Everyday: As with all things in life, the more one delves into wine, the easier it is to get jaded about certain types. Blessedly, with chardonnay, there are a boatload of styles that showcase this popular grape in a wide range of ways. The LIOCO NoCo Chardonnay 2010 ($18) fits squarely in my wheelhouse, letting seriously tasty fruit shine with minimal intervention. Clean and pure, it offers up layers of fruit flavors that wash seamlessly over the palate and linger lushly at the end. The NoCo moniker stands for North Coast, but in this vintage the wine is all from the Valentine Vineyard in Mendocino. Lemony chicken or veal (grilled or piccata) or a roasted fall vegetables will cozy right up to this vibrant white.
Occasion: Tired of seeing merlot become such a pariah that people act like someone farted when the mere word is mentioned, I brought one to a recent gathering of fellow cork dorks. By the end of the evening’s festivities, amidst a whole lotta Paxes and Nicholas Jolys and Alions, many folks were proclaiming the Shafer Napa Merlot ($48) the wine of the night, and I was amongst ’em. A plummy perfume, lovely/hearty and perfectly ripe fruit, just-sturdy-enough tannins and a gorgeous finish make this a wine that can stand up to Napa’s better cabernets. Accordingly, try it with steak and lamb chops ““ or better yet, share it with people who have forgotten how good merlot can be.