Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Take the wine with you. Put a case in with the suitcases, boogie boards and fishing rods when you pack the car for your summer beach or mountain vacation.

Not only will the selection at good Washington-area shops prove better (and the prices lower) than at stores where you’re going, but why waste valuable holiday time shopping?

Washington remains one of the world’s very best cities in which to shop for wine. The competition among local retailers here is fierce, and wines from all over the world compete for consumer dollars. London and New York may be comparable markets; Duck, N.C., or Deep Creek Lake, Md., most definitely are not.

The problem with taking wine on vacation (besides finding room for it in the trunk) is that you won’t know exactly what foods the bottles you select will be accompanying. Versatility has to be an important factor when filling your case.

Here is a sampler, with 12 wines selected for 12 vacation occasions and meals. In each case, I’m recommending two wines, at two price points.

The general concept, though, is as important as the specific bottles. You know what you like to do (and eat) on vacation. So choose wines that suit your preferences.


Bubbles make any occasion seem festive. Whether you’re sipping the wine on its own before dinner, mixing it with orange juice for a mimosa at brunch or drinking it with food (no wine goes better with gazpacho in hot weather), sparkling wine is a great vacation choice.

Jacob’s Creek NV ChardonnayPinot Noir ($12)— from Australia displays ripe citrus and apple fruit flavor, but it also has a crisp finish and a firm structure. Similarly styled, but richer, with more yeasty undertones and a longer finish, Roederer Estate NV Brut ($21) from the Anderson Valley in Northern California’s Mendocino County consistently outperforms all but a very small handful of American sparklers.


When choosing a white to open before dinner, especially in summer, look for one that will seem refreshing, not too rich or lush, but also not too bracing or tart.

Light, dry Riesling fits this bill perfectly, and the best examples come from Germany.

From the Rheingau region,

Carl Friedrich Lowenstein Trocken 2003 ($12), with its Golden Delicious apple flavors, provdes an excellent introduction. Lighter still, JJ Prum Kabinett 2003 ($25) comes from the Mosel. It feels almost weightless but tastes delicious — just what you want in an aperitif.


More and more people are drinking red wines before dinner, even though the tannins in many reds can make them seem tight and astringent when unaccompanied by food.

Softness, then, is a key when selecting an aperitif red. Here’s where merlot can shine. Not structured, supposedly serious (and expensive) merlots, which in truth often seem indistinguishable from cabernets; nor thin, green ones that, no matter the price, offer little pleasure; but seductive ones that feel sensuous to sip.

El Portillo 2003 ($11) from Mendoza in Argentina does just that. With plum and red berry flavors, it’s smooth and satisfying. Deeper and more complex, but equally lush in texture, Chateau Souverain Alexander Valley 2002 ($18) is one of California’s best.


This wine needs to be light-bodied but full of flavor to complement the briny taste of the sea. New Zealand sauvignon blanc is exactly that, so it’s a great wine to have with shrimp, clams and more.

Babich Marlborough 2004 ($13) tastes of fresh grapefruit ad complements seafood wonderfully. Equally fresh, but more nuanced, with an herbal undertone in addition to bright citrus flavors, Seifried Nelson 2004 ($20) demonstrates why Kiwi sauvignon sets an international benchmark for this varietal.


Pinot gris, with ripe pear flavors and a hint of sweetness, is great to drink with fresh summer salads, no matter whether they are made with chicken, turkey, tuna or shrimp. Some delicious examples of pinot gris in this style (as opposed to the more austere Italian pinot grigio style) come from Oregon.

King Estate Oregon ($15) provides a fine introduction. Just as fresh and food-friendly, but with a subtle floral note that adds interest, Adelsheim Willamette Valley ($19), from one of the state’s pioneering producers, is sure to please.


OK, tropical-flavored chardonnay can be difficult to pair with food unless you serve it with fried chicken. New World chardonnay is this all-American dish’s perfect accompaniment, as the rich but bright fruit flavors in the wine marry wonderfully with the equally rich food.

From Chile, Conch y Toro Casillero del Diablo 2004 ($9) is an excellent, value-priced choice. Richer and almost overflowing with flavor, Chateau Ste. Michelle Cold Creek Vineyard 2003 ($27) from Washington State is about as good as chardonnay gets when made in this lush, fruit-forward style.


Or swordfish, salmon or any other meaty, full-flavored, firm fish. The white here needs to be full-flavored and richly textured to hold its own with the fish, but it also needs to display some restraint so it won’t overwhelm your taste buds. Semillon, with its appealing waxy feel and nutty undertone, is invariably a good choice.

From Australia, Peter Lehmann Barossa 2004 ($12) offers exceptional value. From Washington State, L’Ecole 41 Columbia Valley ($18), with its creamy body and vanilla-scented bouquet, is delicious.


Cru Beaujolais is a great wine to drink with roast chicken, pork tenderloin or any of a host of dishes that call for a flavorful but unobtrusive red wine.

Don’t confuse it with fruity but simple Beaujolais nouveau. A cru wine, from one of the region’s best sites, invariably tastes more complex and is more satisfying.

You still can find cru wines from 2003, the finest Beaujolais vintage in memory. Although basic Beaujolais declines after a year or so in bottle, the crus improve over five years or so.

Georges DuBoeuf is the region’s most famous producer, and DuBoeuf Julienas 2003 ($12) provides a good introduction to the charms of cru Beaujolais. Jacques Lapierre works on a much smaller scale, but his wines have influenced a new, ambitious generation of vintners. Lapierre Morgon 2003 ($27), with its seductive cherry and strawberry flavors and leathery undertone, proves that he is at the top of his game.


Australian shiraz, full of warm, sun-kissed fruit, is just the wine to accompany everyone’s favorite summer family feast. Don’t look for an especially complex rendition, but choose one that delights with delectable and direct flavor.

Two of my favorites are Nugan Family 2003 ($13) and d’Arenberg “Footbolt” 2002 ($18). They are jam-packed with juicy red fruit flavor — just the thing to drink with cheeseburgers.


No one eats more red meat than the Argentines, and no wine pairs better with it than Argentine malbec. Full of dark, rich fruit flavor, with a violet-scented perfume and an anise-tinged finish, it’s the perfect steak or chop wine.

Gougenheim “Otono” Malbec 2003 ($9) from the province of Mendoza offers superior value. A bit more expensive, but also a bit more complex, Bodegas Salentein 2003 ($18), also from Mendoza, is satisfyingly complete. Both outperform the vast majority of comparably priced wines on the market.


Zinfandel, with its briery character and ripe, almost sweet fruit, proves a great partner for ribs, chicken, pork — anything dripping with spicy, tomato-based barbecue sauce.

Cline California 2003 ($12) tastes fresh and bright. Richer and more vivacious, although well-balanced and so never excessive, Murphy-Goode “Liar’s Dice” Sonoma County 2002 ($19) seems tailor-made for this sort of summer fare.


Once the sun has set and the children have been put to bed, it’s time to savor a glass of chilled tawny port. All will seem right with the world — at least your small vacation corner of it. Good tawny port isn’t cheap, but a bottle can last a long time because the wine won’t spoil when exposed to air.

Warre’s 10 Year Otima ($26), with its toffee-scented bouquet and nutty, caramel-tinged flavors, is a delicious example. More nuanced, with a wonderfully long, evolved finish, lor Fladgatecq 20 Year ($52) is as good as this type of wine gets. Serve it chilled and let it warm slowly in your glass. What a way to spend a vacation evening.

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