We all know what wine is, right, wine is … Well, perhaps the whole topic bears some thought and scrutiny. Here are five definitions, ranging from simple to complicated, rather like the order of wines at a tasting.

I. Wine is a beverage made by fermenting fruit through the action of yeast so that the natural sugars are converted to alcohol, which becomes an inextricable component of the beverage, and carbon dioxide, which is allowed to escape, except in the second fermentation of Champagne and other sparkling products. Wine can be made from any fruit (or vegetable, for that matter) whose sugar content is sufficient to result in alcohol — apples, pears, peaches, various berries — though the dominant or most important form of fruit turned into wine, both in economic and cultural terms, is grapes. As an alcoholic beverage, wine is intoxicating and inebriating; it gets you drunk, and the more you drink, the drunker and more impaired you become.

That was straightforward enough, but let’s take a different tack:

II. Anthropologically and historically or seen as a function of commerce, the production of wine ensures that a valuable crop, in which a farmer has invested time, effort and money, does not go bad and become useless. Crates of picked grapes become compromised after a week or so; once you buy grapes at the grocery store, they need to be eaten within a week. Turned into wine, however, grapes, in their new form, last longer and are easier to transport. Even in its simplest more immediate form, wine offers more longevity than the fruit from which it is made. Wine also commands a higher price than its constituent fruit. This modality holds true in the example of distilled spirits (though they are not, strictly speaking, our topic), which can be seen as agents for prolonging the production of the harvests of corn, rye, wheat and potatoes beyond the pleasurable but limited functions of the breakfast and dinner table. Again, the economic factor is crucial; a bottle of Scotch commands a far higher price than a box of Wheaties, a comparison that somewhat stretches the point, but you see what I mean.

All right, let’s look at wine and its symbolic relationship to the grapes from which it is made:

III. Not intending to do violence to T.S. Eliot’s notion of the adequacy of narrative and metaphoric forms in the expression of action and feeling — which he writes about in his radical essay on Hamlet, published in 1919 — but I’ll borrow his concept and assert that wine is the “objective correlative” of the grape. That is, wine, especially at its greatest, is the perfect vehicle to fulfill the highest level of a grape’s possible achievement. In this perception, wine conveys a sense of inevitability that other beverages or agricultural products rarely contrive. One does not drink beer, for example, even in its best or most powerful manifestations, and think, “Ah, yes, this is the apotheosis of cereal grains.” The grape, however, is never far from one’s thoughts in the swirling, sniffing and sipping of a glass of wine, nor is the notion, depending on the quality and complexity of the wine, of the place where the grapes were grown and the wine was made. Which leads us to:

IV. A glass of wine, perhaps the one you’re holding in your hand now, serves — let me say should serve — as an emblem of a piece of earth, a stretch of vineyard, a swath of sky, a defined region where its grapes were nurtured and harvested. That sentence summarizes the notion of terroir, the French idea that wine is influenced by and reflects the nature of the vineyard where the grapes were grown. Factors in terroir include the character of the soil and sub-soil, the specific climate in all its nuances and broad strokes, the lie of the land and its direction and exposure to the sun and its drainage. (A few winemakers in California try to assert that terroir includes whatever processes occur in the winery as well as the agency of the winemaker him- or herself. Any thoughtful person will see that this caprice is nonsense; too often the winemaker interferes with a wine and negates the effect of terroir.) The concept of terroir and the belief that a drinker can smell or taste or somehow sense the presence of the vineyard in a wine is controversial. As an ideal, one would want every wine to express its terroir; how a wine would do such a thing remains nebulous, unless the taster possessed years of experience and could tell the difference between, say, Burgundy’s Chambolle-Musigny Les Amoureuses and Chambolle-Musigny Les Charmes, vineyards that occupy sites a few yards from each other. We’re approaching a digression here, however, so let’s extend the definition of wine as follows:

V. As a cultural artifact, wine represents an aspirational signifier that no other product of the farm or orchard could hope to emulate. Wine is not “necessary,” just as a car is not a necessity; one could walk or ride a bicycle, as in many societies people do, and food is perfectly palatable without wine. The automobile, however, though merely a mechanical contraption fashioned from steel, plastic and rubber surrounding an internal combustion engine, represents myriad rungs on the ladder of accomplishment, self-image and status, and wine, while we say it’s just a beverage, betokens similar ambitions and yearnings in the realms of knowledge, style, sophistication and prestige. The almost reckless surge of the newly wealthy in Asia, and particularly China, to buy top French Bordeaux and Burgundy wines is motivated by exactly these values.

