… could be the first line of a “walked into a bar” joke, but really describe a pair of wines we drank with dinner last night and pico-madama-wine.jpg night before.

One must cook out on the grill on Memorial Day, but as I was preparing the hickory charcoal in the chimney — never, ever use charcoal lighter fluid! — the sky darkened considerably and the wind came up, shaking the trees. We had a couple of grass-fed beef strip steaks waiting for the hot coals. I said to LL: “Well, maybe the rain will hold off for half an hour or so. I’ll go ahead and light the fire.” The rain did not hold off for even three minutes, so I ended up cooking the steaks in the cast-iron skillet in the kitchen, which didn’t hurt them a bit, though they lacked that definitive, succulent charry edge that makes grilled meat so damned compulsively edible to carnivores.

And this is weird! Despite the fact that it was raining cats and dogs, I mean a real downpour, the charcoal stayed lit inside that metal chimney on the grill, continuing to glow and flicker eerily until it burned itself out. I had never seen that before. The magic of fire!

Anyway, I had these Spanish red wines I had been meaning to try, so I opened one to try with the steak.

This was the Pico Madama 2004, made by Bodegas y Vinedos Murcia in the Jumilla region. It’s a half-and-half blend of monastrell grapes (the French mourvedre) and petit verdot. The petit verdot ages in French oak, the monastrell in American oak, each for 13 months. This is a robust, powerful wine, but well-proportioned, not heavy, not a blockbuster. It’s ripe, rich and minerally, seething with smoky, roasted and peppery black fruit scents and flavors. A few minutes in the glass bring out the intensity of a tight core of moss and leather, gritty tannins, polished oak and vibrant acid; it’s a wine that feels alive in the mouth while not giving itself away entirely. The finish develops considerable dusty, foresty austerity. This was terrific with the steak two nights ago, though it could stand to age two or three years and drink through 2012 or ’14. I rate it Very good+. Prices on the Internet are about $29 to $35.

Last night, I rustled up a little pasta by chopping some guanciale — cured pig’s jowl — and frying it pretty crisp, then using a bit tagonius-wine.jpg of the rendered fat to saute diced onions and garlic. I cooked some halved cherry tomatoes with those for about a minute, dumped in the cooked linguine and a handful of fresh baby spinach and tossed it before dividing it into two bowls. Voila, dinner.

I opened the second Spanish wine, which turned out to be even better than the Pico Madama, but also proved to be too big and too complex for what was basically a simple pasta dish. This was the Tagonius Crianza 2002, Vinos de Madrid, a blend of 45% tempranillo, 40% cabernet sauvignon and 15% syrah, or as it says on the label, “shiraz.” Soon even producers in France’s Rhone Valley, the heartland of syrah, will be calling the grape “shiraz,” under the influence of its popularity in Australian red wines, mainly among American consumers.

Anyway, this is a wine made in a new style that manages to retain hold of the old-fashioned Spanish virtues of aloofness and austerity, though you wouldn’t know that at first. Initially, the wine is incredibly ripe, fleshy and meaty, packed with spiced and macerated black currants, black cherries and plums. It’s very dry, dusty, almost ecclesiastical in its ancient wood-like tones, yet this influence is balanced by an intense core of crushed lavender and violets, mocha and minerals; the wine flat-out smolders in the glass like a deep purple ember. After 20 or 30 minutes, the austerity of the tannins begins to assert itself in qualities like dried porcini, walnut shell and underbrush. This could hold for two or three years, or be consumed now through 2012 to ’14 with steak, venison, barbecue brisket and such. Excellent. Prices range from about $24 to $35.

These wines are imported by Well Oiled Wine Co., Leesburg, Va.