Experiences are the best teachers, to pluralize an old bromide. A few of recent vintage that were revelatory for me:
• Some wine-centric friends gathered over the holidays, and as usual everyone brought too much wine. One result was that a Schloss Gobelsburg sparkling wine that I had provided ended up being only about half consumed. (Having a magnum of J there was the main factor; it is simply more fun to drink from a magnum of bubbles, or really anything.) It had been left open for a few hours, but I dutifully reinserted the cork and brought it home. A couple of nights later, it was one of the tastiest gruner veltliners I’ve ever had. The takeaway: When a sparkling wine “devolves” into a still wine, it still can rock.
• Been buying some 2012 Oregon pinot noirs based on what friends out there have told me. Gotta say they’ve been all over the map in terms of readiness. All of them have shown promise, but in many cases it’s going to take awhile, maybe a good long while for them to deliver. The ethereal Knudson has been the exception that proves the rule. My advice: Buy ’em and set ’em down, but be wary about ordering one in a restaurant.
• Having given up on large public tastings, I now find my best opportunity to unearth seriously inexpensive gems is at competitions, where we drink and judge wines blind. At last week’s SF Chronicle confab, a few surprising brand names popped up. The Barefoot “Rich Red Blend,” the Rex Goliath Chardonnay and a Sutter Home Riesling — all under $10 — were truly delicious. Malbecs showed amazingly well, with more than half earning double-gold or gold medals, led by the Martin Ranch Theresa Vineyard. And perhaps my favorite red is, alas, not available (yet) even at the winery: The 2012 Jeff Runquist Dutchman Vineyard Alicante Bouschet was absolutely stunning, with alluring aromas and flavors and stuffing galore. Hope it’s offered up for sale soon.