In 1997, a demographic survey of the readers of the newspaper where I worked full-time revealed that among the local followers of my national weekly wine column the largest group consisted of professional young black women. Initially, I was surprised, but it didn’t take much thought to figure out why this was the case. Wine — in the choosing, serving and matching with food — marks a path toward social acceptability, refinement and savoir faire, whether one is having friends over for a party or dinner or is selecting wine to go with a meal in a restaurant. Few responses are more empowering than the enthusiastic “Excellent choice!” from the waiter when you have selected your bottle of wine from the list. Knowledge of wine and the ability to determine quality and value are ways of completing one’s education in life and joining the ranks of real adults. That was then, and only 15 years later I would say that the attitude among Millennials regarding food and wine is probably more casual, if not effortless, though there is a degree to which wine still represents the pursuit of a paradigm. The ideal for the 22 to 35-year-old cohort, however, tends to be well-made inexpensive yet authentic products (under about $30) that come with interesting back-stories and preferably originate from small, organically-run family estates, and it doesn’t hurt if the wines display off-beat or “fun” labels; in other words, not their parents’ wines.

Images: three wines glasses from; loading wine casks onto cart from; Italian vineyard from; friends drinking wine from

In his new book, How Fiction Works (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $24), James Wood dwells on a tendency in some novelists — John Updike, Vladimir Nabokov, David Foster Wallace — to load their narratives with descriptions and metaphors that would not necessarily find natural home in the thoughts or speech of their characters. These devices call attention to themselves, they turn prose “literary,” and they evince the hand of the author where it might be more useful for the author to be invisible behind his words and sentences. Such self-conscious writing, says Wood, such aestheticism, “is at bottom the strenuous display of style.”

We could develop this idea, the strenuous display of style, in the realm of classical music performance, especially on the piano. In lang-lang-adidas-originals-gazelle-1.jpg fact, it has become a cliche of popular culture that classical pianists indulge in a repertoire of dramatic gestures — head and hair tossing, flinging of hands and arms around in the air, rearing back and plunging forward onto the hapless keys, the gamut of facial expressions, from the dreamy closed eyes of ecstasy to the fierce frowns of dramatic concentration. Young (or youngish) pianists like Lang Lang and Olga Kern are almost unwatchable in concert — thank god for recordings! — because their exaggerated mannerisms focus the audience’s eyes on the performer and detract from the music, which is, of course, supposed to be the point.

A third area greatly affected by the strenuous display of style — and I’m certain that you know where I’m going with this theme — is winemaking.

In 24 years of writing about wine, I have tasted and reviewed thousands of examples, principally from California and Australia though other regions are not immune, that displayed, above all aspects, the dominating, the controlling, the manipulative hand of the winemaker. When wines are so stiff with oak that they can almost stand up by themselves, when heavily charred new barrels turn wines into toast and charcoal, when the malolactic process renders chardonnays and sauvignon blancs into bizarre dessert-like elements — roasted marshmallow! pineapple upsidedown cake! coconut cream pie! — these display the hand of the winemaker interfering with the natural qualities and character of the grapes, imposing an agenda that begins and ends as a style.

Every time I read on a back label or on a press release that a red wine spent “28 months in new French oak” or that a white wine “went through barrel fermentation, sur lie aging for 15 months in new French oak and complete malolactic” my heart sinks, and I think, “Here’s a handful of grapes that did not stand a chance.” (Not to mention the mechanical feats, like micro-oxygenation, reverse osmosis and so on, that we don’t read about.) I’m likewise discouraged when I read that a winemaker considers grapes “a blank canvas on which to work” or that the winery provides “a great arsenal of effects to create a wine,” because I know such comments come from winemakers who regard their own egos and technical prowess as more important than the grapes from which they “style” their wines.

