Happy Birthday America. We raise a glass and toast our collective history and accomplishments. What's in that glass? For me and fellow wine lovers, it sure won't be beer. July 4th is a time to celebrate our great country and wines made on American soil.
From burgers to fried chicken and apple pie, we'll be feasting on a typical American menu. The wine should also be as American as the food. Alyssa Rapp is the founder of Bottlenotes, an online community where you for can learn about and share your love of wine with others. I asked her to make some Fourth of July wine picks. "Who doesn't look forward to celebrating this ultra-American holiday with a good, old-fashioned hamburger, hot dogs, grilled chicken or steak," she says. Alyssa recommends American wines from California and Washington State for our July 4th picnics.
Shrimp on the Barbie
"Shrimp on a skewer, whether wrapped in bacon or straight-up, are a perfect appetizer prepared on the grill," says Alyssa. "The natural sweetness of the shrimp makes it a perfect pairing for a subtly-sweet white wine such as Riesling."
Her pick: Pacific Rim Dry Riesling (Columbia Valley, $10). "Pacific Rim's Riesling offers bright crispness, subtle sweetness and aromas of pear and apple. Its natural sweetness makes it a perfect contrast, thus pairing, to a spicy dish such as Cajun-style grilled shrimp."
For burger lovers, "Since the best burgers are juicy and tasty, whether adorned in lettuce, tomato, onion and cheese or something more unique, they make the perfect pairing for an all-American Claret, which is a Bordeaux blend."
Alyssa's pick: Chappellet Mountain Cuvee (Napa Valley, $29). She says, "Blackberry and black cherry dominate this delicious Napa Valley Bordeaux blend. Almost equal parts Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, a hint of smokiness in it makes it a perfect pairing for grilled items." For a value Bordeaux blend (also called a Meritage when made in the USA), I suggest Hahn Estates Meritage (Central Coast, $16).
"There is almost nothing tastier than a mouthwatering, all-beef hot dog prepared on the grill," says Alyssa. "Whether sliced as an appetizer or eaten the traditional way in a fluffy bun loaded with ketchup, mustard, pickles, onions, relish, sauerkraut, and more, best to keep this pairing super simple -- and complementary -- with a big, bold, juicy California Cabernet."
Her pick: Cannonball Cabernet Sauvignon (California, $15). "85% Cabernet, this wine has notes of ripe blackberry, black cherry, and a hint of cocoa powder. The addition of Syrah (10%) provides a hint of pepper, a perfect added 'seasoning' to all grilled items."
Grilled Teriyaki Chicken and Fried Chicken
Alyssa says, "Sometimes you just want to keep it really simple food-wise on July 4th with grilled chicken, Teriyaki or otherwise, so you can save room for the other July 4th fare (potato chips, coleslaw, fruit salad, etc.) We recommend keeping it equally "simple" and clean with an unoaked California Chardonnay while so doing."
Alyssa's pick here: St. Francis "Intatto" (untouched) Chardonnay (Sonoma County, $15). "We love this wine as its clean, unoaked character lets the natural vibrancy of the Chardonnay grape shine through. The result is a crisp wine, with intense minerality and fresh aromas of grapefruit and lychee. A perfect pairing for grilled chicken."
What about fried chicken? That's a staple of July 4th picnics that I grew up with in Atlanta. My personal favorite, especially for anything fried, is sparkling wine. The bubbles cut through the crispy fried skin nicely. My pick is the Gruet Brut NV ($13.75) from New Mexico. Yes, New Mexico produces a fantastic bubbly. Alyssa goes traditional with a classic California Chardonnay. Her choice: Cameron Hughes Chardonnay ($15) or Clos du Val Chardonnay (Carneros, $25).
These same two wines are also great choices for side dishes at most July 4th picnics, coleslaw and corn on the cob. Alyssa says, "If you like creamy coleslaw or butter-drenched grilled corn on the cob, then you can't go wrong with a California Chardonnay. Its full, lush, creamy character should perfectly complement these all-American sides."
Why not splurge on your July 4th cookout with grilled steak? "You might as well go all-out in with some delicious wine. And there's nothing more American than our great nation's sole indigenous varietal, Zinfandel," says Alyssa.
Her pick: Chateau Montelena Estate-Grown Zinfandel (Napa Valley, $30). "The opposite of the super raisin-y, high alcoholic, typical Zinfandels, Montelena's is balanced, thus totally food-friendly," she says. "Ripe blackberry flavors are balanced by a wide array of spices like nutmeg and pepper that come together in a powerful yet restrained finish." For a budget-friendly wine, my pick is Cardinal Zin (California, $9.99), a fruity wine made from old vines.
Mom and Apple Pie
It doesn't get more American than apple pie for dessert, so I asked Alyssa what she would pick. "I'm a big fan of late harvest Riesling with it, or at best, Sauternes. These sweet dessert wines bring out the nutty, nutmeg and caramel notes in the pie." Even though we tend to think of Germany for Riesling and France for Sauternes, there are excellent American alternatives. I think Hogue Cellars makes a terrific late harvest Riesling (Columbia Valley, $9.99). For a real splurge, I love Berigner "Nightingale" (Napa Valley, $40), made in the Sauternes style with Semillion and Sauvignon Blanc.