Monday, December 20, 2010

2010 grapes show no wrath

Fresh snow is swirling smartly, the holidays are beckoning family and friends, and the gas log in the fireplace is doing its very best imitation of a real fire.

There's no better time to roll out The Top Six Wines that teased my palate during 2010. Just as last year, this is a very subjective exercise in personal taste and perception that can generate vigorous debate. A $100 wine can be exhilarating; but 10 $10 wines sipped with 10 friends always beat a $100 wine that you drink by yourself.

The envelope please:

#1 - Tamarack Cellars Firehouse Red 2007 Columbia Valley, Washington. A blind selection off a restaurant wine list brought unexpected excitement through food friendliness combined with rich fruit. The winemaker combines at least seven red varietals from numerous vineyards in a package most wineries could only pray for. Subsequently served to two different dinner groups at home with cries for more. About $20 retail.

#2 - Kenneth Volk Vineyards Pinot Noir Santa Maria Cuvee 2006. Hats off to My Brother The Elder for unearthing this rich yet elegant red from the Santa Barbara region. Silky tannins with the right amount of bracing acidity made this a stunner with mushroom and asparagus risotto. Makes you stand up and salute. $28 retail from the winery.

#3 - Steele Writer's Block Roussanne 2008, California. Looking for a little something different, I enjoyed this gem in a local wine bar. Fresh yet rich and fragrant flavors from a secondary label offering from California legend Jed Steele. This Rhone varietal rocks the left coast. Suggested retail around $15.

#4 - Umathum Wachau Red 2007 - Significant other RA pulled this Austrian gem from a very honest and knowledgeable wine store proprietor in Innsbruck during a visit this summer. Zweigelt, blaufrankish, and cabernet sauvignon combine in a beautiful melange of subtle yet powerful flavors that brings out the yodel in all of us. About $40 plus airfare, land costs, tips and optional tours.

#5 - Chapoutier Bila Haut Cotes-du-Roussillon 2008. A Rhone blend that was a cut-above the usual suspects from this hot region. Fruit forward with a splash of acidity that made it a go-to for lighter summer fare that called for a red wine. Just plain delightful and easy to drink. About $13 retail.

#6 - Chateau d'Oupia Minervois 2007 - Funky blend of syrah, carignan and granache explodes on the palate with ripe yet peppery fruit and an unexpectedly long finish. A juicy wine that could go with Provencal type fare and roast chicken. Bonus: Easy on the budget for a group. About $13 retail.

Make your own list and check it twice during Santa Season!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The audacity of heat

Investment opportunities reward in strange ways.

Last month presented two major options in one week: Participation in an initial public stock offering by a major corporation versus purchase and installation of a new, two-stage furnace for the homestead.

Could the lure of making a quick buck with cocktail-party bragging rights overtake the mother of all home maintenance expenses? Fortunately, pragmatism triumphed in a way Wall Street probably couldn't calculate.

The 100 shares of the IPO and the furnace would cost roughly the same amount. I chose an immediate home infrastructure upgrade over uncertain potential gain.

After roughly a month, the shares are worth about a dollar more each. The new beast in the basement, however, is looking more like a neighborhood tribute to J.P. Morgan.

I'm keeping my feet warm and comfy. I'm using natural gas and electricity more efficiently, paying a dividend in my bills every month. And did I mention a federal tax credit that would put capital gains on a similar investment to shame?

Long-term investments can look just as great under the floor as they can in a portfolio.