I don’t want to drink wines that reveal “the strenuous display of style,” in the way that an author obscures his narrative with flights of fancy or a pianist overlays a composition with emotional athleticism.

I want to drink wines of character, and from where does that character emerge? From the land, the climate, the vineyard, the grapes. Producers and winemakers who don’t respect those four qualities throughout the year and from harvest to harvest and who don’t respect them in the winery cannot make great wine. No, wine does not “make itself”; let’s dispense with that hoary saw. Wine does, however, require nurturing, gentle shaping, a bit of prodding to help it reach its potential, to expand its natural character. What it does not need are magicians, technological shamans, egoists and vandals.

Great wines display great character, yet they are, paradoxically, self-less.

Image of Lang Lang from

In an ideal world, we would all drink great wine. Of course, in an ideal world, many Americans wouldn’t regard drinking wine as a sin or a bother or too complicated and pretentious or unnecessary and so on, and they would regard having a glass of wine with lunch or a couple of glasses of wine with dinner as completely natural and enjoyable.

But in this less than ideal world, many people who do drink wine are perfectly happy drinking whatever comes their way, whether the wine was produced by a megalithic conglomerate churning out millions of cases of wine a year or a tiny family-run vineyard where the earth and the grapes are held sacred and the wine is made with minimum manipulation.

In her new book The Battle for Wine and Love or How I Saved the World from Parkerization (Harcourt, $23), the fearless Alice Feiring lays down this manifesto, what she calls “the dogma of authentic wines.” The tenets of this dogma are these:

Healthy farming practices
Hand picking
No extended cold maceration
No added yeasts or bacteria
No added enzymes
No flavors from oak or toast
No additives that shape flavor or texture
No processes that use machines to alter alcohol lever, flavor, or texture or that promote premature aging

As a purist — and it’s hard work being a purist — I certainly subscribe to this regimen for making authentic wines that embody the soil in which the vines grew, the climate and weather that nurtured them and the character of the grape varieties. And, as Feiring does, I deplore the strenuous mechanical interventions that turn proper Dr. Jekel-like grapes into overblown Mr. Hyde-like parodies of themselves, especially at the luxury end of the business.

But the authentic wines that Feiring and other enlightened wine writers and a cadre of sympathetic producers and importers thrive on and lovingly promote can’t be found in huge mass-market amounts. Most handcrafted wines, like handcrafted watches or handcrafted shoes or apple strudel, are made in small quantities, just because they’re, you know, made by hand. (Though we have to be careful nowadays; anyone can slap the buzz-word “artisanal” on a label or box of any sort of food-stuff, from apricot jam to epazote, because a segment of the public demands that “quality” and “authenticity.”) Many handcrafted wines are brought into the United States by small importers that deal with small distributors; many of these wines stay in the larger or more sophisticated markets on the coasts.

What I mean is that, loath as we might be to admit it, there’s a place for mass-produced wine. If the “masses” in this country ever decide that moderate wine-drinking can be a guilt-free pleasure and a benefit to health, that wine enhances food and the eating (or dining) experience, they’re not going to turn to the handcrafted wines of France or Spain or Italy or Argentina (or sometimes the United States) to satisfy their curiosities and palates. Much as I would love for America’s neophyte wine drinkers to cut their teeth on, say, one of Jo Pithon’s Anjou Blanc wines or one of Marc Ollivier’s Muscadets — and I wouldn’t mind a sip right now — there’s not enough of that fine stuff to go around.

If only 100,000 people, a mere .387 percent (not even four-tenths of 1 percent) of this country’s population — imagine Billings, mt_billings01.jpg Montana — decided that they were going to consume one bottle of wine a week, that would come to 5,200,000 bottles of wine a year, or something like 433,333 cases of wine. Whence will all that wine originate? Not in the hallowed precincts of artisanal producers; as I said, they don’t make enough wine. No, the wines for those 100,000 new drinkers will come from wineries or properties whose aim is to please many palates, the more, as it were, the merrier.

