Grill Master Sid Stafford and the Lure of Zinfandel

As Summer Approaches, BBQ Expert from Rosenblum Cellars Makes a Case for the Perfect Pairing

Jun 17, 2010, 05:08 ET from Rosenblum Cellars

ALAMEDA, Calif., June 17 /PRNewswire/ -- Sid Stafford is the kind of guy who doesn't just learn things; he masters them. His motorcycles are vintage and rare; his photographs are his own black-and-white art prints; and his cookouts are international adventures in epicurean delights. As Sid gears up for another summer over the grill, he offers some advice for all backyard barbecue enthusiasts and he makes no secret of the perfect wine pairing for all things meaty -- stock up on your Zinfandel.

Officially, Stafford is the facility manager at Rosenblum Cellars, the friendly urban winery in Alameda just across the bay from San Francisco. Unofficially, he's the winery's resident BBQ master -- a gastronome of the grill and all that goes with it.

Stafford is a familiar face in the Alameda tasting room. The rustic building is just a block from the dock for the Oakland-Alameda-San Francisco Ferry. Given its friendly vibe and easy access, the Rosenblum Tasting Room has long served as the gathering spot for newcomers and loyalists alike and impromptu post-commute social hours.

Grilling is a way of life at the dockside winery. Years ago, Stafford began manning the coals during cookouts for the Rosenblum winery crew during the busy harvest season. It wasn't long before he'd gone deep into exploring the many ways that grilled food can pair with wine. Time and again, he came back to Rosenblum's cult classic Zinfandels as the perfect match.

What makes Zinfandel work so well with the smoke, the char and the tanginess of barbecue?

"It's that spicy, pepper note and the fruity, jammy quality with a hint of raspberry," says Stafford, who has tasted virtually everything the winery has ever bottled.

In the 30-plus years he's been in the wine industry -- 15 of those years at Rosenblum -- Stafford has developed a repertoire of grilled specialties that he's served at the hugely popular weekend cookouts for Rosenblum's wine club members.  

While traveling in Portugal, he discovered the classic Frango Na Pucara, a grilled, lemon-and-garlic marinated chicken that he's tweaked to pair perfectly with Zinfandel.

"Not that many wines can stand up to citrus, but Zin is one of them," says Stafford, who has expanded his grilling repertoire to include dry spice rubs, a different mix for every type of meat.

Naturally, Stafford sought out the best equipment to achieve barbecue perfection -- a commercial-size smoker and grill he affectionately calls Miss Piggy. With its whole-hog capacity, Miss Piggy has helped make the winery famous for its massive barbecues. Old-fashioned pig roasts have been an annual summer tradition in the Stafford family, but at the Rosenblum roasts, Stafford includes some extra-special ingredients that show why he's become "Grill Master Sid".

"I make a dry spice rub that I put under the skin and in the cavity, usually the night or day before. The longer it stays on, the better," says Stafford, who also gathers old-vine Zinfandel canes to burn along with the charcoal and hardwood.

"Then during the cooking, I'll spray it down with a late-harvest Zin. It makes the skin really nice, crisp and a bit sweet," he says.

The Grill Guru favors late-harvest Zinfandel on his meat preparations because the wines have a slightly higher sugar and alcohol content that's just right for the long cooking process. And when he's grilling salmon, Stafford uses aged barrel staves as grill racks. As they char, they share their oaky smoke and wine-soaked flavor with the fish.

Typically, even at the Rosenblum Wine Club events that are full of Zinfomaniacs, Stafford waits to pour the Zinfandel, cool from the cellar, right when the meat hits the table. It's not just a food-friendly wine; it's a wine that's meant for food, the spicier and more brazen, the better.

Stafford may be a barbecue expert, but he's no purist. He just knows that Zinfandel is the ideal wine varietal for grilled meats -- with or without sauces or rubs, whether they're Memphis, Carolina, Texas-style or your own special blend. For information on the next Rosenblum Wine Tasting & BBQ event, call 510-995-4100.

SOURCE Rosenblum Cellars