Make 2008 a Vintage Year

(By Julia Ewan -- The Washington Post)
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By Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg
Wednesday, January 2, 2008

In January, we always resolve to get organized, as experts typically recommend for the new year. Here are three strategies that we believe can do the most to enhance your wine life in the months ahead:

- Use your best wineglasses every day. Too often in the past, we found ourselves grabbing thick-lipped glasses -- harder to break and easier to clean -- that simply don't offer the best experience.

No more. We recently discovered Zalto Denk'Art glassware from Austria (, whose elegant, eye-catching design first piqued our interest and whose dishwasher-safe performance won us over.

Two of Zalto's Universal glasses have become our daily glassware for meals at home. We'll admit that their $56-per-glass price tag would be a lot harder to swallow if they weren't remarkably sturdy, even with their thin lips and long, graceful stems. These glasses allow us to swirl and view appealing whites and inhale the bold aromas of reds. If we use them every weekday for a year, we'll have upgraded every sip of wine we drink for just a few dimes a day.

A more affordable choice is the attractive Riedel (rhymes with "needle") Vivant glassware, available at Target. At about $10 for each lead-free Tyrol crystal glass, which packs in more than three centuries of glassmaking expertise, it's a bargain. The downside? Riedel still recommends hand-washing its glasses, which is why we think the Zalto glasses are such an impressive breakthrough.

- Have a variety of wines on hand so you're prepared for any occasion. This week, we recommend a half-dozen wines representing the six so-called "noble grapes" (plus two bonus sparkling wines) you'll want in your wine rack to meet virtually any food-pairing challenge.

Cabernet sauvignon: Have a bigger red around to accompany roasted or braised beef, lamb or venison. Check out the 2005 Gallo Family Vineyards Sonoma Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon ($15), whose nice balance of blackberry fruitiness with firm but not overpowering tannins offers maximum pairing flexibility.

Merlot: When you're looking for something lighter with red meat, go with a merlot, such as the well-balanced 2005 J. Lohr Estates Los Osos Merlot ($15). We zoomed through the better part of a bottle of this jammy wine that tamed the heat of a pasta with a spicy, sausage-laden red sauce.

Pinot noir: Blackstone is raising its game with its new Sonoma Reserve line. We were surprised by how much we enjoyed the 2005 Blackstone Sonoma Reserve Pinot Noir ($19), a full-flavored red blend (with malbec, petite sirah and dolcetto) lush with complex black-cherry flavors and a long, vanilla-tinged finish. It will go with red-sauced pasta, salmon, tuna, pork or lamb. We drank it with a mixed grill of spiced Turkish lamb dishes with a yogurt-dill sauce that played beautifully against the wine's own herbaceous qualities.

Chardonnay: You'll want one that can stand up to cream-sauced pastas or chicken, lobster, pork, salmon or turkey. We recommended Gloria Ferrer's gorgeous Brut sparkler in our Nov. 28 column, and Andrew is just as enthusiastic about the 2005 Gloria Ferrer Carneros Chardonnay ($18), whose light touch of oak didn't overpower pear and peach flavors that were balanced by lemon acidity and a toasty vanilla finish.

Sauvignon blanc: For seafood and salads, try the 2006 Chateau St. Jean Sonoma Fumé Blanc ($13), a blend of sauvignon blanc, semillon and Viognier. Its refreshing lemon and herb flavors make it a perfect match for white fish or shellfish. A quarter of the wine is barrel-fermented in French and American oak, which adds to its complexity.

Riesling: A good Riesling will be your go-to wine not only to complement ham and sausage dishes, but also to cool the flames of spicy Asian or Indian fare. Take your pick of the off-dry 2006 Loosen Bros. "Dr. L" Riesling ($12), the apricot- and peach-noted 2006 Chateau Ste. Michelle Columbia Valley Riesling ($9) or the apple- and peach-noted 2006 Genesis by Hogue Cellars Riesling ($12).

Dry sparkling wine: If you're like us, the holidays served to remind you how incredibly food-friendly sparkling wine is. The NV Domaine Ste. Michelle Brut Columbia Valley Sparkling Wine ($11) from Washington state is priced to enjoy any night of the week. Made using the traditional methode champenoise, used to produce French champagne, it goes as well with sushi as it does with roast chicken.

Sweet sparkling wine: At the end of the night with -- or instead of -- dessert, pour a glass of Moscato d'Asti. Check out the 2006 Michele Chiarlo Nivole Moscato d'Asti ($10 per half-bottle), or ask your local wine store about one of the lesser-known producers it might have on hand. The most dessert-friendly wine around, Moscato d'Asti will go with virtually any sweets you serve after dinner. Last-minute guests will be impressed when you're able to pour them a glass at a moment's notice.

- Synchronize your shopping lists for groceries and wine. That way, if you know you're planning several red-sauce dishes, you can pick up extra merlot -- and ditto for chardonnay, if you know there are more cream-sauce dishes in your future.

Following these new strategies can elevate both what you drink and what you eat to a new level. Taking the time to organize your wine life this month will enhance it all year long.

Tip: Bonus Strategy, especially for Singles and Couples

If you don't usually finish an entire bottle of wine in one sitting, you can extend the life of your leftovers by pumping the air out of the bottle. We've had our Vacu Vin ($10) system -- a plastic pump plus a rubber stopper -- for more than a decade. It's still best to try to finish wine as soon as possible (i.e., the next night or two) after opening, but we've had pumped bottles remain drinkable as long as a week later.

Because the Vacu Vin system doesn't work on sparkling wines, you'll want to have a few rubber-lipped champagne stoppers on hand to extend the life of your bubblies. We use the chrome kind with two hinged arms that clamp around the neck of the bottle to keep it sealed tight (less than $10).

éecause the Vacu Vin system doesn't work on sparkling wines, you'll want to have a few rubber-lipped champagne stoppers on hand to extend the life of your bubblies. We use the chrome kind with two hinged arms that clamp around the neck of the bottle to keep it sealed tight (less than $10).Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page, award-winning authors of "What to Drink With What You Eat," can be reached through their Web site,, or

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