When casual conversation turns to my hobby as a wine writer, inevitably the next question is, "What is your favorite wine?"
This is a difficult question to answer because I don't have a "favorite" wine. "Well, what do you like better, red or white?" is often the next question, as the person who was looking for a short, straight answer is now getting visibly annoyed. Again, tough question; "It depends on what I'm eating," I'll respond. The annoyed person is now irritated, thinking, "Why can't he just answer the simple question so we can move on to more interesting conversation?"
Well the problem is that it's not that simple.
It isn't like choosing a favorite color, TV show or Monopoly piece; wine is too complex, and there are too many of them, to have only one favorite. And to say something like "my favorite wine is Chardonnay" (or Merlot, or Cabernet, or Shiraz, or what have you) is not a very good answer, either. It's similar to answering "meat" to the question "what is your favorite food."
"That's silly, Vino Joe. Everyone knows there are so many kinds of meats -- beef, lamb, chicken, turkey, etc., that you must specify what kind of meat."
So my answer is "beef." But that could mean ground chuck, veal, T-bone, rib-eye, prime rib or a hamburger, couldn't it? Now you're getting the picture.
That said, my favorite wine is the one that works best for the particular meal, the person or people with me, the occasion, and the amount of money I have to spend. Here is a list of wines that are particularly memorable, for one reason or another:
There are several Zinfandels I enjoy, and they're all from wineries starting with the letter "R" (Ridge, Ravenswood, Rosenblum). In my mind, Ridge is the king of Zin, with rich, ripe fruit upfront and complex flavors of berries and earth that stay in the mouth long after the wine is swallowed (this is termed a "long finish").
It took me about a year and a half to pronounce this wine correctly (guh-VERTS-trah-mee-ner) and almost three to spell it. So the simple feat of ordering it out loud puts a prideful smile on my face. It also happens to be one of the most distinctive wines in the world, and most people know instantly whether they will like it or hate it. Hugel is a winery in the Alsace region of France, and their "Gewurz" is, year in and year out, one of the most consistent, clean and flavorful examples of the grape. The nose is overly expressive, with flowery aromas of rose petals and ripe lychee nut (lychee nuts are those soft, pink fruits often served for dessert at Chinese restaurants). The flavor of the wine also resembles lychee, and also has nuances of mineral and spice. This is an ideal wine for Asian cuisine and spicy hot dishes. Hugel also makes a fantastically valued wine called "Gentil" (jahn-TEE), which tastes kind of like a fruit salad and retails for less than ten bucks.
Egon Muller Riesling
German wines have gotten a bad rap due to Blue Nun, a sickly sweet beverage that barely passes for wine. For those who are just starting to get into wine, especially people converting from white zin or wine coolers, a genuine German Riesling is a super place to start. The best of these -- such as from Egon Muller -- taste like sweet ripe granny smith apples yet finish completely dry, have an excellent level of acidity to match with almost any food, and peak at around 7 or 8 percent alcohol (so you can drink twice as much before getting buzzed).
La Planeta Merlot
Those who claim "I like Merlot" probably are talking about the crappy overoaked wine from California that sells for about six bucks a bottle and is served in any number of chain restaurants around the USA. This merlot is from Sicily, and is easily the best Merlot I've ever had. Complex, spicy, full, and a finish that goes on for five minutes (that's long). It can be difficult to find, as not much is made. However, the same winery (La Planeta) makes a very good, "everyday" red called La Planeta Segreto Rosso that's much easier to locate (and easy on the wallet as well).
Zeni Teroldego Rotaliano
One of the sheer joys of wine is "discovering" a jewel that few others know about. This is a relatively unknown red wine from northern Italy that is robust, complex and full. To me, it tastes like a cross among a good California Zinfandel, rustic Chianti Classico and a rich Cabernet. Perhaps what I like best is that very few people -- even the geeks -- have heard about this wine; it's like my little secret. I also love to say "Teroldego Rotaliano"; it rolls off the tongue in a way that makes me feel like Luciano Pavarotti. Because of its obscurity, very little of this wine makes it into the US; the only examples I know of that are brought in are from Zeni and Foradori -- two excellent producers.
Big Frank's Deep Pink
This is a crisp rose (pink) wine that should be served cold and is great for a hot summer day. What is so special to me about this wine is the name, because of the sophomoric conversation that develops when people read the label. (And just think, if your name is Frank, you could say to a girl, "how'd you like to put Big Frank's Deep Pink in your mouth" -- and not get slapped.) In the same vein, I've had fun giving Fat Bastard Syrah as a gift to friends sensitive about their weight. (Yes, I'm evil.)
Goldwater Sauvignon Blanc "Dog Point"
Next to the aforementioned Gewurztraminer, Sauvignon Blanc is perhaps the most distinctive smelling and tasting wine. Some people like it, while some hate it. It's been called "grassy," "vegetal" and worse; some experts describe the aroma as "cat pee" (we'll use the term "gooseberries"). I happen to really enjoy a good Sauvignon Blanc, and Goldwater makes my favorite, from a vineyard called "Dog Point." Perhaps the dog chased the cat out of the wine because I find it clean, fruity (tropical, in fact -- with aromas and flavors of guava and passion fruit) and delicious, with a racy edge of acidity and a fantastic finish. This wine comes from Marlborough, New Zealand, a region that produces many great Sauvignon Blancs. In my mind, Goldwater Dog Point is the example to which all others must be judged.
Juve y Camps Cava Reserva de la Familia
I can't afford good Champagne, so for me the next best thing is a bottle of Prosecco (a sparkling wine from Italy) or Cava, which is Spain's version of bubbly. This example from Juve y Camps has lots of fizz, good acidity, is fruity yet dry, and finishes with a nice clean aftertaste. Best of all, it retails for less than 15 bucks.
Georges DuBoeuf Beaujolais Villages
After December, steer clear of the multi-colored, floral-labeled Beaujolais Nouveau that muddles the bargain bin at your local wine shop; that wine was supposed to be drunk no later than a week after Thanksgiving. However, look for a similarly decorated label that reads Beaujolais "Villages" or better yet, has a specific cru such as "Brouilly," "Chenas," "Fleurie," "Morgon" or "Moulin a Vent" -- these are the delightful examples from the Beaujolais region. Ultra fruity and fun, Beaujolais wines are approachable, easy to drink and can be matched with just about anything. No thinking, contemplating or concern with these wines; the hardest thing about them is getting the cork out of the bottle. Ideal for picnics and parties.
Vicara Barbera "Cantico della Crosia"
Delicious, complex, concentrated nose of ripe red and black fruits, game, earth, spice, smoke; I could sit around and sniff this all day! The palate does not disappoint: silky texture, strong, rich, ripe red fruit, green/vegetal notes, earth, spice, black fruit -- very complex. Balanced well by a good dose of acidity and ripe tannins. Enjoy it now with cheese or something beefy or gamey, or let it cellar for a few years and it will get better.
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