flap steak I got from the hipster butcher. 

Napa Cabernets (and their ilk) can do many things. I like them best with a bit of cheese and conversation; they tend to be self-contained pleasures, in no need of embellishments. But if one is seeking comfort, and a sure thing, you won’t go wrong here.

And with seared meat? Well, follow me to these three winners.

Beaulieu Vineyard

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 himself. 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 tones. 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 another treasure from what’s considered a mixed vintage in Napa (there were fires that year, too). 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 youngish Pomerol, but its enduring dusty sweetness sings a New World song. With a dry-aged New York strip? Mercy, merci.

Priest Ranch

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 on 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, and a top layer of spiciness. What makes this so dynamite with food, though, is the backbone of vanilla and oak, with persistent tannins that support your entire dinner. I went big here, a T-bone, and toasted my good fortune.

We’re not past the last frost, just yet—but some fire-cooked meals should help things along.