Grab some Zs for your 'cue

Wine writer Michael Pinkus discusses why zinfandel sticks to the ribs.

Barbecues. We all have 'em and if we don’t have one we want one, and once we have one, we covet a better one. One friend called it "two-foot-fever" (referring to boats and trailers) — no matter what size you have you always want a bigger one.

I love to cook, I love to barbecue and I especially love to eat — I’m a rib junkie and dig most anything that comes from a pit boss using a mop brush — but the thing that really gets me excited about summer is the quintessential barbecue wine: zinfandel.

When I say zinfandel most people think pink. A buddy came over for back ribs and zin one night and after dinner he called his wife to say he’d be later than expected because the zinfandel had knocked him on his derriere. He called her 15 minutes later, after she’d stopped laughing; she too saw zinfandel as the sweet pink liquid we consumed by the pail when we were younger (Kool-Aid with alcohol).

Bottles of zinfandel

For the uninitiated, zinfandel is California’s heritage grape; there are vines that are more than 100 years old down there. It makes a gutsy red wine that got bastardized years ago due to a winemaker’s error and a sweet wine boom. Zinfandel is a deep red wine full of vanilla, cherry, plum, chocolate and cola notes that pairs spectacularly well with barbecued ribs. It has developed such a devoted following that an organization called ZAP (Zinfandel Advocates and Producers) has been formed to educate the public on what zinfandel really is.

Find a friend who happens to be opening a bottle and offer to bring the ribs; you won’t be disappointed. Looking for a bottle for yourself? These producers do it right: Ravenswood, Cline Winery, Ridge Vineyards, Carol Shelton, Rock Wall Wine Co., Cedarville Vineyard, Peachy Canyon, Renwood and Rosenblum Cellars. Wherever you are I’m sure you can find one of these producers on your local wine store shelf.

One last note: zinfandel is not a wimpy wine. A well-made version can hide 16% alcohol remarkably well, so don’t plan anything labour intensive or operate heavy machinery — you’ll never go back to the pink stuff again.