Wine column no. 20: The risk factor

Shots are different. Need proof? Just look at the way they're described. Have you ever met an ounce of hard liquor that at some point hasn't gotten slammed, chased or knocked back?

But wine? The more artful critics sculpt versions of a masterpiece, shaping words into the representation of a living, breathing thing. Think that glass of wine smells like blackberries or earth? Wine critics call that a nose. Did you just see the wine in your hand make a slow, thin crawl down the inside of your glass? The experts call those legs. And don't get us started on wines that have come home with you in your checked baggage. These prima donnas, it turns out, actually need to rest, preferably for at least a month.

As a result, some might wonder, with all these complicating factors — and we've just touched on a few of them here — what's the point? Why open a bottle of wine when a glass of 40-year-old Irish whiskey is much more reliable?

Well, we're not ones to take anything away from the Irish, or a very expensive bottle of whiskey. But we like the fact that wine needs to be coddled, that it's a member of our dinner party, that it's expected to contribute to the meal. This is because we think it's got something to say, and that unlike the 40-year-old whiskey whose personality got trapped in its bottle — condemned, some might say, to a straight line of predictability — wine develops over time.

So here are some wines that we had good experiences with that we'll likely come back to later on, maybe months or years from now. We like them, and so we'll buy more of them to cellar, and when we decide to open them again, we'll compare what we experienced now with what we experience then, in the future.

Of course, it won't be apples to apples, since we'll have changed just as much as the wine will likely have. Sometimes it will improve; sometimes it won't. And even if it improves, it won't always turn out as sublimely as that 40-year-old whiskey — though sometimes it will. But for us, that makes it fun. We like unpredictability. This is a wine column, after all; if we wanted consistency, we'd write about hard liquor.

The owner of Varsity Liquors said the 2002 Ceago Vinegarden merlot would be spicy, and she was right. This was definitely the best wine we've gotten there. We paired it with grilled seasoned chicken, and this Mendocino, Californian, was worth the roughly $21 we paid for it. I got cinnamon and clove flavors, with a touch of blackberry, while Greg said it was gentle and had an earthy nose. It also had a good amount of sediment and came in at 14.5 percent alcohol. We've only had this wine the one time, but it's one we would get again without any hesitation.

Later that month, we were in a lasagna mood, and Paula Deen had just the recipe. You can find it at www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/paula-deen/lots-omeat-lasagna-recipe/index.html. Greg was itching for a 2009 Luiano Chianti Classico that we'd had before.

To be honest, I had forgotten what this particular Chianti was like, and I was afraid it would be very tannic, since a lot of the Chianti we've had have been that way — and I'm just much more about flavors than tannins. But this Italian was very pleasant, fruity with some very minor acidity, which was perfect because of the corresponding acidity in the tomato sauce (acidic foods, in general, tend to pair well with acidic wines, making the wine taste sweeter.) We got this for about $14 at Winetree. Also, for those looking for a smaller bottle of wine to serve for just two people, this was perfect.

Now here's a bottle of Riesling we got at Schnucks that we really liked. The 2007 Dr. Loosen Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Kabinett was silky, elegant and tasted slightly of lemons. I covered two salmon fillets with a paprika fish rub, salt, black pepper, freshly squeezed lemon and fresh cilantro and then baked them for about 30 minutes.

This Mosel, Germany, creation was only 7.5 percent alcohol, too, so it was a very light accompaniment to the meal. About $18 or $19 at the Schnucks on North Green River Road. Wine Spectator gave it a 91 out of 100.

And finally, Greg grilled up some Delmonico steaks to pair with a 2008 Robert Hall cabernet sauvignon from Paso Robles, Calif., we bought from Winetree for about $23. This 14.5 percent creation was to me mellow, restrained and somewhat tannic with a berry nose. It also went very well with the steak since it wasn't rich, and the pepper in the steak seasoning enhanced the wine experience.

At first taste, Greg said it was a bit sweet and fruity, but it mellowed after being open for a while. This Californian didn't outdo the steak, but neither did the steak outdo it. Each enhanced the other.

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