Not that I’m advocating industrial wine, short-cuts and easy outs. The huge companies like Constellation, Gallo and Fosters are too eager to launch series after series of wines intended for myriad demographic groups, price ranges and devotees of cute critter labels. I taste a great deal of that stuff, and it’s largely mediocre. Honest winemaking, however, can exist on a broad scale, and when I think of the California wines that I grew up with — Mirassou, Concannon, Parducci, Pedroncelli, Fetzer and such, even Carlo Rossi — I recall that wines made in the tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of cases could be damned tasty, satisfying and enlightening.

Sure, many Old School producers harvested by tractor and used commercial yeasts, but those were the days before oak chips and powder, tannin and acid additives and the voodoo of micro-oxygenation and reverse osmosis. I think that it’s still possible to make tasty, satisfying and enlightening wines without those contemporary techniques, without the artificiality. But such wines don’t have to be great, they don’t have to floor you with vivid authenticity, they don’t have to wear their virtues on their sleeves.

They just have to be good.

I’m a great admirer of wine importer and food entrepreneur Dan Philips, whose The Grateful Palate in Oxnard , California — — is a trove of edible treasures, including the well-known Bacon of the Month Club. Philips is one of the best American importers of Australian wines, specializing in small producers with big aspirations; among several dozen labels he imports are Burge Family, Hazy Blur, Henry’s Drive, Kay Brothers, Lengs & Cooter, Lillypilly, Trevor Jones and The Willows. Philips was also partner with Sparky Marquis in the widely acclaimed Marquis Philips label, an enterprise that broke up last year.

So I was enthusiastic when a clerk in a local retail store recommended the 3 Rings Shiraz 2005 from Australia’s Barossa Valley (about $16 to $20). The label is another Philips partnership, this time with grower David Hickinbotham and 3rings.jpg winemaker Chris Ringland. I assumed that this would be a pretty bold expression of the shiraz grape; I didn’t expect a travesty.

Five or six years ago, I was in Los Angeles for a comprehensive tasting of Penfolds Grange — yes, it was an extraordinary event — and before the tasting began, Australian writer and wine-maker James Halliday rose to his feet to say a few words, and the first sentence he uttered has stayed with me: “The three most important elements of wine are balance, balance and balance.” I think this aphorism should be tattooed on the backs of the hands of every wine-maker and producer in the world as well as hung, in the form of embroidered samplers, in every winery, chai and chateau.

Halliday was not calling for well-mannered, wimpy wines, holding little fingers a-curl as they sip milky tea. He was asserting the fact that the greatest wines, at every price range, should reflect harmony and integration in all their components: fruit, acid, tannin, alcohol and — the most dangerous factor — oak. (Well, alcohol level has become a vital issue too.) Even deep, large-framed young wines intended for aging, Bordeaux classified growths, California cult cabernets, Barolos and so on, however tannic they may be in infancy, should display a sense of innate balance and order; the balance may shift and change over the years, but it’s always there.

Which brings us back to the 3 Rings Shiraz 2005.

This opens with a super-ripe, fleshy, meaty bouquet that teems with scents of macerated and roasted blackberries and blueberries as well as a touch of zinfandel-like boysenberry. In the mouth, the wine is exceedingly plush, velvety and voluptuous and, at 15.5 percent alcohol, offers a considerable amount of that high-alcohol raisiny plumminess and jamminess. The wine is starting to taste, in fact, like something you might rather spread on toast than drink with a meal with the other grown-ups. The spicy factors increase as the wine slides over the tongue, becoming not only dominant but strident and austere, and the wine concludes unpleasantly in a welter of incoherence.

My palate was not grateful.

I single this wine out, because of its origins, as a prominent example of what happens when producers value power, intensity and simple-minded texture over wines that balance feeling good and tasting good. It is not, I assure you, the only example.

Friends, I’m a carnivore.

