Everyday: California red blends tend to fall in the jammy, crowd-pleasing category, lacking the substance and stuffing of similar wines from France and Portugal. But the 2012 Jamieson Ranch (Reata) Whiplash “Redemption” ($15) is dusty and brooding, with plenty of rich, just-ripe fruit and persistent grip. Nice finish, too. Maybe it’s the barbera (here mixed with zin and syrah) that makes it lean a titch toward the Old World. And what makes this wine a super match for all manner of sausages and smoked meats and veggies. For this unexpectedly successful blend, plop on some stirring work by an oddly matched jazz “supergroup,” Weather Report.
Occasion: Purity is invariably a swell attribute for a wine, and the 2012 DonnaFugata “Ben Rye” Passito di Pantelleria ($56/375 ml.) has it in spades. This Siciilian dessert wine culled from the zibbibo (moscato d’Alessandria) grape is an extraordinary expression of apricots, as if the world’s best renditions of that stone fruit were cooked down to their very essence. There are touches of honey and fig in there, but the apricot dominates this delicious, surprisingly long wine. Serve it with any fruit dessert, bleu cheese or just as its own after-dinner marvel. And for musical purity, it’s hard the beat the Benedictines of Mary‘s heavenly vocals.