Everyday: Four Vines makes some swell single-vineyard zins in the $25-$40 range, but the Four Vines California Old Vine Cuvee Zinfandel ($14) is just about as tasty and wallet-friendly to boot. It boasts the classic zin flavors, cherry/berry and spice, and a lushness that indicates the grapes were picked at perfect ripeness, no mean feat in the zin world. There’s more backbone and depth than one would have any right to expect at this price point, and that spice and some toasty smokiness make it the perfect wine for anything being served at a July 4th picnic: burgers, brats and ribs or chicken with a piquant barbecue sauce.
Occasion: I am loath to use the word “Burgundian” to describe any California wine, but year in and year out, the Mount Eden Vineyard Santa Cruz Mountains Chardonnay ($55) tests that resolve mightily. Lush but vibrant, this beauty perennially has layers of pure, concentrated flavors, and the structure to age splendidly. (We recently had an ’05 that was right in the zone.) The fruit/mineral/acidity balance continues through a near-endless finish. Almost certainly California’s best under-$60 chard, this wine is rich enough to pair well with crab and lobster, yet lean enough to fit in with a lemony fish or chicken dish or grilled veggies.