Now is the time to enjoy wine

I've made my share of New Year's resolutions through the years,but none quite as delicious (or easy to keep) as the ones aboutwine. Here are mine for 2003.

1. Try more different kinds. There are more than 5,000 grapevarieties in the world, but many of us drink the same one, or ones,week after week (the equivalent of eating chicken every night).Here are some I plan to try more of this year: Albariño fromSpain; Pinot Gris from Oregon; Riesling from Alsace, Austria, andAustralia; southern French reds like Gigondas; Barbera and Dolcettofrom Italy; and Syrahs from all over the American West.

2. Set aside a "wine discovery" budget: $20 a week. Withthat, I'll buy wines I don't know, and hopefully by the end of theyear, I'll have made all kinds of delicious new discoveries.

3. Create a permanent wine space in my refrigerator. After along day at work or when a friend drops over unexpectedly, I wantto be able to open that door and know there's a good white waitinginside. The first bottle I'm going to put there: J Pinot Gris(about $18). Pinot Gris is as "hot" as a variety gets right now,and this is one of the best in California. Its exotic aroma is allabout peaches, apples, and rain-fresh country air, its flavorevocative of peaches and apricot purée.

4. Order the least expensive bottle in a restaurant. Thistakes courage, but I've found that many restaurant wine buyers workhard at finding great deals. Instead of being embarrassed aboutordering from the lower end, I've decided to make the most of theirexpertise. For example, the least expensive wine on the list atBouchon, Thomas Keller's Napa Valley bistro, is a Delas FrèresCôtes du Ventoux 2000 from France ($20). It's terrific ―juicy, earthy, and leathery. Just the ticket for, say, roastchicken and pommes frites.

5. Drink more white wine with cheese. In experiment afterexperiment, I've discovered that white wine generally tastes betterwith most cheeses than red; acidity does the trick. My favoritecombination: goat cheese and a crisp Sauvignon Blanc (also calledFumé Blanc). Benziger, Dry Creek, Firestone, Hogue, Honig, andMeridian all make great ones (and Sauvignon Blancs are steals, toboot).

6. Open wine just for myself. There's a bottle of DomaineCarneros sparkling wine in my refrigerator, but I've neverconsidered opening it when no one else is around. I'm going to getover that. Each of us deserves the simple pleasure of a glass ofgood wine. Besides, the rest won't go bad in a day. If you pour outa glass and stopper the bottle immediately, the wine will be finethe next day; put a white back in the refrigerator and it willprobably be good for several days to come. Ditto for sparklers: youjust need one of those sparkling-wine stoppers that keep thebubbles in ($5 to $10 in most wine shops).

7. Give red wines the carafe treatment. Most of the reds Idrink are young. I know they'll taste softer, rounder, and moreexpressive if I just take a minute to pour them into a carafe ordecanter so exposure to the air can open up their flavors. When Idid this recently with a Penfolds "Thomas Hyland" Shiraz fromAustralia (about $15), the transformation was amazing: the wineactually tasted like it cost a lot more.

8. Stop holding back those "great" bottles. I'm as guilty asanyone of saving wines instead of enjoying them, even though I knowit makes little sense. As far as wine is concerned, delayedgratification may be overrated. Wine is meant for drinking. Withoutwaiting for a special occasion, I'm going to invite friends overand open some of those gems I've had stashed away for years.

Sunset's Wine Club

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