Drinking Down 

Scavenging in the cellar with Mom and Mateo.

My mother says "I'm wearing something from the Collection" when she's chosen to "shop in her closet" for a particular event. And let me note that her use of this expression predates the concept of recession chic. So does "I'm drinking down my wine cellar," a comment made to me years ago by Expat Matt, a wine-loving pal who lives in Chile and regularly sends dispatches from that Wineau paradise. In Matt's case, the drinking down began when he and his wife bought a fixer-upper in the mountains near Santiago and suddenly had less to spend on indulgences like their beloved Santa Ema Reserva Merlot.

The drinking down of my cellar can quite firmly be blamed on the economy, but also my pregnancy, which has curtailed my eagerness to case the bargain bins. Sure, the phrase "drinking down" is suddenly not quite as cute when you picture a big pregnant lady doing it­ — but I promise you it's cuter than the stink-eye bestowed upon said pregnant lady when she's buying bottle after bottle of cheap wine. (Pregnancy cops take note: Like all good wine writers, I spit every sip tasted, I swear!)

With this being my last Wineau column for a while, clearing out my inventory was another motivating factor for scavenging in the cellar. So I pulled out several whites and discovered two winners, both quite apropos for late-summer sipping.

The 2008 Kilda Chardonnay ($6.99) was a nice light wine I would never have recognized as a Chard — no obnoxious over-oaking or buttery flavors, just lots of mango, melon, and pear in the aroma, with more pear and a little citrus on the palate. It begs for pairing with seafood. I definitely preferred it to the 2008 MAN Vintners Chardonnay ($6.99) from South Africa, which despite a similar aroma of pear had an unripe quality veering toward bitterness. Drinkable, sure, but I wouldn't recommend it — try their Sauvignon Blanc instead.

Blasting us with a bouquet of honeysuckle and apricot was the 2008 Ironberry Chardonnay-Viognier blend ($9.95) from Western Australia. Although the Chard amounts to 75 percent compared to Viognier's 25 percent, the latter grape really did the work here, resulting in a slightly sweet wine that would pair perfectly with spicy Asian food.

Joining the Ironberry in the slightly sweet category was the 2007 St. Helen's Riesling ($5.99) from Washington. This is one of about sixty wines made exclusively for Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Markets, a chain coming soon to the East Bay that prides itself on its low prices, huge selection, and customer-friendly categorization of wines by varietal instead of region. I applaud the concept but couldn't applaud the wine — mainly because of a strong garage-y aroma of rubber that overpowered the delicate stone-fruit bouquet trapped underneath.

But hey, that's one out of sixty — so sometime in late 2009, I'll be more than willing to put on something fetching from the Collection and have a party with the other 59.


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