PEOPLE OFTEN ASK, "What do wine writers do all day?" It is a fair question, but one that can elicit some defensiveness. A few wine writers devote all their days to the evaluation of new vintages, reading, travel and associated vinous activities. But most wine writers, myself included, do their research and appreciation around the edges of life's more demanding chores, whether those be journalism, law, salesmanship or carpentry. They get themselves on the mailing lists of the major vinous publications and organizations that arrange tastings; they get to know people in the retail and wholesale business, not for handouts but as valuable sources of information about the drift of the market and the specific availability of wine. They also get to know vineyard owners and try, with varying degrees of success, to make the infinity of the wine world both comprehensible and affordable to their readers.

Wine writers occasionally organize their own tastings and try to expose themselves to as many tasting

experiences as possible. Wine becomes a constant in their lives, at

the least a kind of low-level noise in

the back of the mind, the same

noise that any passion arouses --

whether for burgundy, old coins or


One of the joys of writing, and

reading, about wine is the vinous surprise. Often the discovery has no practical value, since the wine in question is either difficult to find or too expensive for the ordinary person who doesn't have the wine writer's entree to enophiles and institutions willing to expose their treasures to others' palates. Sometimes discoveries are available and affordable but find no place in a weekly column devoted primarily to education and consumer interests. What follows is a brief discussion of some wines I have tasted recently that gave me great pleasure as they would you:

An '81 Matanzas Creek chardonnay from Sonoma County, one of the best chardonnays I have tasted, fresh and beautifully made, with an incredibly long, slightly toasty finish.

Two old Alsace wines from Joseph Meyer, a '71 riesling and a '71 gewurztraminer. The riesling, as an aperitif, was full of fruit; the gewurz, spicy and long on the palate, went perfectly with fresh chade is nothing in the life of a well-made Alsace.

A '79 Ridge York Creek zinfandel, with a great nose, good body and delicacy. Fabulous with lamb.

An '83 Santa Margherita pinot grigio from the Alta Adige, a beautiful, crisp, flavorful white -- a "world class" wine.

A '64 Ch.ateau Figeac from St. Emilion, a deep garnet color, a spicy intensity picked up from the cabernet franc, and an almost sweet finish.

A '76 Schloss Eltz auslese from the Rheingau, deep gold in color with some sedimentary crystals, a lemony nose, luscious fruit and an intensely honeyed finish. The strawberry and kiwi tart was up to it, however.

An '81 Barboursville cabernet from Virginia, a claret style with an Italianate, piney resonance, very good with roast meat.

And, finally, another chardonnay, the '83 Catoctin from Maryland, with a full varietal nose and fine fruit. With a year or so of age it will be a first-rate wine, and a real surprise from this young local vineyard.