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The Perfect Wine Rack

Stock a variety of varietals

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Congratulations. You've found the coolest eight-bottle wine rack to adorn your barren kitchen countertop. Besides figuring out the direction it should face for full decorative-impact, the fun part is filling the rack with wine, then, of course, drinking it. But filling it with the right wine for your lifestyle is another story. If you're single, chances are you consume the same bottle over a few days. If you buy a Vacu Vin pump system, you don't have to be limited. Open a different wine each day and take wine guru Michael Mondavi's advice: drink according to your mood. Buy refreshing Pinot Grigio or fruity White Zin to pour over ice after a hot day, pop open a Sangiovese with a fully loaded pizza, or Merlot when you're in a more serious mood.

For take-out junkies, food friendly vino adds restaurant zeal to your meal. My wine rack overflows with favorite food wines, but also those for drinking straight up: New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, Australian Shiraz, Oregon Pinot Noir, Washington State Riesling, dry French rose, California Chardonnay, French Champagne, and certainly my favorite, Zinfandel.

For those with a penchant for piquant, stock the softer, more aromatic grapes that stand up to spice: Riesling, German Gewurztraminer, or California Viognier.

If your home bears a revolving door for unexpected guests, you'll need a variety of wines on hand...and maybe a bigger wine rack. Jeffrey Stambor, winemaker at Beaulieu Vineyards in Napa, suggests the following seven varietals to appease all tastes: New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, under 14 percent alcohol red Zinfandel (so they'll still drive home), Syrah, Napa Cabernet, Argentine Malbec, Methode Champenoise sparkling wine, and a chilled, dry rose.

If wine snobs crawl all over you looking for the latest and greatest in unknown wines, definitely keep the eight chosen varietals of Randall Grahm, eccentric winemaker and owner of Bonny Doon Vineyards, in mind: Gruner Veltliner, Italian Nebbiolo, Cabernet Franc, German Riesling, Italian Albarino, Italian Barbera, Syrah, and French red Burgundy.

But most of us only want a good buzz to forget the boss's crap, collapse on the couch and become one with the remote. Cheap but tasty is what we're after, baby. Although most varietals have some rare inexpensive exceptions, there are some grapes you don't want to cheapify (pay less than $12 bucks): Chardonnay, Chianti, and Pinot Noir. Stick with the varietals that can be produced in cost-saving, massive quantities yet still provide palate pleasure: Zinfandel, Cabernet other than Napa Valley (big bucks), California Sauvignon Blanc, California sparkling wines, Merlot, Australian Shiraz, and Petite Syrah and Washington State Riesling.

Recommended WinesSelaks 2001 Sauvignon Blanc Fabulous citrus and fresh green grass on the nose, then flowing into sultry fruit like honeydew melon and passion fruit. $14

Liberty School 2000 Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon Smooth as a baby's butt tannins, with gorgeous cherry fruit coming at you from all angles. Great stuff. $16 1/2

Benziger 2000 Carneros Chardonnay Beautifully balanced between oaky and buttery. $14 1/2

Cline Cellars 2000 Zinfandel Like uncovering really ripe berries at the grocery store, this is a true find. $12 1/2

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