Section of wines from Cline Cellars ready to be served at the Vistas wine dinner May 18

It is not unusual for me to encounter customers who have developed “comfort zones” when it comes to wines. They have gravitated to a particular grape variety or specific brand and the product has become their go-to wine. This favorite has become a safe place, the old reliable that they know they will enjoy.  I frequently hear things like: “I only drink Merlot” or “Jumping Bunny Pinot Gris is the only wine I like.”  I do my best to encourage these clients to stretch the envelope, pointing out particular wines that may be similar in style to their favorite, but with subtle differences or added complexities.  Many customers are hesitant, worried that they will purchase a wine that won’t measure up to their old standby and they’ll have wasted their money. Not being especially fond of throwing money away I can understand their concern.

The truth is that there is a wealth of fabulous wines available in today’s market and consumers are missing out because of their fear to step too far from their comfort zones. Fortunately there is a number of fun, no or low cost, local solutions that can assist those who wish to expand their palate, but not get stuck with a bottle of something they might absolutely hate. Here are just a few of these opportunities:

Close to home, both HOAs host monthly wine tastings.  These events are usually free or low cost and provide residents with the opportunity to try something new without any obligation to buy.  In addition to sampling wine, the distributor’s representative will offer interesting facts about the wine and its producer, making the event a learning experience as well.  These tastings are advertised by the Food & Beverage departments and reservations are required as the tastings can fill fast, especially during the high season.  Additionally, our restaurants will occasionally host wine dinners, featuring a specific producer.  Since wines often complement specific foods, wine dinners are a great choice to see how these pairings work.

May 18 I was able to enjoy a wine dinner at the Vistas Dining Room.  The wine showcased was Cline Cellars, a family owned, sustainably farmed vineyard and winery in the Carneros region.  Executive Chef Bishow and his team created an outstanding menu, which was accompanied by several selections from Cline Cellars, provided by Mandie Joplin, Southwest Account Manager for the winery.  Keep your eyes out for future wine dinners, as these are special events not to be missed.

This month I’m suggesting two white wines that might stretch your palate.  Both are well priced, solid every day wines.

The first is the 2014 Cline, North Coast Viognier from California.  This white is rich and full-bodied with intense floral and tropical fruit aromas, complimented by flavors of nectarine and apricot.  The wine has nice complexity and structure with a smooth pleasant finish.  It recently won a double gold medal at the 2016 San Francisco Chronicle wine competition and can be purchased at World Market for under $13. Served lightly chilled it will pair well with Lobster, scallops as well as pork or chicken served in a cream sauce.

The second wine is the 2014 Terre di Talamo, Vento Vermentino Toscana IGT.  Hailing from the Italian Ligurian coast, this wine has a vibrant acidity with a hint of saline minerality, possessing flavors of pineapple, peach and gooseberry.   It is a crisp, refreshing wine great for fans of Sauvignon Blanc.  Pair with linguine and white clam sauce or a hard Pecorino cheese.  It is available at Total Wine for just under $15.

This month my recommendation is to pass by your usual selection in the wine aisle, venture into uncharted territory and try something new.  Salud!

Tom Oetinger holds an advanced certification in wine and spirits from the WSET in London, England.