Thursday, June 25, 2009

Barbeque Wines and Celebrations

Never one to pass up an opportunity to grill, I was surprised and delighted to be given the job of grill chef for a barbeque party on the Stanford campus near Palo Alto. The request was made by my good friend Judy Diaz, and I readily accepted because it was to honor her son David’s graduation from the university. David and Judy stayed with us while looking for a new home, and I played temporary Dad, a role I wish had a longer run. Nonetheless, the role of chef was one I took on with great relish.

My wife, Barbara, and I arrived early to set up the grill and get the meats cooking. When we went downstairs of the Kappa Alpha frat house and entered the kitchen and dining room area, an amazing sight greeted us. It looked like a bomb had gone off. Clearly the grads had partied hard the previous night. The floor was so sticky I had to use a spatula under my shoes to gain traction. I sort of remembered my ship’s parties when I was in the Navy, but this was much worse. At least we swabbed the decks afterward!

We found the briquettes easily enough, but no one had thought to include matches or a lighter. None of the participants had any ignition materials, and I was pretty sure rubbing the briquettes together wouldn’t do the trick, even though the bag said self-starting. Barbara, playing resourceful Girl Scout, rolled a section of a grocery bag into a wick, but since all the stoves were electric, her attempts to light the thing with incessant blowing on the feeble embers wasn’t working out too well. Finally she used tissue paper – remember how well and fast that burns – and sent one of the mothers running with it before it burned itself out. Just in time, too, she touched flame to briquette, and then blew on her fingers. We were off and running.

The tri-tip and sausages were soon sizzling, sending heady aromas over the picnic area, and I figured it was safe to open the wine. I’d stopped at Whole Foods in Palo Alto on the way to the event, because I knew I could rely on a great choice in wines, including a special one for the grad. I wanted David to get off to a great start so I grabbed a bottle of 1999 Chateau Deyrem Valentin Margaux Cru Bourgeois. The price range is from $40-65. At Whole Foods it was only $43, so I actually got off lightly. If David finds he loves Margaux wines as much as me, I can only hope he’ll soon be earning enough to manage the addiction.

I selected a Storrs Santa Cruz Mountains Petite Sirah ($23), which went great with grilling and sampling the tri-tip. Hey, a chef has to taste stuff to make sure it’s cooked properly, right? The wine was full-bodied and lush with black cherry and ripe berry flavors and wonderful tannins. Before I knew it that wine was done and we were just sitting down to dinner. Sitting down was a relative term as some of the attendees placed the tables in the shade, but on a deepening slope. Those on the down slope side had to refrain from sneezing or they’d be tumbling down the hill. I did notice that all the females stayed on the up slope side. Hmm.

I opened the other bottle, a 2006 Escudo Rojo ($13) from the Maipo Valley in Chile. This is a flagship wine of Baron Phillippe Rothschild’s winery in Chile, done in bold red colors. The wine was also bold with a generous mouth feel, good tannic structure, coffee and caramel, laced with spice. Since this was a modestly-priced wine, I wasn’t expecting to be this impressed. It easily handled the steak, sausages and trimmings, and had a high drinkability index. This one goes in my great wines under $20 category. The Baron still knows wine. Salud!

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