It’s true that I don’t eat foie gras now, for ethical reasons, and I avoid sweetbreads as too rich and injurious to my digestion, but other than those exceptions, bring on the braised meat, the roasted meat, the seared meat, the rack of lamb, the veal shank, the short ribs, the rib roast, the strip steak. Much of that fare we — or I — partake of in restaurants, while at home we try to eat fish as much as possible. During the Yuletide season, however, we did over-indulgence with lots of meat and lots of red wine, so LL suggested recently that it would be good to try a few vegetarian dishes. Gack! I said within, but agreed to the regimen, even as I thought about tofu, brown rice and seaweed.

LL had something else in mind, though, and an example was the Brussels Sprout and Mushroom Ragout with Herb Dumplings from Vegetarian Suppers from Deborah Madison’s Kitchen (Broadway Books, $27.50). Madison was the founding chef of Greens, the revolutionary vegetarian restaurant that opened in San Francisco in 1979, and is author of a roster of award-winning vegetarian cookbooks. Nothing wimpy here, this is an incredibly flavorful dish, filled with wintery, rooty effects of deeply caramelized onions and mushrooms, a rich mushroom broth and the hearty influence of the most tender and flavorful Brussels sprouts I have ever tasted. The dumplings, dotted with parsley and tarragon, compliment the dish wonderfully — and also make it non-vegan, since they contain milk and an egg, though Madison says that substituting wild rice for the dumplings would be fine. A little pancetta would have — no, no, I won’t say it. flowers_pn.jpg
Madison suggests a rich Santa Barbara chardonnay with “a little oak” for the dish, but the heady, autumnal redolence that filled the kitchen put me in mind of pinot noir, so I opened a bottle of the Flowers Pinot Noir 2004, Sonoma Coast (about $45 to $50). Lord have mercy, what a match! The wine is beautiful in every sense, from its intense dusky, ruby hue, like the color of a glass of wine in a Dutch still-life painting, to its bouquet of smoky black cherry, cola and spice, to its lovely harmony and balance, its black fruit flavors permeated by earth and moss and a satiny texture that has some iron and grit to it.

It was a great meal during which we listened to Christmas music for the last time as a reminder of the end of Yuletide and the New Year holiday.

A cheaper wine with much the same effect as the Flowers, but not quite the elegance or resonance, is the Lockwood Block 7 Pinot Noir 2005, Monterey County (about $20).

We were having dinner last night — cod, potato and chorizo stew — and drinking a bottle of the Silverado Vineyards “Vineburg” Chardonnay 2005, Carneros (about $30), an absolutely lovely, pure and eloquent expression of the grape. As we often do when we spend an hour or so with a bottle of wine, we talked about it, how it evolved in the glass, its virtues and defects (this had no defects) and about, in this case, how the chardonnays we love — balancing spicy fruity richness with minerally and acidic elegance — aren’t the ones that win top scores and prizes.

Then LL said, “As far as I’m concerned, this is white wine. This is what white wine should be. Chardonnay is the stake in the ground.”

I was stunned, not only because I wished I had thought of that phrase but because of the boldness of the assertion. Chardonnay is the stake in the ground! chard_01.jpg
“But what,” I said, “about riesling and sauvignon blanc and chenin blanc? They can make great wines.”

“Yes,” she said, “I know that. But there’s a greatness in the best chardonnays that’s better than anything else in other white wines. And it’s the same thing for cabernet sauvignon. Cabernet is the stake in the ground for red wine.”

“But — pinot noir! Isn’t pinot noir the Holy Grail of red wines? We love pinot noir!”

“How many pinots do we try that are really great, I mean, intense and pure and classic? Maybe one out of 20. And two out of three of those come from Burgundy. And they’re still pretty light. Why should we celebrate pinot noir just because it’s so finicky that making a great wine from it is some sort of miracle. Wait, I know, you’re going to mention syrah and merlot, yes, those are capable of being made into great wine. But the most consistently great red wine, the most dependably great red wines are based on cabernet sauvignon. It’s the — ”

“Right, I know, the stake in the ground.” cab_01.jpg
I thought all day about what LL said last night. Could it be true that chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon grapes possess a deeper, more dimensional quality of power and potential than other grapes? When I think of the greatest white and red wines I have tasted in my career as a wine-writer, I have to admit that most of them have been chardonnays and cabernets, or at least blends that contain cabernet sauvignon.

