Saturday, April 11, 2009

Spring's Go-To Wines

The job description for a go-to wine is pretty straightforward. It should be appropriate to the time of year and marry well with the types of foods you typically enjoy or serve to guests. Think versatility rather than edginess. Go-to wines should also be easy to find and affordable enough to keep a decent stash on hand.

Two wines comprise our short list of go-to wines this spring season – a French Côte du Rhône and a New World entry from the Santa Ynez valley near Santa Barbara. While each wine has its own distinct character and style, both pair well with a range of springtime dishes. Right now, with daytime temps comfortably warm and evenings refreshingly cool, it's time to fire up the barbie, entertain outdoors and uncork some Syrah.

Locally, we found the 2006 Saint Cosme Côte du Rhône at LA Wine Company for less than $12 a bottle. Its medium-bodied richness is well-balanced and smooth with aromas of smoke and earth. Flavors of blackberries and spice are soft and pleasing, yielding a wine that marries well with robust or grilled meats to springtime vegetables, cheese and pasta. The 100% Syrah from the Southern Rhone wine matches up to strong-flavored fish too, as we discovered with grilled salmon topped with a barely cooked sauce of fresh tomatoes and capers.

We landed our other go-to choice during a visit to the Andrew Murray tasting room in Los Olivos, outside of Santa Barbara. The winery's 2005 Santa Ynez Valley Syrah is made in a New World style with greater fruit-forward character and heady aromas. Medium-to-full bodied in the mouth, the wine conveys rich flavors of wild berry, cranberry and cassis. White pepper dominates spicy notes that add a bit of heat to this American beauty. It makes a satisfying pairing with pizza or spice-rubbed grilled chicken. We took advantage of the tasting room's half-off case price to stock up at about $13 a bottle.

Find go-to wines that work with your specific dining preferences, taste and budget. They'll help you conserve wine dollars, save shopping time and avoid wine angst. Best of all, they'll deliver no-surprises, flavorful value every time you pop the cork. These spicy, aromatic Syrahs should take us through springtime's steak, lamb and barbeque bacchanalia. After that, we'll be trolling to find other, perhaps lighter go-to wines to get us through the dog days of summer.

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