Thursday, January 4, 2001
Wine needn''t be expensive to deliver pleasure. And the idea of selecting one should not make your palms sweat. I recently observed two people in Trader Joe''s who ended up buying no wine because they felt they needed to be experts. But do you need to be an expert to select from the 20-plus types of pastas, jams or cheeses available?
No. You just pick one you''ve enjoyed before, or one with a pretty label, or one that is on sale, or one you have seen suggested on TV. Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose.
Well, wine is no different. Forget the intimidation factor. Take the plunge. Experiment. Take notes on wines you really like and buy them again.
Still afraid? OK, start with the suggestions that follow, but keep in mind that these are based on what your friendly writer likes. That doesn''t mean that you are going to like them. After all, you have your own palate, your own taste-buds, and your own opinions.
I recommend the following wines because they are balanced and a respectable representation of their varietal or blend (a varietal in wine speak is the grape type such as chardonnay or pinot noir--in apple speak that would be like golden delicious or Granny Smith). They also are expressive of their origins.
J. Lohr Bay Mist Riesling Monterey California 1999
This wine offers an appealing hint of residual sweetness. Pair it with a plate of juicy, ripe peaches or apricots, a selection of pates or a few artisanal cheeses from some place like Kent Torrey''s Cheese Shop in Carmel. (About $6)
Corvo Bianco Sicily Italy 1999
This humble, reliable little white continues on as a straightforward, clean, rich, minerally and really well-balanced drink. Made with indigenous Sicilian varietals, it has not fallen into the boring global super fruity/oaky mold. ($8)
Louis Latour Ardeche Chardonnay Vin de Pays des Coteaux de l''Ardeche France 1999
First impressions of this light-bodied wine are of pine, sea spray and hay, followed by a sexy hit of butter and apples in the middle and a dry, crisp, flavorful finish. ($8)
Monterra Chardonnay San Bernabe Vineyard Monterey California 1998
Ninety percent of today''s chardonnays are unbalanced--that is, they are over-oaked and too buttery. Why? Because that is what the consumer was told to like five years ago. Balance is slowly coming back into chardonnay. They are getting drier, less oaky and more refreshingly crisp rather than glopping out of the bottle and cloying your palate. This Monterra bottling is on the right track. Enjoy with oysters or fresh Monterey Bay halibut. ($9)
El Coto Rioja Rosado Spain 1999
Rioja Rosado is produced primarily from garnacha (or grenache) grapes. Fresh, crisp and dry is the standard style. Some may find the wine light, dry, tart and lacking in fruit. When tasted with food, however, this versatile wine shines. ($8)
Monterra Syrah San Bernabe Vineyard Monterey California 1997
Syrah is rich and supple, raspberry or boysenberry in flavor, and sometimes downright brooding in character. Mocha and roasted coffee beans are common descriptors. Some examples show hints of black or white pepper, especially after a glass or two is poured out and the remainder left to enjoy the next day. Serve this with steak au poivre, grilled salmon right out of the bay, or chicken roasted with garlic, potatoes, carrots and rosemary. ($9)
Baywood Cellars Vineyard Select Merlot California 1997
This ripe, plumy merlot shows a bit of tannic backbone and will pair well with veal chops, lamb kebobs or juicy steaks. The owners and estate vineyards are located in Lodi, the home of "old vines," which yield much richer, more intense flavors and character. ($9)
Vega Sindoa Garnacha Navarra Spain 1999
No apparent oak and no overt, over-the-top sweet fruit here. Just straightforward Cotes-du-Rhonesque dark berries and black pepper spice at a great price. ($9)
Cline Cellars Syrah California 1999
Talk about a steal. Try one bottle of this sultry, warm, spicy red and you''ll likely go back to Trader Joe''s and load up your trunk. ($9)
RH Phillips Syrah Dunnigan Hills California 1998
Ditto, though this selection tilts more toward bittersweet bing cherry than chocolate. ($9)
Rosemount Estate Cabernet Sauvignon South Eastern Australia 1999
Soft, bright aromas of mint, thyme, hay, licorice and tobacco meld with the vibrant cherry fruit. This medium bodied cab is soft, round, supple and earthy on the palate. ($9)
Michel Lynch Cabernet Sauvignon Bordeaux France 1998
Jean-Michel Cazes brings us this elegant, light-bodied black currant- and bay leaf-infused Bordeaux cab. ($8)
TriVento Malbec Vina Patagonia Mendoza Argentina 1998
Malbec is from the Bordeaux family of grapes and is making a name for itself in Argentina. This has an intense core of cherry fruit plus menthol and earth. It is balanced with natural acids, has a very gentle hint of toasty oak and delivers a spunky, gripping finish. ($7)
Alamos Ridge Malbec Mendoza Argentina 1998
This juicy, supple, cassis-imbued Malbec is one of the new millennium''s best red wine deals. ($7)
Osborne Pedro Ximinez Sherry Spain
This opulent, molasses-brown, super-decadent dessert sherry is a showstopper. Unlike commercial cream sherries, this is 100 percent varietal "Pedro Ximinez." Pedro is no longer around, but his namesake grapes are still encouraged to "raisanate" in the warm southern Spanish sun before pressing, producing a syrupy, sweet, perfectly decadent wine. Keep a bottle or two in the fridge at all times. They will keep for several months, even after opening. ($9)
Kourtakis Muscat of Samos Greece
This Greek white dessert wine from the Aegean island of Samos is lusciously flavored with golden raisin, apricot, honey and white chocolate. ($9)
Paul Masson Marsala California
Yes, you are reading this correctly. This is one wine I always have on hand, but not to drink. This is one of the best cooking wines out there. Use it whenever you need a hit of nutty sweetness. It works wonders with tomato-based sauces. ($6)