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Wine Without Pretense: Resolutions for 2012
A vow to read more wine books, plus revisit old favorite vintages
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Wine of the month

The wine: Mandolin Syrah Central Coast 2009.

The grapes: 100 percent syrah.

The source: California's Central Coast.

The verdict: Syrah — known in Australia as shiraz — is a wine that tends to get lost in the cabernet sauvignon/merlot shuffle. Yet this rich red wine is a joy to behold. The fruit comes from the Pacific coast area around Monterey that blends high winds, ocean fog and a long growing season. The result: A wine with an assortment of flavors and aromas. The winemaker suggested blueberries and a waft of vanilla. You'll find those, and more, to enjoy. I'm stunned that a wine this good is so reasonably priced. The downside is there is not much of it, and it will be hard to find. But this is one of those "Let's buy a case or two and see how it develops" wines.

The price: Around $12.

Happy New Year to y'all!

I'm kicking off 2012 with a pair of resolutions. And these I intend to keep, unlike those in previous years to lose weight, buy a winning lottery ticket and get taller.

Strangely enough my resolutions center on wine and related matters. Surprised?

No. 1. I resolve to read more wine books like "Unquenchable: A Tipsy Quest for the World's Best Bargain Wines" by Natalie MacLean. This is a well-written, wry and occasionally LOL piece of writing. It follows precisely my philosophy about wine, summed up in the title of my wine courses, Wine Without Pretense.

MacLean is a woman who knows her wine. In addition to being a well-respected writer, she is a sommelier, a vocation that demands not only deep knowledge but the skill to fire it up under pressure.

She was named World's Best Drink Writer by the World Food Media Awards, and has copped four - count 'em, four - James Beard Foundation Journalism Awards. But unlike some beribboned wine experts, MacLean plays it light.

Here's an example. In her "Opening Thoughts," she writes: "The question I'm asked most often — ‘What's your favorite wine?' My answer: ‘The one someone else pays for.'

"The second question I'm asked is, ‘Can you recommend a great wine that costs less than $5?' Answer: ‘Not unless all you want is a wet tongue."

She recalls with wit, and a touch of true confessions, her childhood with an alcoholic father and little money. She developed an appreciation for value during those times and put that into play after she took up the campaign for food and wine. And she plays traffic cop on the road to bargainville quite well.

"Somewhere between Super Tuscans and vinous Tang crystals, there are delicious wines that we can still afford," MacLean counsels. And in a 344-page hardcover effort, she writes about them.

It's a travel book as well as a wine and food treatise. It takes you on a global trek ferreting out good wines at sensible prices, and the driven people who make them.

Some books touting wines of a time are outdated in two years. I enjoy that MacLean converses about not only specific wines and wineries but about regions with a history of making fine wines. It's a great read. Prepare to learn, chuckle and maybe even guffaw.

Priced at $24, it's in stores now. For more information, check out

No. 2. I resolve to broaden my horizons and go back to the future occasionally. By that I mean I should revisit wines I truly enjoyed years ago, but which have slipped below my 21st century wine-buying radar. I recall fondly bottles of the broad-shouldered Hungarian Egri Bikaver - "Bull's Blood" - with rich, hearty stews, and those wonderful $3 bottles of Romanian and Bulgarian wines.

And I recall Soave (pronounced So AH vay) as one of my pet whites. One of the classic Italian wines, it is produced in the Soave region in northeastern Italy. It comes in dozens of styles - some rich and complex, some simple and refreshing. The principal grape is the garganega, little-known in this country but a staple in northern Italy.

I met up with an old friend recently, a Soave from the large producer Bolla. In a questionable marketing move a couple of decades ago, Bolla advertised the wine as Soave Bolla. That, I thought at the time, is dumb. That's like saying Cabernet Sauvignon Kenwood.

I was pleased to receive a bottle showing that policy no longer floats. It's Bolla Soave. And for those looking for an uncomplicated yet pleasing white wine, I recommend it. It's generally available for $8-$10.

For an example of a more complex style of Soave, look for the Suavia Soave DOC Classico. DOC is Denominazione de Origine Controllata, and it is the backbone of Italian wine quality control. DOC on a label means you can be pretty well assured that, all things considered, the wine inside is going to be of high quality.

The Suavia Soave gets some oak in either fermentation or aging and has a lot more depth of flavors and aromas than the Bolla. And that's reflected in the price, $20-$23. Plus it's not as easy to find as the Bolla, but it's a fine food wine. If you are looking for a change from the usual chardonnay and pinot grigio, give a Soave a try.

I'll report back in June as to how effectively I've adhered to my resolutions. And I guarantee I'll be 20 pounds lighter ... and 6 feet tall.

Randall Murray is a Gainesville-area resident. His column appears on the first Wednesday of the month and on