Wine for the Fourth


Celebrating the Fourth of July typically involves fireworks and outdoor grilling or even barbeque (cooking with smoke rather than fire). On the grilling front, one of the great customary summer foods, and one of our favorites, is the hamburger. While many believe that beer is the ideal accompaniment to burgers, we – not surprisingly – recommend cracking open a bottle of red wine as well, if not instead.

The hamburger was apparently—according to the Library of Congress— invented in 1900 by Louis Lassen the owner of “Louis’ Lunch,” a food wagon in New Haven, Conn.

Today, hamburgers can be found in nearly everywhere, and they have also undergone numerous transformations ranging from cheap fast food meat patties to expensive haute-cuisine. There are even vegan burgers for those who crave the burger-styled experience without eating meat.

In this regard, we are traditionalists and prefer a simple beef burger, grilled medium rare, ideally over a wood or charcoal fueled fire, served on a lightly toasted bun and topped with lettuce, tomato and a thin onion slice. Serve with a glass of the kosher Joseph River Estate Cabernet Sauvignon-Shiraz-Merlot 2009 ($14), a medium-bodied, very approachable and value-priced red blend with red fruit and earthy aromas along with plum, red berry and spicy dark fruit flavors with accents of tobacco at the end. For those preferring an American wine to celebrate American Independence Day, we suggest kicking it up a notch with the awesome kosher Agua Dulce Winery Zinfandel 2010 ($30) made by our friend Craig Winchell (formerly of the now legendary Gan Eden Winery in Sonoma). With a powerful, explosive nose of fruit and spice, this medium- to full-bodied Zinfandel is complex, richly layered and well structured, with lovely dark fruit and spice notes, and a pleasing, lengthy finish.

Spirits-wise, we thought we would once again, in honor of the Fourth of July celebration, make a push for traditional American rye whiskey.

Back at the time of our nation’s founding, whiskey and other distilled spirits were seen as staple foods to shake up an otherwise bland diet. Think of it as rye bread versus white bread. Whiskey was also thought to be curative, healing colds, fevers, and a palliative for aches well into the 19th century. At that time, most sources of water were neither clear nor sparkling, nor in any way appetizing.

It is all too often forgotten that until Prohibition, America had a proud tradition in its domestic rye whiskey industry, particularly in Maryland and Pennsylvania. There has been a certain recrudescence of the rye trade, and many new brands have been introduced. But straight rye whiskey is still a vastly underappreciated spirit if actual sales are anything to go by. 

Sure Bourbon, since 1964’s congressional resolution, has been “officially” America’s “Native Spirit” and so folks might think it the better distilled spirit for this occasion. But as with most congressional proclamations, our own, perhaps too infrequently tapped, “don’t tread on me” American instinct can’t resist a little iconoclasm. Don’t misunderstand – we love Bourbon, but no plutocratic fat-cats will tell us what to drink when celebrating our national independence.

All of which is to say that straight rye whiskey, the tipple of our nation’s hearty, freedom-loving forebears, should be accorded at least a modicum of respect and is certainly worth at least a sample taste.

Consider the Catoctin Creek Organic Roundstone Rye Whisky (40 percent abv; $38; certified organic and kosher under the Star-K): Lovely, brash and oily, with aromas and flavors of spicy rye, dried walnuts, vanilla, sliced banana, caramel, butterscotch and oak. Water adds to the creaminess, but detracts from the complexity. Additional maturation will likely improve future expressions of this already fine, clean, vibrant rye whisky. Yum.

For those seeking a fine, inexpensive, slightly more aged rye, consider: Russell’s Reserve 6 Year Old Small Batch Rye (45 percent abv; $25): This warming, super smooth, fun, light-ish yet wonderful rye offers aromas and flavors of almonds, caramel, honey, vanilla, oak, cherries(!?), banana bread, racy/spicy cinnamon, and N.Y. rye bread. Mild mannered as rye whiskies go, but just superb. L’Chaim!

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