January 2011 of January 2011

In early November, Josh Raynolds and I took the New York-Geneva flight and hit the ground running.  He headed to Ampuis, the home of Cote-Rotie, for his top-to-bottom tour of the major Rhône appellations while I drove off to Beaune, the nerve center of Burgundy.  Over the next couple of weeks, each of us tasted over a hundred wines per day, without even a Sunday off for bad behavior.

Folks tell me what a glamorous job I have.  I wake each day at dawn, scrape the frost off my windshield, and venture into the bone-chilling fog to sample tooth-rattling wines from barrel in cold cellars until around 7 p.m. (sunset is around 4:30 in Burgundy in November).  Josh puts in even longer hours than I do - he doesn't actually sleep - but then he's an animal, and I mean that in a good way. When I return home weeks later, teeth and tongue as black as a chow's, the elevator guy in my building inevitably asks me, "How was your vacation?"  If only.

Of course the job has its perks.  I've been privileged to taste every vintage of the Domaine de la Romanée-Conti's La Tâche before and after bottling for the past 20+ years, and Josh has first crack at Guigal's La-La wines (La Mouline, La Landonne, La Turque).  But I have to say, we get just as charged up (well, almost) when we find a $20 wine with concentration and conviction, because we can actually find these bottles in the marketplace and afford to drink them on a daily basis.  These are the wines we enjoy when we're off-duty: fruit-driven Beaujolais, structured yet pliant malbec from Argentina, racy sauvignon blanc from the Loire Valley or New Zealand, an offbeat red from Italy, dry riesling from just about anywhere, a ridiculously cheap but satisfying bottle from Spain, a rich and inviting red from southern France.

So that's the objective of this regular feature:  to find real wines - affordable, available, food-friendly, complex enough to bring us back for another glass but not too complicated to require our full attention.  We can't afford grand cru Burgundy any more than you can.  Here are some reasonably priced bottles we have particularly enjoyed in recent weeks.