My colleague and old friend James Laube invited me over for burgers after we tasted through our wines yesterday. I had gone through a set of Washington Syrahs. He had California Pinot Noirs. Seemed like a good bet for burgers.
Too bad the thermometer had topped 100° F in Napa by late afternoon. In the air-conditioned comfort of our offices, the wines tasted great. But how good would they be after a few minutes on the patio table?
"I've got it covered," he said. "I'll show you when you get there."
I live in San Francisco, where you can count on your fingers the number of evenings each year warm enough to allow grilling and dining alfresco. Most summer days, by 6 o'clock, the fog has rolled in and temps dip below 60. I rolled up to Laube's home, on the outskirts of Napa, and peeked at the thermometer next to his back door. It read 98° F. This should be interesting, I thought.
Laube offered me a white wine for starters, the last couple of glasses from a bottle of Peter Michael Chardonnay. But where were the reds? "They're in the freezer," he said, opening the door on the coldest spot in the house. "I give them 45 minutes, and then keep shuttling the bottles in and out of the refrigerator. That's how we do it in Napa when it gets this hot."
Danged if it didn't keep the wines cool without overchilling them. We drank his Pinot Noirs, one from Donum and one from Landmark, with asparagus, red peppers and marinated bok choy he cooked on the charcoal grill. The wines maintained their freshness. They gradually warmed up in the glass, but never turned to the broth-like temperatures that can make reds too much. Meanwhile, the bottles stayed in the fridge and the next glass was just as good.
The red wines cooled off in the freezer.
For the burgers, Laube had dug up Bradley Ogden's red wine and balsamic glaze recipe he found in a Wall Street Journal article on burger treatments. He put me to work forming the patties while he cooked the glaze. The flavor added a nice touch to the burgers, which we ate on Basque buns with slices of crisp bacon, red onion and lettuce leaves. My Syrah, the new Baby Bear from Kyle MacLachlan's Pursued by Bear winery in Washington, popped with gorgeous blueberry and spice flavors after its refreshing stay in the freezer.
Ideal? No. But this wasn't haute cuisine. It was a relaxed, post-tasting burger dinner. By the time the sun disappeared over the horizon, it was actually starting to get comfortable.