Everyday: For some reason, many American consumers insist that they don’t like sweet wines while glugging down residual-sugar bombs like Kendall-Jackson Chardonnay and “The Prisoner” red blend. A great cure is the Charles Smith “Kung Fu Girl” Riesling ($13), which seems friendly enough at the outset and subtly morphs into a semi-complex, layered treat. Lovely floral aromatics + beams of fruit cocktail and minerally flavors + refreshing kick at the end = a wine that would be a bargain at a much higher price. Almost certainly America’s best under-$20 riesling “” I, alas, have not tried them all “” this playfully labeled wine would be a big hit at a holiday party, and it pairs beautifully with spicy Indian, Szechuan or Thai dishes.
Occasion: At tastings of Washington wines, many vintners pour the cabernet before the merlot, which can have more structure and richness. The Northstar Columbia Valley Merlot ($40) is just such a wine, with big ol’ tannins beautifully integrated into the dark fruit. This is the perfect wine to serve to cab hounds who turn up their noses at merlot; actually, pouring it in another room and offering it to them as a cabernet is a dandy parlor trick. It’s big and bold but beautiful on the finish. There’s just enough spice in it to handle a flank steak with a Mexican or Southwestern sauce, but that pot roast or standing rib roast simply cries out for a wine such as this.