Everyday: Hello, old friend. One of my first merlot discoveries came from Benziger, but as I explored the ever-widening world of wine, I kind of forgot about it. A recent sample of the 2008 Benziger Sonoma County Merlot ($16) showed me what I had been missing lo these many years: a gorgeous nose of fruit and floral aromas; rich, firm, dark red fruit with a hint of coffee, plus plenty of depth and length. In other words, the reason I liked California merlot to begin with. Try this biggish red with beef stew, maybe what I was told (in my early merlot days) was the national dish of Belgium, carbonade a la flamande — beef and onions braised in beer to us non-Belgians.
Occasion: I’ve been hankering to try wines from southern Oregon for a good while now, and the 2006 Cliff Creek Southern Oregon Syrah ($25) only heightened that desire. Dark and meaty but beautifully balanced, this is the kind of wine that could kick-start a long-overdue syrah movement on these shores. The fruit is ripe but not too, the midpalate hearty and smooth, the finish elegant and almost boundless. Like the best syrahs from any continent, it almost cries out for lamb, including a longtime favorite, this classic treatment of a leg (a k a gam of lamb).