June 12, 2006
World Tri-Tip Cup, Round 1

I've come up with a tournamet that could last longer than the World Cup. If I play my cards right, I can stretch it all the way to Labor Day. The champion will be the last wine standing in a series of tastings to find the best one to go with grilled tri-tip, not only my favorite cut of beef to toss onto the Weber on a summer evening but the first choice of many grillers in the area, to judge by tri-tip sales in the region.

We assembled the first group Sunday evening, four local red wines all from the 2004 vintage. The cabernet franc was too light and tight, while the primitivo was pretty good up front but abrupt in the finish. The two strongest candidates were the C.G. Di Arie 2004 Lodi Petite Sirah ($25) and the Charles Spinetta Winery 2004 Amador County Barbera ($18).

In the end, the Spinetta won the first round, in large part for its bright and lush berry flavor, with just the sort of sweet fruitiness to tame the spice and salt of the rich, juicy and smoky beef. Even before the first sip of wine or first bite of meat, you knew you were in for a treat for the barbera's come-hither herbal, floral and earthy smell. It's a lean barbera, but with a touch more sinew than generally found in the varietal. The acidity was refreshing, the oak held reasonably in check. It just wouldn't quit against the density and richness of the tri-tip.

The Di Arie was a close second - just a little more was left in the bottle than in the Spinetta bottle - showing a youthful and sprightly fruitiness unusual for a petite sirah, which often is heavy and brooding. This one, however, while characteristically floral in smell and concentrated in flavor, deftly combined the varietal's firm tannins with snappy acidity to cut right through the meat's muscle and fat.

The tri-tip, incidentally, was seasoned only with generous doses of salt and pepper.

The Di Arie is getting pretty good distribution through the Sacramento market, but the Spinetta is sold almost exclusively at the winery in the Shenandoah Valley. Both wineries also sell wine online through their Web sites.

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