Memorial Day officially kicked off the grilling season. I’m thirsty already.
Allow me to explain. As the grillmeister at my humble abode, I am well-acquainted with the rigors of cooking over hot coals. The proper way to grill, I have learned over the years, is to place a grilling tool in one hand and a glass of wine in the other. For perfect steaks, chops, vegetables and fish, this is the correct technique, tried and true. The best results are attained if the grillmeister remains cool under fire. This requires a nicely chilled white or rose wine. I prefer something crisp.

My go-to grilling wine for years has been New Zealand sauvignon blanc. The acidity is so refreshing and the alcohol levels so low that it is eminently quaffable. Brancott Estate and Kim Crawford are personal favorites. And there really is a Kim Crawford, though he sold his namesake winery years ago. It’s still a good brand that’s reasonably priced, which allows me to stock it in the cellar by the case. I’m also a fan of the Dry Creek Vineyard fume blanc for many of the same reasons. It’s always refreshing, and if you can’t find it for less than $15 a bottle, you’re not trying very hard.

Lately I’ve experimented with dry rose, and I’ve found that my steaks haven’t suffered much from the switch, although I’m a little more distracted because I’m fussy about dry rose. I want them bone-dry with good aromatics and mouthwatering acidity. One of my faves at the moment is the Gerard Bertrand Cote de Roses from France’s Languedoc region. It’s a little pricey, around $20 a bottle, but worth it. From closer to home, I’m enjoying the Rodney Strong rose of pinot noir, which also runs close to $20.

So, take it from a grilling veteran: Before you do anything else to get ready for the summer grilling season, pay a visit to your favorite wine shop. This is the first rule of grilling.
Wines are rated on a 100-point scale. Wines are chosen for review because they represent outstanding quality or value, and the scores are simply a measure of this reviewer’s enthusiasm for the recommended wine. 

Figuero 2014 ‘Noble,’ Ribera del Duero DO, Spain ($162) — This amazing Spanish red is 100 percent tempranillo from 70-year-old vines. With exquisite balance and impressive complexity, it possesses an elegance that escapes many of the powerful reds from Ribera del Duero. On the palate this wine shows notes of blackberry and blueberry, a beautiful hint of fall spice and supple tannins that contribute to its dazzling texture. It’s an impressive wine in every way and destined to only get better over the next 20 years. Rating: 98.

Tinto Figuero 2015 ‘Vinas Viejas,’ Ribera del Duero DO, Spain ($68) — This dark, inky red from Ribera del Duero is as dense and rich as it looks. The vinas viejas (“old vines”) are more than 60 years old, planted in a family-owned vineyard in La Horra. Complex layers of blackberry and raspberry aromas are wrapped in toasty oak, lending a prominent spice note to the finished wine. With its muscular structure and elegant balance, this is a wine that will prosper with another eight to 10 years in a temperature-controlled cellar. Rating: 95.

Limerick Lane 2016 ‘Elie O’ Syrah, Russian River Valley ($50) — Floral and smooth, this traditional Cote-Rotie-style blend of syrah and viognier provides further evidence that Limerick Lane has a deft touch with the Rhone grape varieties that are popular throughout the south of France. Winemaker and owner Jake Bilbro co-fermented the red (syrah) and white (viognier) grapes, creating a synergistic blend that is enthralling in its freshness. With fine tannins and loads of high-toned red and black fruit, this is a beautiful wine for drinking now. “Elie O” is short for Elie Ouaknine, a friend and neighbor of Limerick Lane with a four-acre syrah vineyard. Rating: 94.

Sarah’s Vineyard 2016 Chardonnay, Santa Cruz Mountains ($32) — The 2016 chardonnay from Sarah’s Vineyard is typical of many chardonnays from the Santa Cruz Mountains of California in that it shows impressive richness and depth without losing the tension between the fruit and acid that makes chardonnay an exciting wine when it’s right. This one offers notes of lemon oil and spice, layered aromas of pear and apple, and a judicious touch of oak. Rating: 91.

Migration 2015 Pinot Noir, Dutton Ranch, Russian River Valley ($68) — This light-bodied pinot noir from the famed Dutton Ranch is packed with flavor and complexity. It shows a ripe cherry aroma with an earthy nuance and a hint of cola. The tannins are moderate, making for enjoyable wine to drink now, and there’s an inviting dash of wood spice on the finish. Rating: 90.

Follow Robert on Twitter at @wineguru. To find out more about Robert Whitley and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at