Yes, of course I can think of instances of wines made from other grapes that were sublime:a barrel-sample of Chateau Petrus 1998 (which will be immortal) in December 1999; it’s 100 percent merlot, the greatest merlot wine in the world. And on that same trip to France, in Burgundy now, standing in the cold damp cellar at Domaine Roumier tasting Chambolle-Musigny “Les Amoureuses” 1998 out of the barrel, a pinot noir that seemed lifted directly from the dirt and soil and sub-strata of the vineyard. A Barbaresco 1961 made by Angelo Gaja’s father, tasted at 30 years old. The Savennnieres-Coulee de Serrant 2000 of Nicholas Joly. A Hermitage La Chapelle 1949 tasted in 1989. But those are special instances and special wines.
So, I wonder, is there not dignity and nobility about the greatest wines made from chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon grapes, not merely dignity and nobility but consistent dignity and nobility, a consistently historical living up to potential that other grapes and wines, however fine they may frequently (or rarely) be, cannot match with such an awe-inspiring combination of insouciance and confidence?
Perhaps so. Perhaps I’m waffling on this issue.
Let me know about where you would drive that stake in the ground.

The image of chardonnay grapes is copyright Vivai Cooperativi Rauscedo, Italy.

The image of cabernet sauvignon grapes is from

I like cookbooks written by (or organized around) famous chefs and have willingly enslaved myself to concocting dinner parties with menus taken from Charlie Trotter or Joaquin Splichal or Jean-Georges Vongerichten. The New Year’s Eve that I did Jean-George’s sauteed foie gras and potato terrine and a salt-crusted pheasant with foie gras sauce (a recipe that had been in The New York Times) remains an epic in the annals of my chefdom. I seem to remember washing a pan and then realizing that the sauce for the pheasant was in it. Big Oops.
I also like cookbooks that provide wine recommendations with recipes. Too often in their books even great chefs simply ignore the fact that the best foods and the best wines go together, a matter they would not ignore in their own restaurants, where of course they make tons of money on wine mark-ups.

So I was pleased to see, released in September, Ducasse Flavors of France (Artisan, $40), a monument to the ingenuity and enterprise of Alain Ducasse, the French chef who has won more Michelin stars than most rooms-full of his colleagues put together, for Le Louis XV in Monte Carlo, Restaurant Alain Ducasse in Paris and La Bastide de Moustiers in Alain Ducasse Moustiers-Sainte-Marie. Though he had to retool his restaurant at the Essex House in New York, from which patrons left scorched by the after-burners of high-octane pretension — diners were offered a choice of pens with which to sign their checks and so on — still, Ducasse is probably the world’s most successful chef-entrepreneur.

Anyway, I was looking through the book when my eye fell upon the first recipe that carried a wine recommendation, the “Mediterranean Vegetable Tourte.” Suggested Wines? “A lively Chenin Blanc, such as a Vouvray Sec Le Mont 1995 from Domaine Huet, or a Washington State Hogue Chenin Blanc 1996, from the Columbia Valley.” Whoa, I thought, those are pretty esoteric choices. First, where would you get such wines? And, second, no criticism intended of Hogue Cellars, but my estimation of a 10-year-old chenin blanc from Washington state would be a resounding, “No way.”

Next recommendations, for the “Tart of Young Lettuces and Tomato Confit”? “A flavorful, slightly spicy red wine, such as Chateau de Calisanne 1989 Cuvee Prestige, Coteaux d’Aix-en-Provence, or a Napa Valley Merlot, such as Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars 1994.” “Say what?” I said.

For the “Lobster Ragout with Potatoes”? “A big chardonnay, such as a Pouilly-Fuisse ‘Les Carrons’ 1992, R. Denogent, or a Mondavi Chardonnay Reserve 1995, from the Napa Valley.”

“Chicken Fricassee with Morels?” “An elegant, not too concentrated red wine, such as an Aloxe-Corton 1990, from Tollot-Beaut, or a Pesquera Crianza 1991 Ribera del Duero, from Spain.”

