Summer is not letting go gracefully here in Southern California. The end of August has given birth to dog days of uncommon ferocity, with temperatures near 100°F even on the coast, and raging wildfires that threaten to reduce both our Twitter accounts and our stargazing abilities to dust. Outside activities are curtailed, houses are sealed up tight, and the constant pillar of smoke on the horizon has created a lurking apocalyptic anxiety even among the most cheery of Angelenos.
Under the circumstances, we all could use a stiff drink.
Ever the public servant, I set about cataloging my favorite fire-themed wines, to recommend them to you, dear readers, as a more social alternative to Xanax and uncontrollable sobbing. Fires are an undeniable and unwelcome fact of life in California; winemakers are just as prone as anyone else to enjoying a bit of irony in their lives.
2003 Shafer Firebreak "Last Chance" Sangiovese: 2003 was the last vintage of this wine, and like all lost classics, we mourn its passing. Firebreak originally earned its moniker in 1981 when winery owner John Shafer planted a vineyard near his house to serve as a firebreak after one conflagration too many. Redolent of cherries, red currents and a bit of tobacco, it has always reminded me of my favorite Cal-Italian lover (no, I never kiss and tell): sweet on the lips, smooth going down. If you know someone who has a bottle, cultivate a friendship with him/her, and insist on an invitation to dinner. $40, if you can find it.
2006 Fire Station Red Cabernet Sauvignon: This label was actually created by John Drady, owner of Sonoma Coast Winery. A firefighter himself, Drady accurately assessed that making available a kick-ass wine just might help fundraising efforts for fire departments everywhere. He was correct. I prefer mine served by the smokin' hot gents from Engine Company 29. Cherry, raspberry, chocolate-coffee, not overly tannic, and a bargain at $12.
2006 Sea Smoke TEN Pinot Noir: Yes, it's less about fire and more about fog, but I thought it deserved a place on the list. As I slurped it down at a wine-tasting event, I made these notes in my WineSnob iPhone app: "Deserves its name. Tastes of salt air." Yes, I write that kind of crap at wine-tastings. The wine is a classic, and at $125 bucks a bottle, it better be. Be sensible, go buy it, and run away to Washington State coastline with your favorite sailor, where you'll be able to enjoy it in the aforementioned cool salt air.
And, just for fun, here's the song in the title from Hank Williams III. Please don't forget to donate to your local Red Cross. If you're in the LA area, donations of money and pet food are welcome, as well. Photo provided to the New York Times by a reader.