Dining | Wine: Spring Cleanup 

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Whenever I taste wine, I try to remember to jot down a few notes about it to help trigger my memory later. It’s not the most sophisticated system; I haven’t a fancy wine log or anything like that—mostly just scraps of paper, Post-It notes and memory joggers on my computer. But I also tend to save the empty wine bottles until after I’ve written about the wines and can discard them. The hound dog on the label of Red Rover 2005 Central Coast Chardonnay ($8) from California, for example, reminds me that this was a frivolous, spunky little fun-to-drink wine without a lot of bite—a friendly, face-licking Black Lab, not a bulldog.

Well, there are so many empties under my desk at this point that I can’t sit down at my computer without kicking over a half-dozen of them. It’s beginning to sound like a bowling alley in my office. So it’s time for a little spring cleaning. Here are some of the notable and appealing wines I’ve sampled in the past few months, with a focus on France. Time to haul out the trash.

I hadn’t tasted this wine in a couple of years—and it should have found its way into my “Budget Bordeaux” column a few weeks back—but Château Larose-Trintaudon 2002 from Haut-Médoc ($18) is as dependable as budget Bordeaux gets. The vineyards border the high-priced real estate of Pauillac and St.-Julíen, and while you won’t mistake Larose-Trintaudon for Lafite or Mouton-Rothschild, this Cabernet/Merlot/Cabernet Franc blend is developing nicely. The tannins are beginning to soften in this still young Bordeaux, it’s nicely rounded and, as always, classic Médoc. For tighter budgets, there’s nothing wrong with Mouton Cadet 2005 Bordeaux ($9), featuring customary cassis and blackberry scents and red berry flavors. This is quite a mouthful for under $10; it’s perfect alongside a juicy herb-roasted chicken.

Pierre Boniface Vin de Savoie Apremont 2006 ($13) is an elegant white wine for the price, with luscious melon flavors and a touch of spice. I loved it with sushi at I ♥ Sushi restaurant. Château de la Ragotiere 2006 Muscadet Sèvre et Maine Sur Lie 2006 ($10) is a classic French café Muscadet with firm acidity: perfect for sipping with big plates of oysters, calamari and sardines. Now, I think of Perrin Reserve Cotes du Rhone Blanc 2006 ($10) as sort of a poor man’s white Châteauneuf-du-Pape. And in fact, the Perrin family produces of some of the world’s best Châteauneuf-du-Pape, at Château de Beaucastel. White Grenache, Bourboulenc, Marsanne, Roussane and Viognier are all rolled into this lovely, fragrant summer sipper. For a very tasty “official” (but still very affordable) white Châteauneuf-du-Pape, try St. Laurent Châteauneuf-du-Pape Blanc 2006 ($24.50). It’s got enough pop for a Pope.

For a measly $5 on sale, you can pick up Goat Door Chardonnay 2006 (Get it? A riff on Côtes d’Or) from South Africa. The winemakers have a light touch with the oak and this Chardonnay has ripe tropical fruit, mandarin orange and lime flavors; it should be a really nice match for fruit chutneys and salsas. Also in the bargain section of the wine store, I’m liking the wines from California’s Redtree. Although it tastes as much like Zin as Petite Sirah, Redtree Petite Sirah 2005 ($5) has plenty of ripe fruit flavor, especially blackberries, with soft tannins—pleasing for the price. Ditto Redtree Pinot Grigio 2006 ($5). Again, it’s not exactly classic Pinot Grigio, but a very satisfying mouthful of lemon-lime with a pretty floral nose. Hell, you could buy this stuff by the case for spritzers.

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