Labor Day is approaching, and you know what that means: A day full of beaching, boating, and drinking with friends. A perfect end to the summer.
And, of course, no gathering is complete without a fine selection of wines and Labor Day snacks for entertaining guests or taking in the sunshine, outdoors.
But here's, the real question: What type of wine is best? It's actually more complex than you think, as wines have different flavors, spices, textures, depths, and subtle notes that can either enhance or take away from a meal.
Upon entering your local liquor store, you might be overwhelmed, seeing bottle after bottle, as if the labels were in another language. Luckily, Cameron Hughes, the owner and vintner of Cameron Hughes Wine, is here to share a few tips in making your decision a breeze.
There's nothing like opening a bottle of red, red wine. Besides, red wine has lots of benefits to keep your heart healthy, as well.
In terms of Cabs, you can expect a more dark color, full body and healthy level of tannins, which creates that dry, tactile sensation you experience in your mouth. Typical aromas include dark cherries, spice and hints of vanilla, as the wine is often aged in oak, says Hughes.
Hughes' Pick: Cameron Hughes Wine Lot 601 2014 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
"This full, bold Napa Cabernet begins with dusty plum notes, acacia flower and a berry fruitiness. But then when it blooms, you’ll notice sweet and spicy florals, rich plum and notes of cherry, fig, blackcurrant and chocolate riding on its spine. Perfectly oaked, its dense and juicy texture features a sweeping tannic finish and will please the most discerning Cab lover," he says.
Perfect Pairing: Such a rich, forward wine works well with some fat, like fatty cuts of grilled steak (Hughes loves a good ribeye).
A bit lighter, with fewer tannins than other red wines, there's lots of floral and fruity notes that go down easy. When you smell the wine, you’ll often get aromas of cherries, raspberries and cranberries. Because Pinot Noir has very low tannins and high acidity, it tends to pair with more earthy dishes, says Hughes.
Hughes' Pick: Cameron Hughes Wine Lot 539 2015 Oregon Pinot Noir
"This crowd-pleasing Pinot is rich and vibrant, sourced from the best fruit from Oregon’s Willamette and Rogue River Valleys. A perfect marriage of accessible complexity and ripe-yet-honest fruit, the fruity flavors of strawberry, cranberry and cherry come through with notes of fresh earth and a peppery spice. A well-made Pinot Noir at a great price," he says.
Perfect Pairing: What's better with a classic Oregon wine than another ode to the Northwest, like a rich, hearty mushroom dish? Pinot goes great with mushroom anything, (like these spinach and artichoke stuffed mushrooms or this Coq Au Vin) or a good mushroom risotto, as each flavor’s earthiness is so complementary, he explains.
With more subtle, floral and fruity notes than red, they tend to be light and crisp, but they can range in more dry or sweet varietals. Rosé wines can be made from many grape varieties and are produced in most wine regions of the world.
Typically Rosé wines are produced from black-skinned grapes like Grenache or Syrah that are crushed and then have minimal skin contact. Primary flavors of rosé wine are red fruit and flowers with colors ranging from very light salmon to very dark crimson, and everything in between, says Hughes.
Hughes' Pick: Cameron Hughes Wine Lot 583 2016 Willamette Valley Rosé of Pinot Noir (new release!)
"Our first Rosé made from Pinot Noir is dangerously drinkable. With aromas of wild strawberries, rose petals, young cherry and watermelon candy, it has just a hint of sweetness with vibrant acidity. Perfect for savoring that last bit of summer and leading into fall," Hughes says.
Perfect Pairing: This hugely versatile wine will stand up to a variety of flavors. Pair with charcuterie and canapes or even paella, grilled chicken, or fish. It's also fitting for an outdoors BBQ.
Cool climate chardonnay wines will have more of a buttery finish, while warm climate varietals will exude more tropical flavors. And, when there's oak to a Chardonnay, you'll notice a rich, creamy texture, with hints of vanilla, butter, toast, coconut, toffee, or caramel, says Hughes.
Unoaked Chardonnays, on the other hand, tend to have a leaner style and exhibit more green apple flavors, he adds.
