In getting an early start on firing up the barbie as the days get longer and the nights warmer, we’ve been sampling more robust red wines that can be a match for grilled foods. The dishes ranged from burgers and bratwurst to better beef tenderloin, with a dash of Santa Maria barbecue seasoning. The wines also held up to a pepperoni and sausage pizza.

The result: 19 top-scoring wines tasted over the past four months, where the wine notes included key words (BBQ, rib, picnic, beach, pizza, burger, etc.), for easy searching. The prices ranged from $13 to $38 and alcohol levels from 13.0 for a Paso Robles wine to 15.5 for wines from Lodi, California, and Baja California, Mexico.

We purchased some of the familiar names from big box stores and local grocery stores with good selections. If ever in need of finding a wine from the comfort of your home, try Wine-Searcher. Some of the Lodi wines arrived quarterly in three-bottle lots at around $75 per quarter from Lodi Wine Club. It offers “the usual suspects” made from the top varietals, or the “mavericks,” small lots or obscure varietals, which I am following to learn more. Check it out for some new tasting adventures.

For those interested in trying wines from Baja California, explore the selections from LMA Wines, an importer based in San Diego. Enjoy!

  • Sonoma, Calif., 2018 Dry Creek Vineyard Zinfandel Old Vine, $13. (77% Zin, 22% Petite Sirah, 1% Carignan). Mid-dark purple, pink edges; bramble, raspberry nose; mid-body; semi-tight tannins; good Zin flavor; long hot (14.5 alc.) finish. w/BBQ. 15.5 UC Davis scale; 89 other scales.
  • $14 Mendoza Malbec 2019 Layer Cake. Mid-garnet; peppery, blackberry, cedar, herbaceous nose; mid body, mid deep; long chewy hot (14.5 alc.) finish. BBQ, burger, grill wine. 15/88
  • 2015 C.V.N.E. (Compañía Vinícola del Norte de España) Rioja Cune Reserva, $15. Mid-dark garnet; ripe grape, plum, black fruit, spice and cedar nose (aged in French and American oak for one year); mid-big body; tight tannins; long berry, Tempranillo, and wood finish; slightly hot (14.5 alc.). w/BBQ, pasta, heartier dishes. 16/90
  • $15 Spanish blend 2017 Crapula Jumilla Cr Gold 5. 50% Monastrell, 50% Syrah. Mid-garnet/purple; peppery, bramble, waxy nose; mid-big body; chewy, tart; thick grapey finish; decent flavor. BBQ, pizza, pasta wine. 15.5/89
  • $16 Santa Margarita Ranch, Calif., red blend, 2017 Ancient Peaks Renegade (37% Syrah, 24% Malbec, 16% Petit Verdot, 13% Zinfandel, 10% Petite Sirah). Mid-dark garnet; ripe grape, black fruit, black pepper, jammy nose; mid-big body; big tannins; deep fruit; long, chewy, hot (14.7 alc.) finish. BBQ, rib, pasta wine. 15.5-16/89-90
  • Central Coast California Pinot Noir 2018 Wild Horse $17. Mid-ruby; red fruit, cherry, wood, spice nose; mid-body (13.5 alc.); mid-plus acids and tannins; long semi-chewy finish. w/BBQ chicken. 15/88
  • Nice concept. Profits shared with vineyard workers. Santa Barbara County, Calif., Red Blend 2018 Stolpman La Cuadrilla Red, Ballard Canyon, $17. 70% Syrah, 15% Grenache, 15% Sangiovese. Mid-garnet; ripe grape (14.1 alc.), prune, berry, black pepper nose; mid-body; mid-plus tannins; deep Syrah fruit on the palate; long chewy finish. Picnic, BBQ, pizza wine. 15.5/89
