Top wine picks

Expert advice on choosing the premium vintages

Should you splurge to the tune of $29,950 for a single bottle of wine? Many wine enthusiasts might, if it’s a bottle of Jeroboam Chateau Mouton Rothschild 1870. The best wines tend to be rare (and are found most often at wine auctions) and thus expensive, according to Daniel Johnnes, wine director for New York’s Montrachet restaurant and owner of the import-export company Jeroboam Wines.

But all of the best wines don’t have to be costly. It all depends on your palate, notes Eileen Fredrikson, partner of San Francisco-based wine consultants Gomberg, Fredrikson & Associates. “Whatever taste you enjoy is the ‘best wine,’” she says.

Many experts, however, agree the world’s best wines come from France, especially from the Burgundy, Rhone Valley and Bordeaux regions, says Johnnes. Among Johnnes picks for the best wines are Domaine de la Romanee Conti 1996 (about $360 per bottle) and Musigny Comte de Vogue ($200), both burgundies. There’s also Chateau Lafite Rothschild 1996 ($322) and Chateau Margaux 1996 ($316), both bordeaux. From the Rhone Valley, any vintage of Hermitage ($100 plus) is considered one of the best, says Johnnes. According to Fredrikson, cabernet sauvignon is “considered to be the most complex red wine and chardonnay is generally considered the ‘queen’ of white wines.” Experts also tend to favor Italian wines from Chianti and Piedmont. “There are also glorious wines from Spain and California,” says Johnnes.

When selecting California wines, advises Fredrikson, “Look for ones with the grape from a coastal region, such as Mendocino, Sonoma, Napa, Monterey, Paso Robles, San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara.”

Drink an aged wine, like a cabernet, for special occasions. Aged wines start at about $25 a bottle and go up into the hundreds. “Find a brand you like and buy a case when it’s first released,” says Fredrikson. “Save it to drink over the next 10 years.” For daily drinking wine, Fredrikson suggests a merlot for red and a white zinfandel for white.

Steps to ensure your wine-tasting satisfaction

  • Read the label. “For a dessert wine, look for the words ‘late harvest,’” suggests Fredrikson. The flavors will be more concentrated.
  • Examine the color once the wine is poured. White wines get darker as they get older; red wines lighten. Color also clues you into the variety of the grape. The pinot noir grape, for example, makes brick-colored wine.
  • Enjoy the wine’s aroma. Swirl the wine in the glass to release its fragrance. Put your nose into the glass near the liquid and sniff. Does it smell fruity? Spicy?
  • Savor the wine’s taste. Sip a small mouthful. Don’t swallow yet. Suck air between your teeth and through the liquid. Hold it in your mouth for a few seconds. Is the texture full- or light-bodied? The more alcohol, the fuller the body. Most important, notes Johnnes, the wine should be balanced. “The acidity, tannin, sweetness should be well integrated.”
  • Educate yourself on wines. Johnnes organizes monthly New York tastings called Degustations (212-625-2519). Where There’s Wine There’s Winnie (www.winewinnie.com; 212-818-1697) offers corporate and one-on-one wine tasting seminars. The Monterey Wine
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