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Instant Gratification

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Michael Amsler

White is right: There's no reason to wait years for white wine to age to perfection. For the most part, white wine is already perfect when you purchase it. Drink it while you're waiting for the red--and yourself--to age.

White wines that are ready to uncork now

By Bob Johnson

THE EVOLUTION of a wine drinker roughly follows this pattern: Phase I--You open a bottle from the folks' stash as a teenager, take one whiff, and either add 7-Up to the libation or quickly pour the contents down the drain with one hand while grabbing a can of beer from the fridge with the other.

Phase II--You share a box of wine with fellow sorority or fraternity members looking for a cheap buzz. (Bottles of wine occasionally make their way into dorms, and almost all of them have screw caps, so if you can't find a box of wine on a Saturday night, a few screw-capped bottles suffice.)

Phase III--While hanging out at a "meet market," a friend suggests trying a glass of white zinfandel. You don't know why, but you find you like white zin a whole lot better than the boxed stuff.

Phase IV--A few weeks later at the same "meet market," you encounter a member of the opposite sex who offers to buy you a glass of chardonnay. Not having a clue what chardonnay is, and not wanting to appear unsophisticated, you agree.

(This is where the evolution stops for many people. If they don't like the chardonnay, they return to white zin and never look back. Since white zin is the top-selling wine varietal in the country, it's obvious that countless numbers fall into this category. If, however, they enjoy the chardonnay, the evolution may continue.)

Phase V--Either through your own curiosity or at the behest of a friend, you try a glass of red wine. If you find it too "strong" or too "alcoholic" or too "sour," you'll likely stick with chardonnay in the future. But if you like it, you're on your way to ...

Phase VI--Otherwise known as "wine geekdom." You start trying different varietals. You may even read a book or take a class about wine. And you start talking the talk, amazingly enough, using words like aromatic, unctuous, and cloying in everyday conversations.

If you become truly affected by the wine bug, you may even turn your back on white wine altogether. I know a number of people who now drink nothing but red wine--usually big, bold cabernet sauvignons--and a handful of folks who won't even look at a bottling that receives less than a 90 rating on a 100-point scale from one of those foo-foo wine mags.

While these people may think they're drinking only the best, in actuality they're missing out on some truly memorable white wine-drinking experiences. Especially for people who are eating lighter (chicken, fish, veggies), a well-made white wine can be just what the doctor ordered. The fruity, not overpowering, flavors of the wine can meld marvelously with the delicate, subtle flavors of the food.

Allowing yourself to drink white wine on occasion also serves another purpose: It frees up space on your wine rack for storing more reds. While most reds gain complexity with a few years of bottle aging, most whites are ready to be consumed now. And if you're starting to get up there in years, it makes a lot of sense to live in the present. As an elderly friend recently said, "I'm not taking any chances on aging wines. Heck, I don't even buy green bananas."

There are countless quality bottlings of white wine on the market today, ranging from the ubiquitous chardonnay to varietals that are lesser-known but every bit as tasty.

The white wines that follow are rated on a scale of one to four corks: one cork, commercially sound; two corks, average; three corks, above average; and four corks, excellent.

Geyser Peak 1997 Sauvignon Blanc, Sonoma County--Pineapple and grapefruit flavors, with pleasing herbal nuances. Clean and sweet tasting. 3 corks.

Buena Vista 1996 Sauvignon Blanc, California--Luscious peach, fig, lime, and mineral notes in a sweet-finishing, pleasing style.
3 corks.

Martini & Prati 1996 Gatto Selvaggio Moscato Bianco, California--This Muscat Canelli bottling is clean, crisp, slightly spritzy, and refreshing, with a floral nose, and apple and pear flavors.
3 corks.

Martini & Prati 1996 Vino Grigio, California--Complex enough for the most discriminating palate, yet soft and fruit-forward enough to wow the white-zin crowd. Vanilla and green apple aromas jump out of the glass, accompanied by honeysuckle and ripe honeydew melon nuances. Nicely balanced and thoroughly decadent. 3.5 corks.

De Loach 1996 Early Harvest Gewürztraminer, Russian River Valley--Crisp grapefruit and rose petal aromas, and sweeter fruit flavors in the mouth. This clean, balanced wine stands up as an aperitif or as a refreshing quaffer with brunch or spicy Asian dishes. 3 corks.

The Pyramids Ranch Vineyards 1995 Chardonnay, Sonoma County--A delicious chardonnay from a relatively unknown winery ... so far. Winemaker Gregory Graham, who also works for Napa Valley's acclaimed Rombauer Winery, put this wine through 100 percent malolactic fermentation, which accounts for the creamy oak aroma and flavor. Toss in flavors of apricots and peaches, and you have a stunningly tasty bottling for the price--seen for under $12 in some stores. 3 corks.

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From the March 5-11, 1998 issue of the Sonoma County Independent.

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