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Food & Drink

Wine, etc.: Our favorite wine? It depends on the occasion and meal | COMMENTARY

We often get questions from readers and friends about wine, but none so prolific as, “What is your favorite wine?”

Despite opening a door to wax rhapsody on an expensive Bordeaux or a great Burgundy, the answer is not an easy one. Sure, we like our French wines, but their cost is an obstacle that’s not easy to overcome. Our cellars are dominated by Bordeaux — gems we bought decades ago for less than $15 with the intent of enjoying them in our retirements. They demand a special occasion to open.

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We do not have one favorite wine but rather many favorites that are summoned to satisfy a particular occasion. Champagne is a favorite around the holidays and even on Sunday. Rosé is our go-to wine during the summer, cabernet sauvignon from California or France makes a perfect pairing with a grilled steak. Pasta? Chianti. Ribs? Zinfandel. Fish? Chardonnay.

Hugh Johnson, a prolific and greatly respected wine writer, has an insightful book that speaks to his joy of discovering wine. We cannot come close to his eloquent prose, but we understand his point that wine is a journey to be savored. You should read “The Life and Wines of Hugh Johnson,” if not just for inspiration.

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You are doomed to boredom if you rely on preconceived and often flawed notions about wine. You have to test yourself with new wines from new regions and new grape varieties if you want to learn.

We have a friend who drank nothing but expensive, tannic California cabernet sauvignons, declaring unabashedly that she wanted a wine with grit and weight. Then we poured her some complex pinot noirs from the West Coast and dismantled her bias against anything but cabernet.

As we head into a new year, we reflect on this journey and hope you will do the same. There are a lot of wines waiting to be discovered by those with a sense of adventure and an open mind.

Looking back, our 2022 journey was filled with surprise.

We shared the bias of many wine enthusiasts who looked down on merlot — until we enjoyed the sumptuous merlots from Duckhorn and La Jota.

We thought rosé was simple — until we stood aside Jean-Francois Ott and shared his Chateau de Selle from Provence.

We ignored the red wines of Provence — then discovered Gerard Bertrand’s Clos d’Ora. With our eyes opened, we did a massive wine tasting of this region’s red wines and that led to the discovery of Bandol’s Domaine Tempier and Chateau de la Negly.

We thought the best pinot noir came from a combination of clones — then we tasted three single-clone pinot noirs from Bouchaine and learned first-hand what each clone delivers to a blend.

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We thought Portugal was known only for its port — until we visited Lisbon and discovered some incredible values from the Dao and Douro Valley.

We thought France had a lock on quality sparkling wine — until we sampled several from England that were every bit as good.

We thought good wine came with a price — until we tasted Evodia garnacha from Spain and Esporao white wines from the Alentejo region of Portugal,

We thought chardonnay was too buttery and oaky to pair with food — until we discovered the chardonnays of Kosta-Browne, Calera, Cattleya and Flowers.

We traveled to Europe to taste wine, but also traveled from our homes where we discovered new wines from Austria, South Africa, Uruguay and Georgia.

We don’t know where our journey will take us in 2023 but we’re confident the ride will be fun.

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Thank you for sharing our journey in 2022. May you have a safe and happy new year.

Some 2022 epiphanies:

La Jota Vineyard Merlot 2019. Rich plum, blueberry, chocolate and herb notes with a mix of softness and complexity.

Kosta Brown Cerise Vineyard Chardonnay 2018. Expensive, yes, but it’s not your daddy’s chardonnay. Complex and balanced.

Bouchaine Swan Clone Pinot Noir 2019. One of several single-clone pinot noirs, this gem was very perfumy and rich.

Gerard Bertrand Clos d’Ora 2017. Dark, aromatic and generous in fruit.

Evodia Garnacha 2019. Beautiful and quaffable, it is one of the best bargains on the shelf year after year.

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Cattleya Cuvee Number Five Chardonnay 2020. Ripe and supple.

Domaine Ott Chateau le Selle Rosé 2019. Lively, silky and a long finish.

Esporao Bico Amarelo Vinho Verde Portugal 2021 ($12). A lively blend of loureiro from Quinta do Ameal supplemented by alvarinho and avesso grapes.

Wine picks

Alma Rosa El Jabali Sta. Rita Hills Chardonnay 2020 ($50). White flower and pear aromas start this delicious wine with a bang. Loads of rich, lemon curd and tropical fruit flavors.

Vento di Mare Nero d’Avola Sicily 2021 ($12). Bright red fruit flavors dominate this easy-drinking nero d’avola. Don’t expect anything complicated for the money, but it’s a great quaff to sip or pair with pizza and burgers.

Thacher Constant Variable Red 2019 ($48). Magic happens when Rhone grape varieties come together and that is certainly the case with this blend of grenache, syrah, mourvedre, cinsaut, counoise and viognier. We loved its big bouquet and fresh fruit character. The producer uses oak judiciously to retain the qualities of each grape variety.

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Meeker Knight’s Valley Viognier 2021 ($45). Lucas Meeker took over the winemaking after his father’s passing last year. Ready to celebrate its 40th anniversary, the Sonoma County winery continues to churn out excellent wines. This viognier has pronounced tropical fruit and peach notes with a soft mouthfeel and long finish.

Tom Marquardt and Patrick Darr have been writing a weekly, syndicated wine column since 1985. See their blog at moreaboutwine.com. They can be reached at marq1948@gmail.com.


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