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Wine of the Month: Rodney Strong's 2013 Sonoma County Reserve Malbec

It’s easy to turn your barbecue into an Argentinian-style asado: just add Malbec from Sonoma County's Rodney Strong Vineyards.

Malbec is an alternative to typical options for barbecue reds like Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel and Merlot, but it’s no esoteric, wan French regional like some kind of Trousseau. 

In the heart of Argentina’s wine country, where wood-fired, grilled steak is a national obsession, Malbec has been the signature varietal wine for a century and a half.

OK, Malbec is really French in origin. And pretty regional at this point. It’s the principle grape of Cahors, and it used to play a bigger role in Bordeaux. Here in Sonoma County, Malbec has picked up a surprising number of acres, perhaps in part due to the popularity of the South American version—Rodney Strong Vineyards recently added 60 acres of Malbec to their estate vineyards.

Right out of the bottle, the Rodney Strong 2013 Sonoma County Reserve Malbec ($40) already shows an aroma of grilled meat, or the smoky, meaty aroma of the grill itself. But that’s just a top note to direct the suggestion of blueberry wine and lingonberry syrup to a more savory purpose. The tannin sensation is at first furry and warm in character, while the bright, red fruit rides a linear track to the finish.

It’s a pretty good example of Malbec, offering a hint of its attributes while skipping the varietal’s more eccentric, rubbery notes. I’d swig this over many a Cab, or for sure, Merlot, with summer grilling fare, because of its bright, red fruit focus and downplayed tannin.

Rodney Strong suggests a Cab with this burger recipe—I say Malbec is among the ultimate burger wines.


Rodney Strong Vineyards Grilled Bison Burgers

2 pounds ground bison, or grass-fed beef
½ teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
¾ teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
1 teaspoon smoked Spanish paprika (pimenton)
⅓ cup ice water
Pickled Onions
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons honey
3 tablespoons water
1 red onion, sliced paper thin
Cilantro Mayo
¼ cup aioli or mayonnaise
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon Sriracha
1 avocado, sliced
Butter lettuce leaves
4 Brioche or potato rolls

Combine the bison, thyme, coriander, salt to taste and paprika in a mixing bowl. Blend with your fingers to combine, gradually adding the ice water. Divide into four portions and shape into burgers. Cover and chill burgers for two hours before cooking. Combine the red wine vinegar, honey, water and a pinch of salt. Whisk together and toss through red onion – set aside. Mix together the aioli with the lemon and Sriracha. Season both sides of burger with salt and pepper. Heat your oven’s broiler to high, broil burgers under full heat for 5-7 minutes to desired doneness; flipping once during cooking. Remove from oven and place on a plate under foil to keep warm. Drain the onions from the vinegar mixture. Spread the aioli on the top and bottom of the buns, top with burger, avocado, pickled onions, and butter lettuce. Serve immediately.

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