Succumbing to the pressure for year-end lists, and in keeping with the background theme of academia on the site, I decided to compile a list of top wines of the year. I use academic references to situate my favorites of the year. Of course these picks are not restricted to those in the Ivory Tower—just insert yourself where you think you fit. As ever, value (price to quality) considerations played a large role in the selection.
Best wine, graduate students (or interns)
The insecurity and poor pay of the exploited and hard-working grad student makes them want good bang for their buck. Borsao 2001 ($5) fits the bill nicely. This red wine from Spain is a great bargain that is packed with flavor and is sure to make whoever brings it the star of grad student parties. Château Cheval-Blanc Signé 2001 ($5) is a great Sauvignon Blanc that not only tastes fresh and clean but also has a nice label and the Bordeaux name to impress others at first glance.
Best wine, assistant professors (or junior sales executive)
Besides enjoying amenities like an office (with a window), a research and (gasp) telephone budget, the regularity of the paycheck is a welcome relief from the depravity of the grad student days. However, all the responsibilities of the new job and the new demands on the paycheck may spell a desire for the wine to flow in quantity over quality. The Castell del Remei Gotim Bru 1999 ($9) from Catalonia and the Mas de Guiot 2001 Grenache-Syrah ($9) from Languedoc are two excellent reds that are guaranteed to knock the socks off the department chair. Silverado Sauvignon Blanc 2001 ($9.99) has a sleek design and a crisp, clean taste that has converted several associate professors to this varietal.
Best wine for associate professors (or Vice-President for Something)
There are lots of good wines to choose from at the associate professor level-getting tenure has its perks. From the Barossa Valley in Australia, Cimicky Signature Shiraz 1999 ($23) is among the best shiraz I have had from Australia. More refined in style than the burly low-end Shiraz from Oz, this one is worthy of Cimicky’s John Hancock. Also eligible in this category are the Edna Valley Chardonnay 2000, which is a good value (now $12 although it used to be under $10 not so long ago) and the Loimer Spiegel Grüner Veltliner 2000 ($18), a crisp white wine that is very flattering to seafood.
Best wine for full professors (head honcho)
Having made major contributions to your field, the worldwide recognition and royalty checks are rolling in. Time to crank up those wine purchases a bit-you never know when the Dean my drop by. Sadly, excellent Chardonnays only start at $25: at this price, the Dehlinger Chardonnay 2000 from Sonoma represents an excellent price to quality ratio. With its multiple layers, notes of butterscotch, and a textured long finish this wine has turned many heads. In the reds, why not impress the Dean with the massive Casa Lapostolle Clos Apalta 2000 ($45) from Chile. With Michel Rolland—one of several “flying winemakers” in Chile—consulting on the winemaking, this wine is a blockbuster that probably needs some more cellar time but that has wonderful complexity of dark fruits. Many retailers are trying to clear out the late 1990s vintages of Bordeaux so some good values can be found among them. Consider the 1999 Pichon le Baron de Langueville ($36), a great Bordeaux château now selling for a great price.
Best wine after finishing grading all those exams (or closing a deal)
Abadia Retuerta, Rivola, 2001 ($10.80). This lively Spanish wine with an earthy nose and a long finish definitely punches above its weight in price and is just what the Dr. ordered after all the grading is done.
Best wine for celebrating the acceptance of an article for publication (or meeting a big deadline)
Franus, Cabernet Sauvignon, 1998. ($21). Smooth and complex, this wine sells for about a 40% discount to the succeeding vintages from this Napa winemaker.
Best wine for curing the mid-semester (or mid-winter) blues
The cure is a little Zin as the big, red wine from California is known. Turley Old Vine Zinfandel, 2000 ($22), one of the best Zinfandels made and therefore one of the most difficult to find, but it packs a punch with its spicy nose and bonanza of flavors (and nearly 16% alcohol). Otherwise for zinfandels, in the words of Jay MacInerney, “almost anything that starts with R is good” (the producers here are Ridge, Renwood, Rafanelli, etc) and often easier to find. Hartford Court makes several excellent Zins but these too are hard to find (their phone is 800-588-0234).
Best wine to celebrate getting tenure (or a promotion and a raise)
Pol Roger Rosé, 1995 ($60). A favorite of Winston Churchill’s and a favorite of mine this year. Light bubbles and lively mouthfeel make this a good pick for a major celebration.
Best “wine” for not getting tenure (or shareholders of bankrupt companies)
Mad Dog 20/20.
Best wine to give to somebody you don’t really like/cooking wine
Charles Shaw Merlot or Chardonnay, $1.99 at Trader Joe’s grocery store. So this is where all those surplus grapes have gone-into the million cases that Franzia (as in wine-in-a-box) is selling exclusively through Trader Joe’s. Don’t be surprised if this “Two Buck Chuck,” as it is colloquially known, costs three bucks at Trader Joe’s outside of California. Within the state, the producer negotiates directly with the retailer whereas outside the state, a distributor must intervene thanks to entrenched state monopolies.