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So Much Wine, So Little Time

The impossible wine question gets answered


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“WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE WINE?” The question is usually asked in the company of a winemaker, distributor, wine merchant, collector, oenologist, viticulturist or the ubiquitous wine bore. Someone pops the question but doesn’t really want to know, because the answer won’t mean anything (“The 1991 Penfolds Grange, or perhaps the ’45 Lafite, or the Romanée Conti ’52 Echezeaux, or maybe the . . .”). The litany will surely be forgotten before the next canapé gets nibbled, because a real answer wasn’t forthcoming.

“So much wine, so little time” is a typically insightful response when your expert dances around the idea of naming a single wine—similar to a politician in full pirouette around questions about taxes, Social Security and healthcare reform.

The investigative wine-drinking staff of San Diego Magazine felt answers to this burning question must exist somewhere. So we set out to see whether wine merchants of the county could help us out. The concept was simple—we called and posed this question: “If someone walks into your store and asks you to recommend one white wine and one red wine to serve this weekend for a special occasion, and they don’t care about price, what would you say?”

The faces on the other end of the phone weren’t visible, but the body language came phantasmagorically through the lines in various grunts, guffaws and groans. Most responded immediately: “That’s a terrible question!”

And it is. All good merchants, sommeliers, masters and mistresses of wine and others with extensive experience go through a well-honed interrogation to put the person’s palate in perspective and narrow the quest. The first question is usually about price. Then they peel away your prejudices and preferences to arrive at several options. For style, from lighter-bodied to big monster? Specific grape or blend? Clean fruit and tank fermented to barrel-fermented with a forest of oak in the bouquet and on the palate? Low alcohol or high? And prejudices: countries of origin, individual appellations, screwtop or not, big winery or small, handsome winemaker or cult winery, et cetera?

After instant responses from some and excruciating delays from others, the following recommendations rose to the top. All are solid. Some mirror the personality of the store and its clientele. Others seemed to have been selected to please the most palates and offend the fewest. The adventuresome with lots of friends and big bank accounts might launch an organoleptic treasure hunt of sorts and taste their way around the county at the following. (Prices have been rounded.)

THE MERCHANTS

BARON’S, THE MARKETPLACE
12875 El Camino Real, San Diego, 858-481-2323

• Newton 2004 Chardonnay, Unfiltered, Napa Valley, $45
• Joseph Phelps 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, $48

BEVERAGES & MORE
8410 Center Drive, La Mesa,
619-461-6230; bevmo.com

• Sonoma-Cutrer 2005 Chardonnay, Russian River, $33
• Elk Cove 2005 Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, Oregon, $30

CHULA VISTA WINESTYLES
2015 Birch Road, Suite 1601, Chula Vista,
619-397-5533; winestyles.net/chulavista

• Conundrum (Caymus) 2005 California White (proprietary blend, usually Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Viognier and Sémillon), $27
• Foxen 2004 Cuvée Jean Marie (Grenache and Mourvèdre blend), $33

HOLIDAY WINE CELLAR
302 West Mission Avenue, Escondido,
760-745-1200; holidaywinecellar.com

• Grgich Hills 2004 Chardonnay, Napa Valley, $38
• Peter Franus 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, $42

NORTH COUNTY WINE COMPANY
1099 San Marcos Boulevard,
San Marcos, 760-744-2119;
northcountywinecompany.com

• Sbragia 2004 Gamble Ranch Vineyard Chardonnay, Napa Valley, $38
• Cliff Lede 2004 Claret (blend of Cabernet with some Merlot, Malbec and Cabernet Franc), Napa Valley, $33

SAN DIEGO WINE COMPANY
5282 Eastgate Mall, San Diego,
858-535-1400; sandiegowine.net

• Ehlers 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon “1886,” Napa Valley, $50
• Pahlmeyer 2005 Chardonnay, Napa Valley, $60

VINTAGE WINES LIMITED
6904 Miramar Road, Suite 101,
San Diego, 858-549-2112;
vintagewinessd.com

• Fontaine-Gagnard 2004 Chassagne-Montrachet Premier Cru, Monopole, Clos des Murées, $50
• Pahlmeyer 2004 Jayson (proprietary red wine), Napa Valley, $50

THE WINE BANK
363 Fifth Avenue, San Diego,
619-234-7487; sdwinebank.com

• Kistler Vineyards 2004 Cuvée Cathleen Chardonnay, Sonoma Valley, $119
• Robert Foley 2004 Claret (Bordeaux style), Napa Valley, $179

WINESELLAR & BRASSERIE
9550 Waples Street, Suite 115, San Diego,
858-450-9557;winesellar.com

• Dom Pérignon 1990 Champagne, Magnum, $600
• Domaine de la Romanée-Conti 1996 Echezeaux, $725

AUTHOR'S ADDITIONS

In going through tasting notes on wines generally available throughout the region, a few winery names with distinguished histories but less exciting recent results jumped out. So we ducked the impossible question and hedged our bets. For veteran wine drinkers, some of the following will conjure memories of great past experiences and historical achievements:

BV Private Reserve as a benchmark for top Napa Valley Cabernet; Beringer for its amazing consistency across all varietals for decades; Mondavi for building a landmark winery in the Napa Valley and starting a quality revolution; Chateau Montelena for winning the Paris shootout; Chappellet for conquering a mountaintop; Schramsberg for pioneering high-quality sparkling wines from California; three French imports offering excellent value; and one of the great ports of recent vintages.

CALIFORNIA REDS

• Beaulieu Vineyard Georges de Latour, Private Reserve, Cabernet Sauvignon 2003, Napa Valley, $70
• Beringer 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon Private Reserve, Napa Valley, $90
• Robert Mondavi 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve, Napa Valley, $100

FRENCH REDS

• Château Cos d’Estournel 2004 Saint Estephe, $80
• Clos Fourtet 2003 Saint Émilion, $80
• Les Forts de Latour 2004 Pauillac (Latour second label), $70

CALIFORNIA WHITES & BUBBLY

• Chappellet 2005 Chardonnay, Napa Valley, $30
• Chateau Montelena 2005 Chardonnay, Napa Valley, $35
• Rombauer 2005 Chardonnay, Carneros, $32
• Schramsberg 2003 Brut Blanc de Noirs, Napa-Mendocino-Sonoma counties, $35

A PORT FOR THE STORM

• Taylor Fladgate 2003 Vintage Port, $45

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