In our summer-long attempt to find the best wine to accompany tri-tip, we fired up the Weber last night and threw another thick slab of beef on the grill. As it cooked, we opened four bottles of young Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon.
By the end of the evening we were pretty well convinced that cabernet sauvignon just might be the best varietal to pour when tri-tip is on the menu, though we need to qualify that hasty judgment by noting that the zinfandel and pinot noir rounds are still to come.
These cabernet sauvignons, however, all had the lush cherry fruit, solid spine and reviving acidity to complement the richness and sweetness of the meat and to cut through its fat. Where they differed was in weight. The lightest was the youthful, lively and most approachable Hess Collection 2003 Mount Veeder Napa Valley Mountain Cuvee ($36), which while mostly cabernet sauvignon (69 percent) also includes syrah, merlot, malbec and cabernet franc.
The heaviest and most concentrated of the four was the Spring Mountain Vineyard 2002 Napa Valley Estate Elivette ($90). On its own, the wine was just too hard, but the protein and fat of the tri-tip smoothed out its chunky tannins. Also when tasted with the meat, the wine's notes of chocolate and mint seemed more pronounced. While the Elivette was a favorite with the tri-tip, it won't be officially released until mid-September.
In the meantime, look around for the Goldschmidt Vineyard 2002 Oakville Game Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon ($65), the most elegant wine in this latest round. Gentle tannins, bright fruit, stimulating acidity and subtly complex flavors that ranged from cabernet's signature herbalness to an earthiness that suggested porcini mushroom added up to a wine perfectly at home with tri-tip.
The winner? We have to call this round a tie between the Spring Mountain and the Goldschmidt.
To recap, we now have three wines we feel confident would go well with a moderately seasoned tri-tip, the third being the winner of the first round, the Charles Spinetta Winery 2004 Amador County Barbera ($18).