Russ Winton: Wine List

Wine Line: What is my favorite wine?

Russ Winton

I am often asked to name my favorite wine and my stock answer has always been the same, "Whatever is open."

The other evening we hosted a wine tasting and I realized that my favorite wine is the one I am sharing with friends. There are no right or wrong answers in evaluating fermented grape juice. Relax, enjoy and for a time, forget about politics, religion and the economy. Good wine, good food and good friends have always been the formula for successful parties, even in these tough economic times.

I attended a blind tasting that featured three chardonnays and three red wines all less than $10 and readily available. I refer to wines in this price range as "daily" wines. Daily wines are wines to cook with, either in the pot or in your mouth, a wine for leftovers on Tuesday, a wine to pay your bills with. Daily wines are not to be confused with Friday or Sunday wines. So, could our tasting group discover an affordable "daily" wine?

In the chardonnay category, the panel was pretty evenly split between the Gallo Sonoma, the Little Black Dress and the Ravenswood Vintners Blend. You can find these wines on sale for around $7.99 to $8.99 and all three are distinctly different. A few tasters liked the fruity, balanced structure of the Gallo and others liked the apple/mineral aromas of the lightly oaked Little Black Dress. Two tasters liked the balanced structure of the Ravenswood Vintners Blend and one went so far as to say she would pay up to $20 for this chardonnay.

In the red wine category, I bagged-up three Ravenswood Vintners Blend varietals, a cabernet sauvignon, a merlot and a shiraz, all from the 2006 vintage. The general consensus of the group was that all three were well-made, solid wines and tremendous bargains in this price range. But in choosing a favorite, the group unanimously favored the shiraz. The comments from the tasters ranged from "refined and elegant" to "pleasant, balanced taste and finish" and several tasters said they would pay between $14 and $20 for this "daily" wine.

Now it is your turn. To find your recession-proof daily wine, invite your wine-friendly friends over for a tasting. Tell them to bring their favorite white and red wine under a certain price point, some wine glasses (you don't want to wash all those glasses, do you?) and their favorite appetizer. Now you have a party! Make sure they bag the wines. You'd be surprised how many people are influenced by labels. Pass out some paper and pencils to record your tasting notes and have fun. Remember with good wine, good food and good friends, you can't miss having a great time.

What's On Our Table

2006 Ravenswood Vintners Blend Shiraz

The 2006 Ravenswood Shiraz is a dark, rich wine with notes of smoke and vanilla. Flavors of black fruit and a touch of chocolate make this full-bodied red wine finish very soft and elegant. A shot of petite sirah (7 percent) is added to the blend, which provides enough tannin to pair with a rich steak or hearty pastas. A perfect recession red for just $7.99. Buy a case or two. Cheers!

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