With many outdoor events scheduled as we headed into the Labor Day weekend, we sorted through notes on bigger wines we’ve enjoyed with barbecue, picnic and party fare.

Here are 12 favorites. The selections include wines made from Cabernet Sauvignon, Cinsault, Petite Sirah, Syrah, Rhone blends, Merlot and classic Zinfandels, and priced $12 to $32. Wines were purchased from local merchants, grocery stores, flash sale websites and a big box store.

We did buy half-case and case quantities of some the best values to have handy for entertaining (a good strategy to save scrambling for something on short notice). Some of the vintages are no longer available, but the wineries listed here are generally consistent each year in providing quality wines at good price points.


  • $12 Washington Cabernet Sauvignon ’16 Pendulum Columbia Valley. Mid-dark garnet; ripe grape (14.2 alc.), prune and sweet blackberry jam nose; mid-body; balanced; good fruit; long semi-smooth fruity finish. Burger, pasta, pizza, BBQ wine.
  • $13 Aussie Shiraz 2016 Kangarilla Road McLaren Vale. Dull mid-dark garnet; peppery, manzanita, ripe grape nose; fat, grapey; a bit one-dimensional; long hot (14.5 alc.) chewy finish. BBQ, burger and pizza wine.
  • Paso Robles Calif. GSM Rhone-style 55% Syrah, 36% Grenache, 8% Petite Sirah) blend 2016 Crooked Path Cellars The Wanderer $14. Dark garnet; cedar, bark, pomegranate, ripe grape nose (14.8 alc); mid-body; grapey, thick; long hot tight finish. w/BBQ, ribs, burgers.
  • Sonoma County Merlot 2015 St. Francis $15. Sharp, mid-dark garnet; interesting smoky, cocoa and mint nose; mid-body; good Merlot fruit; a little unbalanced; long semi-hot (14.8 alc.) semi-chewy finish. w/burgers, BBQ.
  • Washington Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 Mercer Horse Heaven Hills $15. Mid-dark garnet; berry, prune, ripe grape nose (14.5 alc); mid-body; grapey; decent tannins; long wood, berry finish. w/BBQ.
  • Barossa Valley BBQ, ribs and pasta wine 2016 Schild Estate Shiraz $15. Mid-dark garnet; peppery, bright red fruit, plum and wood nose; mid-big body; good structure; long hot (14.5 alc.) fruity finish.

    Schild Shiraz

  • 2013 Rosenblum Cellars Zinfandel Rockpile Road Vineyard $15 (in blow-out sale). Mid-dark garnet; berry, bramble, ripe grape nose (15.3%$ alc..); mid-body; balanced; good Zinfandel fruit and flavor; long semi-hot berry and wood finish. BBQ and grilling wine.
  • Ancient Peaks 2016 Renegade, Paso Robles, Santa Margarita Ranch, $16. Blend 32% Syrah, 25% Zinfandel, 20% Malbec, 19% Petit Verdot, 4% Petite Sirah. Dark garnet; prune, plum, pepper and aldehyde nose; fat, thick wine; long semi-chewy and hot (14.5 alc.) finish. BBQ and rib wine.
  • 2016 Navigator Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon $20. Mid-dark garnet; blackberry, prune, mint, wood nose; mid-body; good Cabernet extract; a little hard and hot; long semi-chew finish. Beef, pasta and BBQ wine.
  • Big Calif. Zinfandel 2014 Rosenblum Cellars Rockpile Road Vineyard $20. Dark garnet; ripe grapes, prune, peppery nose; mid-big body; fat, thick; odd structure; long fat grapey hot (15.7 alc.!) finish. w/BBQ ribs.

    Rosenblum Zin

  • Lodi Mokelume River AVA 2016 Estate Crush Cinsault Bechthold Vineyard $26. Light-mid red/purple; berry, iodine, saline, pomegranate nose; mid-body; balanced; semi-tight, hot, berry and wood finish. w/picnic and BBQ fare.
  • Lodi Jahant 2017 LangeTwins Petite Sirah One Hundred $32, Darkest purple (Port-like); prunes (15.0% alc.), mint, blackberry jam, licorice and wood nose; mid-body; round, ripe; decent tannins; not hard; long fruity finish. w/BBQ, grilled meats.