March 20, 2008
Last Night's Wines

Most every night when we eat at home, we open a bottle of wine, sometimes two. I take notes on these wines, and rank them on a four-star scale. Those that get three stars or more, I write about. Most, however, get two stars or fewer, then they get forgotten.

But last night's wines were surprising exceptions. I gave each three and a half stars. It was almost as if the luck of the Irish were catching up with me two days after St. Patrick's Day.

The white was the Ferrari-Carano Vineyards and Winery 2006 Russian River Valley Fiorella Chardonnay ($36). This is one aromatic and flavorful medium-bodied chardonnay. Smell and flavor ran to pears, lemons and a jolt of nutmeg, the latter probably from the mix of new and older French oak barrels in which the wine was aged. I'm not a big fan of chardonnay, but this one got my attention for its seamless blend of tradition, elegance and a California brazenness that was astutely toned down for a change. In a word, refreshing. It also was rare in having the fruit, structure and acidity to actually go with asparagus soup, a notoriously difficult wine match. The winery suggests it be poured as an aperitif or with mild cheeses, light pastas and light seafood dishes.

The red was the Greg Norman Estates 2005 Lake County Red Hills Zinfandel ($15). Fresh, lithe and youthful, this is one enthusiastic and immediately likeable zinfandel. The fruit is all fresh raspberries and blackberries, dusted generously with freshly ground black pepper. It's dry and medium-bodied, and its 15 percent alcohol isn't at all harsh. It has the backbone and fruit to stand up to kung pao chicken, which is what we had with it, and the winery recommends it be poured at brunch with spinach, mushroom and white Cheddar omelets, savory cranberry scones, and wedges of fresh melon wrapped with prosciutto.

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