John JuergensMeditative wines: So, what's on your mind?

One of the nice things about sliding into the fall and winter months is the potential for a bit more time for indoor activities. As the days grow shorter and cooler we can turn our focus inward rather than having to dash off to some outdoor activity. And soon we will be lighting up our fireplaces and propping up our feet in fleece-lined slippers.

In other words, it is a great opportunity to spend some time reflecting on life, either alone or with friends. And what better way to facilitate your ruminations than with a nice "meditative" wine.

The image that comes to mind when I think of sipping meditative wines is a cold winter evening sitting near a fireplace with dimmed lights or just the light of the burning logs. I consider a rich, silky Port the classic wine to go with this scenario. There are many different types of Port, but vintage Port from Portugal might be the premier choice with a little side plate of chocolate and some Stilton cheese. Some of the most reliable brands include Graham, Dow, Warre, and Taylor Fladgate. The problem with vintage Port is it has to age 15 to 20 years before it is truly mature, and it tends to be fairly expensive.

There is a less expensive alternative called Late Bottled Vintage Port that stays in wood for about six years to acquire many of the characteristics of an aged vintage Port. These usually run about $20 or so. Most of the vintage Port houses mentioned above have LBV versions, and another recommendation would be Quinto do Crasto. A really good non-vintage Port is Graham's Six Grape. Ruby Port is another lower quality version, and Sandeman makes a nice one. The Broadbent family has been synonymous with Port for decades and now has something called Auction Reserve Port. This is a blend of wines from several years designed to emulate aged vintage Port. Had I not known how the wine was made, I would have thought it was a vintage Port that had been aged 15 to 20 years. But at just $20, the price gave away its secret.

Port-style wines are not limited to Portugal, and there are a fair number of "Ports" made in the U.S. from a wide variety of grapes including Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel and Petite Sirah. One of the more notable brands dedicated to high-quality Port-style and dessert wines is the house of Prager located in California's Napa Valley.

While purists might scoff at the notion that quality "Port" can be made anywhere outside of Portugal, the Prager family makes several types of intense Port-style wine that will get you through the winter in fine fashion.

Their flagship product is the Royal Escort Vintage "Port" made from Petite Sirah, and it is massive. From my tasting, this wine does not try to imitate vintage Ports from Portugal, but expresses its New World origins through its fruit characteristics. It definitely is a stick-to-your-ribs kind of wine. Word has it that, while it goes well with blue cheese and chocolate, it is especially good with that venerable southern delicacy, the Moon Pie. They also have several other Port-type wines, including Ruby, Tawny, and one called Tomas, which is made from traditional Portuguese varietals.

Australia also is a major "Port" producer, but most of its fortified, Port-style wines are tawnies. Tawny starts off just like other red Port, but is left to age in barrels until it turns a golden color with a touch of oxidation. Appreciation of this kind of wine can be an acquired taste for some people. Tawnies range in price from about $10 to $100, and it is fairly common to find samples that are 50 years old that are absolutely fabulous.

Of course, Port and its cousines isn't the only wine suitable for medication and contemplation. On occasion I select a high-quality, rich American-style Pinot Noir or a massive Zinfandel to sip that would not need any particular food accompaniment.

But it doesn't have to a cold, blustery night in the dead of winter to enjoy a meditative wine. Sitting outside in milder weather watching the sun go down - or up in some cases - is another perfect occasion to sip and ponder.

Depending on my mood, in this kind of setting I probably would select a big, fat new world Chardonnay or maybe a rich Pinot Gris from Oregon. Probably the idea white wine would be a lush, off-dry white from Caymus called Conundrum, an exotic blend of five white grape varieties. It shows constantly changing aromas and flavors in the class. The name alone suggests it might be a good meditative wine ... but not if you are seeking definitive answers.

I vacillate between recommending a complex wine, which could be distracting but might stimulate thought, and a simple, but well-made wine that doesn't interfere with the thought process. I suppose it is a matter of what you are pondering, and whether you hope to achieve clarity on some issue.

Either way, I think the approach to selecting a wine to go with thoughtful reflection is to look for a wine that you can sip easily, has a soft supple quality, and brings comfort. If you have a wine like this, brilliant insight is sure to follow - even if you might not remember what those insights exactly were the next day.

Wine picks of the week

I have two Argentine Malbecs to recommend. First is the 2005 Melipal. Some believe the 2003 vintage was one of their best, but I think the 2005 is far better. It is rich with deep complexities that define quality Malbec, aromas of violets, chocolate, and cedar that come through on the palate. It is nicely extracted but the tannins are still silky smooth. About $20.

Next is a good value wine from Zolo. The 2005 Malbec is their best effort so far. As with the Melipal, it is nicely extracted with a rich juicy flavors and a velvety feel on the palate with long lingering finish of coffee and chocolate. About $13.

Another interesting thing to note about these wines from Argentina that I do not see with other wines comes after the glass is empty except for that last drop or two. There is something in them that causes a beautiful sort of mauve iridescence on the sides of the glass when the light strikes it at just the right angle. Check it out.

October 2007

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