No Passport Required 

Tasting the world’s wines from the comfort of home.

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It’s been a winter season with few escape routes. No trips to Italy, Spain, Germany or France. No visits to Napa or Sonoma. No sampling New Zealand or Australian wines down under. So I’ve been traveling in my head—doing world wine-tasting tours in the privacy of my own home, mostly sequestered on the comfy couch. It sure does cut down on the airfare.

Italy: From the Veneto region of Italy comes a terrific wine for spring sipping on the patio. To be honest, I picked up a bottle of Zonin Primo Amore Juliet ($7) for its pretty flowered label, not really knowing what the hell it was. It turns out that this wine is in the style Italians call frizzante, a slightly fizzy and effervescent, low alcohol (7.5 percent) white wine. It’s not as bubbly as bubbly, but has a pretty, bright fizz and flavor to match—very fruity and aromatic, made from Garganega and Moscato grapes. This is a festive wine to greet houseguests with. South Africa: I k now I’m going to piss off some South African winemakers here, but Spice Route Sauvignon Blanc ($13) suffers from those weird, oily notes that, for me, mar too many South African wines. A much better option is the cleverly named Goats Do Roam White ($7) from South Africa’s Western Cape. This unoaked kitchen sink blend of Viognier, Crouchen Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Pinot Gris and Muscat shows vibrant tropical aromas and flavors, along with a good acidic center and crisp finish.

France: Chateau Sainte Colombe Cotes de Castillon 2005 ($24.75) is a “little” Bordeaux with big Bordeaux flavor. Generous but soft black-cherry and currant fruit flavors are accompanied by a smidgeon of spice. This isn’t the sort of Bordeaux to put away for the grandkids, but it’s drinking great right now. Also from Bordeaux, I’ve been enjoying the earthy, woody charms of Chateau Damase Bordeaux Supérieur 2005 ($15) this winter. This is not a complicated Claret, but one that goes down oh-so smoothly.

Let this baby breathe for half an hour or so before you begin quaffing. Spain: An easydrinking red from Yecla, in southeastern Spain, is Barahonda Carro Tinto 2006 ($8.30), with an illustration of a cart (carro) on the label. This one’s a medium-bodied, soft, non-tannic blend of Monastrell, Tempranillo, Syrah and Merlot with a dusting of black pepper on the finish. I recommend serving Carro Tinto a little cooler than most reds—certainly chillier than room temp. It’s a food-friendly wine that would be a good dance partner at a tapas party.

Paso Robles, Calif.: Oh, my goodness! This one blew the doors off my palate. 2006 Justin Justification ($43) is a simply gorgeous unfiltered blend of Cabernet France (63 percent) and Merlot ($37)— an elegant, right bank Bordeaux-style wine. The flavors of Justification begin with ripe, bright red fruit and morph into cedar, caramel and rich chocolate notes. It’s a tad tight, and will probably be spectacular in another 10 years, but Justin Justification is pretty sensational right now. Russian River Valley, California: The lovely Monet-esque label painting on a bottle of Davis Bynum 2005 Pinot Noir ($28) was done by the late Dorothy Bynum, Davis’ wife. The wine itself is as pretty as the picture on the bottle, with a velvety mouthfeel and lush, bright cherry notes. This Pinot Noir is immensely food friendly, with a slight smokiness, nice acidity and good balance. I’d pair this appealing Pinot with dishes from mushroom tart or herb-roasted pork loin to smoky pulled pork sandwiches.

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