  • Valle de Guadalupe, Baja California, Mexico, 2018 Villa Montefiori Paoloni Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot, $18. 70% Cab, 30% Merlot. Mid-garnet; herbaceous, cassis, black fruit, wood and saline nose; mid-plus body (13.5 alc.); good tannins; long, black fruit, semi-tight finish. w/BBQ. 16/90
  • Paso Robles, Calif., red blend (62% Petite Sirah, 20% Zinfandel, 16% Syrah, 2% Lagrein), 2018 Daou The Pessimist, $18. Dark purple; big viscosity (15.2 alc.); ripe grape, prune, black fruit, peppery nose; mid-big body. Pizza, pasta, BBQ wine. 15.5/89
  • Paso Robles, Calif. Rhone blend 2018 Tablas Creek Patelin de Tablas, $18. 40% Syrah, 33% Grenache, 21% Mourvedre, 3% Counoise. Light-mid garnet; red fruit, peppery, floral, green wood nose; mid-body; mid-long semi-deep fruity finish (13.0 alc.). BBQ, picnic wine. 15.5/89
  • Uruguay Petit Verdot 2017 Bodega Garzón Petit Verdot Single Vineyard, $19. Dark purple; ripe grape, black fruit, herbaceous, cedar nose; mid-big body; tight tannins; long chewy hot (14.5 alc.) finish. Rib and BBQ wine. 16/90
  • Fine $20 Spanish red, 2012 Bodegas Balbas Ribera del Duero Ardal Reserva. 80% Tempranillo, 20% Cabernet. Sharp, mid-garnet; red fruit, American oak, light pepper, herbaceous nose; mid-body; mid-plus tannins; long, tight, semi-chewy, hot (14.5 alc.) finish. w/ribs, BBQ. 16/90
  • Lodi, Calif., 2017 Harney Lane Zinfandel Home Ranch, $22. Mid-dark garnet; bramble, berry, ripe fruit, prune nose; mid-big body; Amarone-like; big extract; soft tannins; long, berry, hot (15.5 alc.) finish. BBQ, rib wine. 16/90
  • Lodi, Calif., 2016 Heritage Oak Graciano, $25. Mid-dark garnet; ripe grape, black fruit, licorice nose; mid-big body (14.6 alc.); good fruit intensity from this grape of Spanish heritage (Rioja); long, chewy, semi-hot finish. BBQ and rib wine. 16/90
  • Lodi, Calif., 2018 Macchia Zinfandel Outrageous Old Vine Noma Ranch, $26. Mid-dark garnet; high viscosity (15.5 alc.); ripe grape, anise, white oak nose; mid-big body; deep; fruity; not hard; long hot chewy finish. w/meatloaf, BBQ. 16.5/91
  • Valle de Guadalupe 2016 Alximia Zinfandel Ensenada Baja California, $26. Mid-dark garnet; bramble, red fruit, saline and oak nose (24 months in French and American oak); mid-big body; mid-plus tannins; tart, woody, slightly salty finish. BBQ, grill wine. 16/90
  • Baja California, Mexico, Valle de Guadalupe 2017 Nivel Cabernet Sauvignon / Tempranillo (50/50), $28. Mid-dark garnet, viscous; berry, pepper, ripe grape (13.9 alc.), herbaceous, saline nose; mid-big body; long, deep, semi-hard fruity finish. 16-16.5/90-91
  • 2017 Van Ruiten Carignane Ancient Vine Reserve Lodi Appellation, $35. Mid-dark garnet, viscous (14.4 alc.); ripe grape, peppery, herbaceous, wood nose (17 months in oak); mid-big body; big tannins; long fruity semi-chewy finish. BBQ and rib wine. 16/90
  • Valle de Guadalupe, Baja California, Mexico, 2017 La Carrodilla Shiraz Ejido el Porvenir, $38. Mid-dark garnet; ripe grape (15.5 alc.), wood, black fruit, peppery nose; mid-big body; mid-plus tannins; deep fruit, but not hard; long chewy hot berry finish. w/BBQ. 16/90