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Barbecue, zinfandel and spareribs


It wasn?t long before leaving for college when my best friend?s mother finally revealed her recipe for cooking amazing spareribs. I (Jason) had the luxury of living across the street from her, here, in Petaluma and was always asked over for dinner. She told me that spareribs must be boiled first in a big pot with a nice dash of olive oil, a big shot of hot sauce (to taste), one hardy pinch of fresh oregano, a splash of vinegar and a pinch of salt. I am forever grateful. This made quite a difference from just slapping them on the grill and letting fate in searing heat have its way with garlic salt.

After seven minutes of this boiling, the process truly softens the meat on the rib bone, making it more porous for zesty barbecue sauces to seep deeply into its interior. The result is remarkable.

Even more fascinating, this technique transcends cultures around the world. Having picked up my backpack after college, I made my way through most of the U.S., Europe and Asia in the next couple of years. The secret I found was the same: Boil them first. In Japan, some drops of sesame oil and soy sauce are added; in Budapest, dried, crushed chilies, paprika and honey are used. Oh, the flavors can be so big, and the mess on your face even bigger.

As my partner, Chris, and I have found, you can then pair these delectable meaty treats with other great barbecue foods such as sliced zucchini or ears of corn fresh from the garden. Even some porcini mushrooms with melted butter and a dusting of some Old Bay Spice ... an amazing little concoction in a can I once learned of from the wisdom of the great chefs of De Schmire.

Yet, there was one perfect addition to barbecuing a sparerib dinner that, although not related to the cooking process, is such a delightful mouth-watering addition that it cannot be excluded from the recipe for one of these meals or the bigger picture of Barbecue culture as a whole: Zinfandel.

Zinfandel is synonymous with barbecue. It has to be the most versatile of red wine grapes on the pallet and it perfectly matches with any good barbecue I have ever tasted. From zesty to spicy to tangy, there is a zinfandel for all the barbecued foods of the world. It is a vagabond grape with incredible versatility to match with tasty barbecue meats and grilled veggies with some world renowned character of their own.

Zinfandel?s roots stem from Croatia where it is called Crljenak. It was transported under Greek rule to the south of Italy in Puglia, where it was to be named Primitivo. In the 1800s it was brought to the northwestern United States, grown as table grapes and eventually made its way to California, where it has gained such great esteem ? much in part to Paul Draper of Ridge Vineyards, Joel Peterson of Ravenswood, and Jerry Seps of Storybook ... but that?s another story.

Having made such a long journey to land on this part of the tectonic plate, zinfandel has come out screaming. It is also showing up in Australia, Mexico and South Africa. There is, quite simply, nothing like it. Even here, in California, its flavor profiles continue to vary ever so greatly from region to region and this is where the barbecue gets good.

Many of the old vines of Lodi produce a big sun-ripened zin that can be very dark and sweeter than most and give a big mouthful of berry fruit from black to loganberry. These are a perfect match for much of which I have tasted throughout Asia. As the sesame oil of Japan on their barbecue can add a new direction in your pallet with zinfandel, the spiciness of the Hoison-style ribs of Singapore duels wonderfully in your mouth up against all the big berry fruit.

Over to the east and up in the Sierra foothills, we get some of the first vines planted in the state and remarkable old-vine results. This region, home to the 100-plus-year-old vines of the gorgeous Cloud 9 Zinfandel, beckons you get to a good outdoor grilled burger in any of the old mining towns that adorn the base of this majestic mountain range. Take in some mountain and feast with a big sip to follow.

In the legendary Sonoma Valley, home to some very old-vine zins, we work into our applications an American style, old-fashioned barbecue sauce. Sure, we?ll throw in some grilled lamb, zucchini, and asparagus with our spareribs but this is where we need to add grandma?s homemade barbecue sauce to our spareribs and blackened chicken. This heavier, citrusy-orange sauce (you can find usable versions in local grocery stores) is easily made into a kissing cousin with the amazing zins from, for example, the Pagani vineyards.

Trekking north and west into the Russian River Valley or Dry Creek Valleys, curious barbecue zin enthusiasts will encounter yet another platform of what zinfandel has to offer in its incredible versatility. Amazingly deep and silky cherry fruit characteristics from the Russian River Valley and the unique creaminess of zins from Dry Creek like Acorn highlight this part of the state. Other beauties include Robert Rue, Sapphire Hill and the very allocated Lake Sonoma Russian River Zin. This picnic table shall be adorned with ribs with a more fruit-base barbecue sauce, spicy chicken kabobs, and one of our favorites, prosciutto-wrapped asparagus with, yes, a touch of Old Bay Spice and grilled to perfection.

Fortunately, we have both the ability and access to all the different methods and ingredients for these recipes from Singapore to Japan to Hungary ? all just outside our back door. Barbecue is easy and with a little effort you can capture styles made around the world in your own backyard ? or across the street at you best friend?s house. With this, we are blessed with the ever-so-versatile and vagabond of grapes, zinfandel, made in so many different ways and available everywhere. On top of that, a good zinfandel, whether it be from the valley, the foothills, Sonoma, Dry Creek or the Russian River, is very affordable.

(Jason Jenkins and Christopher Sawyer are the co-owners of Vine and Barrel, a wine shop at 143 Kentucky St. They offer Wednesday night wine education classes from 6 to 8 p.m. and Saturday tastings from 4 to 7 p.m. They can be contacted at 765-1112. Their Web site is www.vineandbarrel.com)