Wine bests

This year's cream of the crop

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In keeping with this issue's Best of the West theme, here we bring you some vinous superlatives. After all, wine is one of the best things about the West.

BEST WINEMAKER

Steve Edmunds. Once a Berkeley hippie-intellectual, a postman, and a poet-musician, Edmunds found his true calling in life when he scraped together enough money to found Edmunds St. John. From this winery, located in a nondescript Berkeley warehouse, come the very best Syrahs and other Rhône wines made in the West. Edmunds, shy and soulful, uses no fancy equipment or razzle-dazzle techniques, just lightning-rod instincts for finding stellar vineyards, then coaxing from them sensational grapes that will become even more sensational wines. (510) 981-1510.

BEST TREND

Relatively inexpensive Chardonnays that don't have huge oak flavors. (What's the point of buying a wine that tastes like a 2-by-4?) A number of Washington wineries in particular are coming out with Chardonnays that are anything but oak monsters. Try Bookwalter (about $10) or Hogue (about $9).

BEST SHOP

The Wine Bank in the historic Gaslamp Quarter of San Diego. Wine shops often have all the charm of a cardboard box. Not this one. Once a drugstore with a vault, it's now divided into 10 cozy rooms, one for Rhône wines, one for champagnes, one for Italian wines, and so forth. Meandering from room to room, you don't quite realize that the 4,000-square-foot store carries "a couple hundred thousand wines," according to wine buyer Terry Hudson. Absolutely everything you could ever want to drink is here, but the shop's forte is hard-to-find wines. So the next time you read about a terrific wine but can't find it where you live, call the Wine Bank; they can probably send it to you. If you're a lucky local, you can also attend special tastings every Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday evening ($10 to $20 per seminar). 363 Fifth Ave; (800) 940-9463 or (619) 234-7487.

BEST ADVICE

Try wines you don't know. After all, the best way to learn nothing about wine is to continue to drink what you know you already like.

BEST RAMBLING

Santa Barbara County. Just 2 1/2 hours north of Los Angeles, serene rolling hills and vast vine-covered mesas compose the Santa Maria and Santa Ynez Valleys. This is wine country at its most gorgeous (and least tourist-ridden). Best of all, in the last five years, Santa Barbara County has experienced nothing short of a wine revolution. Dozens upon dozens of sensational wines are now being made here, and the wineries, B&Bs, spas, and good local restaurants make wandering a pleasure. Don't miss tasting at Zaca Mesa, Cambria, and Byron. The Santa Barbara County Vintners' Association can provide you with maps and a complete list of wineries. (800) 218-0881.

 

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