I am usually reticent to mention my favorite wines because, as history has proven, after I do, they are sold out. This is a dilemma I wish to avoid. I suppose I could just produce a list of nice available wines. However, in the interest of journalistic integrity, my current favorite wines will follow.
First, let me say that having tasted thousands of wines from under $10 to bottles that cost thousands of dollars, I can safely say that most excellent wines can be found under $50. In fact, these recommendations are mostly under $20. If you can’t tell the difference between a $20 and a $50 bottle of the same varietal, no need to spend $50.
In my opinion, "favorite" means a wine I have enjoyed many times and look forward to enjoying again. (Believe me, there are many I hope to never see again.) The characteristics of a favorite are simple. The wine is mouth-filling, complex, true to the varietal or blend and accompanies food well. In addition, the producer has a history of fine winemaking and the resulting product changes little from year to year.
In my biweekly adventure to local stores, I try to choose evenly between white and red. My wife and I focus predominantly on fish and white meat, but occasionally indulge in filet mignon or rack of lamb. Therefore, we enjoy sauvignon blanc with lighter seafood, such as shrimp, cod, flounder, mahi-mahi or snapper. Ferrari-Carano is my favorite but recently I tried one from Gamble that was excellent. Chardonnay is a good accompaniment to salmon, halibut, lobster or any rich fish. For years, I have enjoyed California chardonnays like Josh or Simi, but a year ago, I became fascinated with a wonderful Chablis from Domain Gueguen.
For pork or veal dishes, I enjoy a regional Burgundy such as Domaine Des Farondes. Not only does this do well with white meat, but it’s wonderful with roasted chicken in a brown sauce.
When it’s time for an Italian-themed meal, especially with red sauce, Italian wine is a necessity. The two most consistent producers in Italy are Banfi and Antinori. Although they produce a number of wines, Banfi’s Col De Sasso and Antinori’s Villa Antinori are standouts. For those with a larger budget, a Barolo from Conterno or a Barbaresco from Gaja would be excellent choices.
When it comes to red meat dishes, cabernet sauvignon and merlot dominate. Columbia Crest, a Wine Spectator award winner, or Sterling (an unbelievable value) from California are very dependable. For a bit more expense, Gamble Paramount or Coeur De Vigne are excellent, as well as Phelan Segur from France. I particularly enjoy merlot with lamb and Chateau Barail Meyney is an excellent Bordeaux that is 100 percent merlot.
It's interesting that, unlike many beer and spirits drinkers, most wine enthusiasts are not brand dependent. They are willing to experiment and try new varietals and regions. Some new wines on the horizon worth trying are Ram’s Gate, The Paring, and a very interesting grenache blanc from Priest Ranch. I hope some of my favorites can become yours. Patronize your local wine bars (we have so many) or Wine Cellar Social Club to educate your palate and create a new sense of enjoyment.
Bob McGinn has spent his entire career in the wine industry—forming wine clubs, working in wine sales marketing and engaging in all facets of the winemaking process, including vine management, fermentation and yeast analysis. He has developed wine programs for companies such as Marriott, Sheraton and Smith & Wollensky, and consults with local restaurants. You can read more of McGinn’s work at gulfcoastwinejournal.com.