“Roast Veal with Vegetables in Garlic Shallot Butter”? “An elegant Pinot Noir, such as a Clos de Tart 1986, Bourgogne Grand Cry Mommessin, or a Pinot Noir Reserve from the Te Kairanga Vineyard in New Zealand.”

By this time, my mind is reeling, and I’m checking wine websites to see if any of these wines are actually available anywhere and if their prices could be anything less than astronomical. I mean, talk about impossibly pretentious! A cookbook published in 2006 that doesn’t make a recommendation for a wine dated after 1996?

And then it occurred to me — and you’re probably way ahead of me here — to look at the book’s copyright page, where we learn that this present book is the second edition of the volume first published in 1998. Repackaged but with the wine recommendations left intact from eight years ago. In other words, these wine recommendations are largely useless. Did an editor at Artisan, a division of Workman Publishing Co., decide that up-dating the wine recommendations (originally made by Gerard Margeon) was too much trouble or would take too much time or cost too much or that even people who care about food and cooking and wine — the people who would purchase this book — really don’t give a damn?

Whatever the case, the matter stinks of cynicism and neglect.

Five days before Thanksgiving, my daughter got married, each occasion — the wedding reception and the annual feast — a welcome excuse for choosing wine to serve to family and friends, the difference being that we had 12 at Thanksgiving and 200 at the wedding.

Here are the wines I picked for the reception. My daughter wanted all French (there was sort of a French theme), and that’s what she got.

*Macon-Lugny “Les Charmes” Chardonnay 2004, Maconnais. About $10-$12. One of the world’s most dependable and tasty chardonnays. charm_01.jpg

*Les Tuileries 2005, Bordeaux blanc, a crisp and floral blend of 80% sauvignon blanc and 20% semillon. About $12.

*Chateau de Pennautier 2004, Cabardes, a robust blend of cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, grenache, merlot, syrah and cot, or malbec. About $10-$12.

*Le Pin Parasol Reserve Shiraz 2002, Vins de Pays d’Oc. About $10-$12. This syrah from the south of France, goofily called “shiraz” to entice consumers familiar with the inexpensive shiraz wines of Australia, was a softer and spicier counterpoint to the forthright flavors and rusticity of the Pennautier.

*Bailly-Lapierre Cremant de Bourgogne Chardonnay 2004. About $15-$19. A terrific sparkling wine with surprising character for the price; it belongs on every restaurant wine list.

Since Thanksgiving is a thoroughly American holiday and banquet, I always serve a variety of American wines, trying to appeal to a range of tastes. I wish that I could include wines from New York and Virginia and Michigan and so on, but outside of New York and Virginia and Michigan and so on, such wines are hard to come by. Anyway, here was our wine roster for Thanksgiving:

*Heller Estate Chenin Blanc 2005, Carmel Valley. About $22-$25. The best chenin blanc made in California. heller_01.jpg

*Trefethen Dry Riesling 2005, Napa Valley. About $16-$19. This scintillating and authentic riesling surprised me by being the hit of the dinner; people kept asking for more. riesling.jpg

*Ridge Vineyards “Three Valley” 2004, Sonoma County. A blend of zinfandel (68%), carignane (11). syrah (10), petite sirah (7) and grenache (4) that boldly faced up to the Thanksgiving feast’s multitude of flavors, spices and textures. And it was great the next day with left-overs.

*Domaine Serene “Yamhill Cuvee” Pinot Noir 2004, Willamette Valley, Oregon. About $28-$33. A pretty damned perfect pinot noir (and Domaine Serene’s least expensive pinot), one bottle fine with dinner, the next wonderful with left-overs a few days later. Go figure.serene2_01.jpg

*Beringer Nightingale 1997, Napa Valley. I had been saving this blend of 70% semillon and 30% sauvignon blanc since it was released. Its unctuous combination of roasted peaches and apricots, muscat-like floral elements and a sort of liquid bananas Foster quality were terrific with the pumpkin and pecan pies.

That measured out as a week and more of great eating and wine-drinking. And my birthday, Christmas and New Year Years are coming right up! One has to plan ahead for these things!