Is noon too soon?

Let's cut right to the chase: Many of us ― even the moststeadfast wine lovers ― never drink wine at brunch. Is noonjust too soon for a grown-up beverage? Well, if so, how do youexplain that unofficial queen of brunchtime beverages, the BloodyMary (which, it should be noted, packs a much bigger wallop thanthe fruit of the vine)?

No, it's probably not our reluctance to indulge a little. But,unlike a Bloody Mary, wine requires a cerebral moment, a deliciousquestion, some advance (if not advanced) thought: Which wine toserve with foods that we haven't imagined drinking wine withbefore?

The answer is actually easy. Great brunch wines are like greatbrunches ― light and lighthearted. Anything fussy,complicated, very serious, or really expensive is simply out ofplace. Moreover, a satisfying brunch wine is flexible with food,because everything from scones to smoked salmon might be on thetable.

My short list for wines that fit thebill

Muscats. A delicious, exotic wine for daytime sipping. InItaly (where it's known as Moscato), it's the traditional winedrunk on Christmas. All light and fresh, Muscats may be dry orslightly sweet (the label will indicate which). Many are also lowin alcohol. Good producers: Navarro Vineyards (Anderson Valley, CA)produces a fabulous dry Muscat Blanc (available by calling thewinery; 707/895-3686); Domaine Zind-Humbrecht (Alsace, France)makes big, opulent dry Muscats; Michele Chiarlo (Italy) has itsirresistible Nivole Moscato D'Asti.

Rieslings. Light as a feather on the palate and crisp enoughto go with a broad range of dishes. German Rieslings are thelightest (and most aren't sweet ― only the very cheap onesare). The dry Rieslings from Alsace and Australia (the new star inthis galaxy) have a little more oomph. California and Washingtonversions are often full bodied, super-fruity, and slightly sweeterthan Rieslings made elsewhere. Some top bets: J. u. H. A. Strub(Germany), Domaine Weinbach (Alsace), Leeuwin Estate (Australia),Chateau St. Jean (California), and Chateau Ste. Michelle(Washington).

Gewürztraminers. Pretty sassy and exotic as wines go,these are the ones for a wild, fun-packed affair. The best are fromAlsace, where there are a score of great producers ―Trimbach, Hugel, and Domaine Ostertag, for starters. Great domesticGewürztraminers are scarcer, but Navarro Vineyards, again,does a sensational job; Thomas Fogarty (also California) is closeon its heels.

Sparklers. Bubbles are a brunchtime no-brainer. Their crisptingle is a palate-exciting backdrop for dozens of typical dishes― including foods that are traditionally hard on wine, likeeggs and smoked salmon. If until now you've considered sparklingwine only an aperitif or a celebration beverage, have one withbrunch and prove yourself deliciously wrong.

Sunset's Wine Club

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