It is hot. It is humid. So what should one pair on a summer's eve with grilled beef, such as a juicy, gloriously fat-marbled, rib-eye steak? There are several options that pair well with grilled meats.
Both Zinfandel and Syrah, for example, are considered classic grill food pairings as these tend to showcase bold fruit flavors and with a little spice. We certainly enjoy such varietal wines, and have recommended many here before. At the moment, however, we are thinking more along the lines of a good "meritage" - one that is fruity and hefty, with soft tannins yet is well structured enough to hold its own with the summer menu.
A combination of "merit" and "heritage," the word "Meritage" is a late 1980s domestic wine term coined to describe domestic "Bordeaux-style" blends without infringing on the legally protected designation of origin of the Bordeaux region of France.
It was also a response to the exasperating US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives regulations that require a wine to contain at least 75 percent of a specific varietal to be labeled with the name of that grape. Since Bordeaux style blends frequently do not reach that threshold, another name was sought, created and adoptednow in fairly wide circulation, not just in the US.
The medium-bodied, kosher, Israeli Teperberg Meritage, Shomron, 2013 (around $18) is a blend of 70 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 25 percent Merlot and 5 percent Cabernet Franc that begins with aromas of red berries, dark plum and earth. The lively flavors include black currents, more plum, cherries and blueberries with leather and hints of herbs and spice. A well-balanced effort that shows its French influences as well as the craftsmanship of the winemaker, it is a terrific summer red.
Those seeking a domestic meritage should consider the Pacifica Evan's Collection Washington Meritage 2010 ($40). This medium bodied blend of Walla Walla Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec and Petit Verdot was aged in French and American oak and offers aromas of eucalyptus and dark stone fruits, cassis, and a slightly leafy, green undercurrent, followed by flavors of juicy dark fruits, a little toasted coffee bean, and soft, slightly drying tannins. The finish is a mix of sweet fruit and soft oak, with a bit of drying greenness jutting into the picture. This is serious wine from a tough vintage, and drinking beautifully now.
Spirits-wise, we recently tried the new release from Chivas Regal, the first new expression to hit the US for something like 7 years. Called Chivas Regal Extra, it is supposed to be a step-up from their traditional 12 year old, but below their 18 year old. So naturally this one is a non-age statement expression. Obviously demand, or anticipated demand, of Chivas must be up, for them to join the non-age statement movement at the mid-range price point ($40-45).
A blend of malt and grain whiskies, Chivas created this whisky using, to quote their website, "an exceptional blend of rare whiskies combined with Malt Whiskies aged in sherry casks from the Oloroso sherry bodegas in Spain." When it comes to blends, this is often marketing speak for the addition of heavy doses of spirit caramel for coloring (the only additive permitted in the trade; it is spirit caramel E150a-d, though E150a is nearly universal, and poses NO kashrus issues).
So is it any good? The Chivas Regal Extra Blended Scotch Whisky (40 percent abv; $40-45) offers malt, cereal, dark fruits, caramel, and bitter chocolate and a touch of cedar wood on the nose, these carry through to the palate with additional notes of herbal honey, spicy ginger, baked apple, tangerine, and overripe bananas. While not an especially full body, this is a nonetheless chewy dram that seems to help drive the flavors home coherently.
Less malty than the regular 12, the added caramel, dark fruit and spice notes help lift this considerably. On balance, this is a fine blended whisky experience.