In this week's Premium Edition:
In the last Wine Advisor Premium Edition, subscribers received advice on a memorable California Chardonnay that stood out against the competition. Tomorrow we follow up with another taste of this noble grape, this time in a White Burgundy that's not cheap but that dramatically out-performs its price point. The Premium Edition, our biweekly subscription-only E-letter, makes it easy to shop with confidence when you're considering a pricey bottle for a special occasion ... and your subscription helps support WineLoversPage.com.
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Picking wine for a party
Today let's consider a touchy issue, one that defines the fuzzy edge where common sense meets wine snobbery: You're invited to a dinner, and your host, knowing that you're serious about your hobby, asks you to select the wine.
To heighten the challenge, let's assume that your fellow diners are intelligent, sophisticated folks, but they're not really "wine geeks" and may not have developed a taste for dry, acidic, tannic or "earthy" wines in the artisanal tradition.
It's a puzzling dilemma. On the one hand, you don't want to disappoint the group by presenting wines that will make them wrinkle their noses and reach for the water glass or request iced tea. On the other hand, it would be embarrassingly snobbish to assume that your peers aren't sufficiently sophisticated to enjoy quality wine.
My solution? Seek that moderate middle ground. Don't insult your party's intelligence by "dumbing down" to mass-market jug wines. But don't overlook the reality, either, that even some sophisticated palates won't be crazy about the harsh tannins of an immature Bordeaux, the searing acidity of some German Rieslings, or the challenging "barnyard" aromas of an old-style red Rhone.
Don't pick a wine that you won't enjoy yourself ... but don't expect a random group to share the preferences that you've evolved as a longtime wine enthusiast.
Here's another good way to get on the right track: Ask your host what's on the dinner menu, and pick your wines to match. There's nothing like an excellent food-and-wine pairing to ensure that just about everyone will enjoy the dinner and the wine.
I applied these principles the other night, meeting new friends at the home of an old friend who fashioned an exceptional dinner of veal osso buco with risotto Milanese. I lingered briefly, longingly, over a youngish Piemontese Nebbiolo that I thought I could love, but decided to leave its tannic majesty on the shelf, offering instead a couple of more warm and amiable Italian reds that suited me fine but that would probably be easy for others to like.
It was a good choice. Both the Valpolicella and the Tuscan Sangiovese-Merlot described below went beautifully with the hearty veal dish, and I didn't notice anybody declining a second glass.
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Ruffino 2002 "Fonte al Sole" Sangiovese-Merlot Toscana ($10.59)
Fresh, simple but appealing "fruit-forward" scents of wild cherries waft from the glass when this rather light garnet wine is poured. Fruity and tart in flavor, juicy cherry fruit with perceptible spicy oak as a back note. There's a hint of sweetness on the first taste, but it gives way to lemony acidity that provides balance. Tart-cherry flavors persist with just a wisp of tannins in the finish. With the addition of 15 percent Merlot and aromatic oak to a Sangiovese base, you could call it a "mini-Super-Tuscan." U.S. importer: Schieffelin & Somerset Co., NYC. (Aug. 21, 2004)
FOOD MATCH: Sweet Sangiovese fruit and crisp acidity make it a winning companion with a red osso buco.
VALUE: The $10 range seems fair, but shop around if you can, as Wine-Searcher picks up quite a few merchants offering it for less.
WHEN TO DRINK: Like the simple Chianti that it somewhat resembles, it's best enjoyed within a few years of the vintage, but you're safe holding it a couple more years under cool storage conditions.
WEB LINK: The Ruffino Website (Flash plug-in required) is online in English and Italian at
FIND THIS WINE ONLINE: Find Ruffino "Fonte al Sole" on Wine-Searcher.com:
Tommasi 2000 Vigneto Rafael Valpolicella Classico Superiore ($14.99)
This is a clear, reddish-purple wine, not too dark, with a glimpse of bronze at the rim where wine meets glass. Subtle black cherries on the nose and palate, smooth and clean, snappy cherry fruit and an intriguing hint of bitter almond in the finish. It's clean and fresh, showing characteristic Valpolicella flavors, but a little muted, perhaps reflecting its four years of age ... Valpolicella, particularly when it's not made in the "ripasso" style, is a wine to drink young and fresh. U.S. importer: Rolar Imports Ltd., Great Neck, N.Y. (Aug. 21, 2004)
FOOD MATCH: A fine companion with osso buco (veal shanks) in a light tomato sauce with a saffron-scented risotto Milanese on the side.
VALUE: The declining dollar against the euro is starting to show in the prices of quality Italian wines. I'd feel better about this wine's value, particularly considering its age, closer to the $10 point.
WHEN TO DRINK: As noted, don't plan to keep it much longer; younger vintages should be fine to hold for a year or two, but remember that Valpolicella is a wine to drink fresh.
WEB LINK: Tommasi's Website is available in English and Italian.
FIND THIS WINE ONLINE: Check the databases at Wine-Searcher.com for information about Tommasi Valpolicella:
The California Wine Club:
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Each month includes two bottle of award-winning wine and a detailed 8-page newsletter, Uncorked. Just $32.95/shipping, there are no membership fees and you can cancel anytime. Choose to receive wines monthly, every other month or even quarterly.
For more information or to try the Club for yourself call 1-800-777-4443 or visit
"MoCool" weekend coming up
This coming weekend, I'll be in Ann Arbor, Mich., wining and dining with dozens of wine-loving online friends at MoCool, the 13th Annual MOtown Co-Operative Off-Line Tasting.
MoCool is non-profit and non-commercial, organized since 1992 by a volunteer group of Internet-wired wine lovers in the Ann Arbor and Detroit area. Its goal is a non-snobby, cooperative, affordable weekend for cyberwine fans to get together and enjoy wine, food, and each other's company.
This year's theme is "PIGS," an acronym that assimilates the wines of Portugal, Italy, Germany (and Olympics host Greece!) and Spain. Participating wine lovers will gather for a food-and-wine picnic on Saturday afternoon, Aug. 28, in a rural setting near Ann Arbor, bringing wines to share and contributing an admission fee ($40 per person) calculated to cover the cost of the venue, the food and preparation.
If you're a wine enthusiast who lives within range of the Ann Arbor and Detroit area or plans to be there next weekend, you're welcome to take part. If interested, send me an E-mail note at email@example.com, and I'll tell you how to sign up.
I look forward to seeing some of you there, and will publish a report with tasting notes and photos soon.
This week on WineLoversPage.com
Here are links to some of our recently published articles that I think you'll enjoy:
Words About Port: Oporto and the Douro Valley
Wine Lovers' Discussion Group: Most unlikely wine blend
Last Week's Wine Advisor Index
The Wine Advisor's daily edition is usually distributed on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays (and, for those who subscribe, the FoodLetter on Thursdays). Here's the index to last week's columns:
More Inzolia (Aug. 20, 2004)
Tasty Chilean white (Aug. 18, 2004)
Do wine lovers make better thinkers? (Aug. 16, 2004)
Complete 30 Second Wine Advisor archive:
Wine Advisor FoodLetter: Dinner with Julia (Aug. 19, 2004)
Wine Advisor Foodletter archive:
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Monday, Aug. 23, 2004