Most people kick off their grilling season on Memorial Day weekend, when there’s time to let the charcoal slowly heat up three days in a row. And what better to drink with all that charred goodness on this national holiday than a bottle of wine made in the U.S.?
Mia Van de Water, the wine director at New York City’sNorth End Grill, is a pro when it comes to pairing smoky, charred dishes, because the restaurant is centered around wood-fired grills and charcoal ovens that turn out Berkshire tomahawk pork chops, porterhouse steaks for two, crispy duck legs and whole turbot. Her wine list is a split between American wines and French. “Chef’s cuisine is fairly well-rooted in France, but obviously we’re very rooted in America—and so is the neighborhood, in a lot of ways, because we’re downtown, right across from the Freedom Tower,” she says. “We came to that as the identity of the restaurant.”
Her outstanding selection of American wines is what she calls “a balance between the iconic and familiar and also the up-and-coming and the lesser-known wines, with wines from areas that are ripe for exploration.” This means that you’re just as likely to find a melon de Bourgogne (a.k.a. muscadet, a grape native to France’s Loire Valley) as you are cabernet franc from Oregon or old bottles of Napa cabernet sauvignon.
Mia Van de Water (image: Jonathan Curtis)
These days, she’s most excited about Rhône varieties from up-and-coming winemakers on California’s Central Coast, like Angela Osborne from A Tribute to Grace and Ian Brand of Le P’tit Paysan. And surprisingly, she says she’s starting to see a lot of cabernet now that it’s not super ripe or super high in alcohol and is made in 100 percent new French oak. “People are scaling back and starting to think about those wines more like they did in the ’80s,” says Van de Water.
She also says to keep an eye out for white wines from Oregon: “Obviously, pinot noir is its original calling card and probably what it’ll always be most famous for, but if we start seeing some more pinot gris and chardonnay up there, I think that’s super exciting.”
So what’s Van de Water drinking Memorial Day weekend? These are her picks of six American wines to drink while in your flip-flops at the grill.
“I personally think if you’re outside cooking, you should be drinking something sparkling … because. Schramsberg makes some of the best very accessible sparkling wine in the United States. It was the second winery in Napa, opened in 1862, so it has literally been around forever, and the wines are still really delicious. Its 2013 blanc de blancs spends two years on the lees, so it has some of that richness and toastiness you might expect from Champagne, but it doesn’t spend so long that it loses the freshness of the fruit. It’s the product of a single vintage as opposed to having some reserve wine added to it, so for me what that means is you get the texture of a more serious wine but with a lot more immensely and immediately pleasurable fruit character up front.” $39
“I know that people think about grilling and think red wine, but I have sparkling or rosé at a cookout. This Bone-Jolly rosé is juicy—there’s some real fruit there, in a melon, prickly-pear kind of way. Because it has this juiciness of fruit, I think of it as sort of a plusher rosé. It’s so versatile. The Sierra Foothills, where this wine is from, is an area that time forgot when the California wine industry started to come up. It’s all Gold Rush country, and all of these AVAs have super adorable names, like Fair Play. There’s a lot of Rhône varieties out there, and it’s never been taken over by the “we’re gonna plant a bunch of cabernet and crop really high and make money” kind of thing. And so as this new generation of vintners is really looking for old vine sources, it’s a natural place for them to go.” $22
“It’s rare to find cabernet franc in the U.S. that’s made in the style that it’s made in the Loire. Almost everyone who’s historically made it here has done it in a we’re-trying-to-be-Cheval-Blanc kind of way. This is super simple; it’s easy, light, juicy and not high alcohol. Basically, it’s made like Chinon, so you get the savory and herbal character. It’s a great wine to have around if you have a lot of vegetables going on the grill.” $25
“For me, the ultimate grilled-meat wine is syrah. You’re gonna put pepper on it, and you’re gonna put it on the grill, and it’s gonna get charry. All of those meaty flavors in your meat should match the meaty flavors in your wine. I love syrah. I would drink syrah over cabernet any day of the week. I discovered this bottle during this lineup of tasting Washington wines, and it just was so easy and fresh, and all of the peppery syrah varietal character was there. This is the first vintage that Rôtie Cellars is working out of the Rocks District appellation, which is a newly defined AVA.” $48
“What I love about East Bench is that it showcases the exotic, playful red-fruited side of zinfandel, which is really what I think zinfandel should be all the time. Zinfandel’s really sexy in a way, as long it’s not done with a lot of petite sirah and a lot of new wood. The winemaker Paul Draper came on at Ridge in ’69, and even as style, fashion and trends have moved all around him, he’s just still doing his thing the way he thinks it should be done. That requires a lot of passion, vision and commitment.” $30
“Carignan is tremendously underrated. For me, it’s a nice easy sidestep over from malbec. It’s brambly and black-fruited and has a fair amount of weight and doesn’t have a lot of oak. Here you have this juicy red wine for people who like bigger, blacker, more structured red wines, but it still works really, really well with what you’re cooking, no matter what. I often get this smoked pepper, kind of savory thing going on with carignan, and if you’re grilling, that’s obviously throwing off a fair amount of smoke, whether it’s charcoal or otherwise. Carignan’s always a nice little aromatic match.” $22