Taste the Passion 

Wines you'll fall in love with

Gifting expensive wines can make you a hero, but are they worth the money?

Although I'd love to be able to enthusiastically proclaim, "Always!" I couldn't do it without laughing. Often, as in the case of über-overrated Opus One, gobs of money are poured into creating a wet-dreamy winery to produce a $100-plus wine. They blow millions of dollars hiring the "best" winemaker, cultivating or buying the "best" fruit from the "best" vineyards, building an opulent winery with the "best" view and buying the "best," most "advanced" equipment to impress the foolish rich people who pull strings to secure "appointments" to purchase the wine.

The whole thing is contrived, like those atrocious "planned communities" that dot our once-pastoral suburban landscapes.

But then there's the genuine way to create wine: a lone, determined guy slaving over a fermentation tank in a nondescript Napa warehouse park who crafts a toe-curling, kick-ass cabernet, labels it "Joe's Cabernet" and sells it for $60 (of course, once the rich folks get wind, as in the case of Screaming Eagle winery, the price skyrockets the following year). It completes the scene if his kids help with the project and his wife runs the winery. In both scenarios, the wines are expensive, but one just tastes more authentic to me. Can't imagine why.

Although a bottle of Opus One, Silver Oak or (insert fancy California winery here) would work for many Image Seekers (see Corkscrew, Sept. 6-12) as a gift, it's the passion I seek, not the glitz. I give wines that reflect the anxious pride in every drop, delivering layers of flavor the winemaker lovingly coaxed into the juice. Not all of them are smaller wineries; some just might be larger wineries that wish to keep their toes in the craft wine pool, mostly out of their undying enthusiasm for the grape.

To show this, they might bottle a limited wine made from their estate grapes, or buy fruit from the better vineyards, possibly exceptional single-vineyard sites. And these things cost money. Let's face it -- if you're sourcing more expensive fruit, grown on increasingly expensive land, with rising labor costs, the wine is going to cost more. So, sometimes, it is worth the money -- and that means reaching deep into the crevasses of your wallet. Here is a list of wines I recommend for all of the above reasons: love, love and love.

corkscrew@creativeloafing.com

Recommended Wines

Frank Family Vineyards 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley SW = 1. $55. Headed up by a wine geek from Hollywood and winemaker Koerner Rombauer, Frank Family Vineyards has won my heart. I haven't had a disappointing bottle yet. Their cab is elegance embodied. Tootsie Roll flavors, laced with caramel, vanilla and honeysuckle ... backed up with white pepper, blackberry and a slight smokiness. 5 stars

Bodegas Roda 2001 Rioja Reserva SW = 2. $45. A family-run winery in Spain. The fun begins with a bubblegum aroma. Then it's loaded with sweet black cherry, soothing vanilla, aromatic bittersweet chocolate and soft, elegant tannins. 4.5 stars

Boudreaux 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley SW = 1. $60. Some of the best values in wine these days come from Washington state. But keep this one a secret. This cab is a bit shy at first, but it opens up like a warm hug. Some supple tannins penetrate a base of bright, vibrant cherry and raspberry, tinged with plum and blackberries. (Not available in North Carolina.) 4.5 stars

Bookwalter 2004 Merlot Columbia Valley (Washington) SW = 2. $38. Family-owned winery in Washington state. Lush and rich with fully ripe blackberry, bitter coffee and sweet chocolate. Definitely a big merlot that will surprise you. 4.5 stars

Pax 2004 Syrah Griffin's Lair Sonoma Coast SW = 1. $50. Winemaker/owner Pax Mahle is so wine-geeked-out, he floats. Love all his wines like I do. This syrah is gutsy, beefy and in your face. Offers up blueberry, cherry, chocolate and peppermint. Also try the Cuvée Christine. 4.5 stars

Sweetness (SW) rating is out of 10, 10 being pure sugar. Star rating is out of 5, 5 being wine nirvana.

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