Everyday: Who says there’s no such thing as a really tasty California pinot noir for under $15? Not me, after sampling the Montoya Monterey County Pinot Noir ($14). It’s got that cherry-cola thing goin’ on, but also earthiness and a leathery mouthfeel that’s surprising ““ and most welcome ““ in a California pinot, especially such an affordable one. The finish is of medium length but somehow both bright and rustic. The 2009 is (at least) the third straight strong vintage for the winery, which also makes distinctive zins and cabs at the same price point. Chicken enchiladas and spaghetti carbonara would be swell pairing options for this light-bodied beauty.
Occasion: There always has been a lot of vintage variation with German whites, but these days, thanks largely to improved winemaking techniques, it’s a matter more of style than quality. The Mueller-Catoir Haardter Herzog Rieslaner Spatlese ($38) has beautiful fruit year in and year out, and the 2009 boasts spot-on minerality and acidity. This is a rich, racy, juicy wine with ripe peach flavors, a signature effort for a grape that is a cross between riesling and sylvaner. It can be served at either end of a meal, with paté, sorbet or parfait, or even a hunk of stinky cheese.