Hughes' Pick: Cameron Hughes Wine Lot 549 2015 Eola Amity Hills Chardonnay
"With a ripe honeysuckle and beeswax character, flavors of sweet cream and grilled pineapple immediately hit the nose. And notes of Meyer lemon and Papaya gain, with air. Like its Burgundian counterparts, you’ll want to make sure not to serve this wine too cold," he says.
Perfect Pairing: This Chardonnay goes well with creamy dishes or with foods that have a silky texture, such as risottos or cream-based soups, like this roasted sweet potato soup. This wine is super versatile when it comes to food. Given its Burgundian properties, you can push the envelope, pairing it with bolder flavors, like smoked salmon (try these smoked salmon tartines) or crabcakes.
Fragrant, floral, light, and refreshing, this won't be as heavy as a Chardonnay. It'll have more balanced, tangy flavors.
Pinot Grigio’s origins are in the northern part of Italy in the foothills of the Alps. The mountain-grown fruit has high acidity and the wines are generally minerally and dry, says Hughes. This style is loved for its simplicity, brightness, and general drinkability, he adds.
Hughes' Pick: Cameron Hughes Lot 547 2016 Rías Baixas Albariño
"The cracked seashell, saline profile makes this white like sea breeze in a glass. Fresh ripe citrus and green apple notes leap out of the glass for a mid-palate citrus explosion," says Hughes.
Perfect Pairing: Just like its Spanish Coastal origins, Albariños go well with seafood, especially shellfish, ceviches, and white fish dishes. Try Hughes' red snapper fish tacos for a #TacoTuesday night.
Why might a blend be a better choice than a straight Cab, when it comes to rich cheese plate? When done well, these blends allow the winemaker to essentially take the best of each variety and combine them for something even more magical.
"Medium-bodied red blends, like this combination of Cab, Merlot and Syrah from Washington State, often offer great value and taste greater than the sum of its parts," he says. And, A “bordeaux blend” is made of some percentage of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec. Well-made blends tend to be complex and versatile, he adds.
Hughes' Pick: Cameron Hughes Wine Lot 575 2014 Red Mountain Red Blend
"Fruit, black cherry and spicy florals are backed with chocolatey oak notes that hit the nose. Perfectly integrated and proportioned, nuanced cherry, red rock and chocolate notes carry on the spine of perfectly integrated tannins," he adds.
Perfect Pairing: Because of the variety in blend, matching food to blended red wines offers considerable flexibility, ranging from classic steak, or meat roasts and stews, right through to cheese plates, like Camembert, Brie and Blue, he says. His favorite? A blue cheese burger, juicy and comforting.
The darkest, most full-bodied red wine you can get, these wines pack some powerful flavors.
The Rhône Valley in France is one of the larger quality wine producing regions in the world. Syrah-dominant red blends from this region are typically meaty, spicy, and complex. And, the style is very versatile. Other regions like California, Washington and Australia also make fabulous Rhone style red wines. If you like a velvety, smooth wine, you’ll enjoy this style, Hughes says.
Hughes' Pick: Cameron Hughes Wine Lot 530 2014 Santa Ynez Syrah/Grenache
"Gorgeous, multifaceted and pure. At once smoky/meaty/peppery/chocolatey, it also has pretty raspberry fruit and savory blackberry notes, topped off with purple florals, white pepper and sage all dusted with cocoa powder. This is a ridiculously complex wine with pristine oak integration and soulful purity that will speak to lovers of Rhône wines, both foreign and domestic," he says.
Perfect Pairing: Gamey, spicy meats marry well with the spicy nuances in Syrah, as do pungent cheeses, like Blue Cheese. For instance, you might want to serve garlic and lamb shank or a blue cheese burger.
Interested in a few other Labor Day recipe ideas? We've got you covered. And, here are a few wine tips for hosting a party.
"Decanting is important to open the wine to oxygen, enhancing the flavors. But especially when at a barbecue or more casual setting, decanters can get in the way. I pour the wine back into the bottle (just using a funnel), and then guests can help themselves to the wine that has already had the benefit of oxygenation," says Hughes.
What's more, you can repurpose classics for function. Simple metal tubs can be used for wine chilling, while adding a modern simplicity to the setting, he adds.