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I have no ability to cellar wines at the moment but at the same time am trying to become familiar with various varietals. To compound problems more, I don't really have a store that would carry older vintages. That all being said, while I am in an area that doesn't lend itself to wine shopping abundance, what varietals can I look for that are good off the shelf? The store would have some older vintages but nothing too far off. Oldest I've seen I believe is 2005.
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don't rack your brain, you can still gain a very solid understanding of varietals when they're very young. you won't understand what the varietals taste like "aged", but you'll understand what they taste like young - which is half the battle.

almost any varietal offers a "ready to drink" example. there are plenty of new world cabs and syrahs that are made to drink within 7 years of vintage. same can be said for just about every other varietal. make that part of the fun. buy a cab that's meant to age, buy one that isn't, and experience the difference.

what area do you live in??
Yeah fresh market here is pretty bad but luckily there's some gems in about the 40 bottles that they carry.

Any books that are generally recommended? I'm about half way through windows on the world (zraly) and don't really want to re-read the general information (albeit great general information) that's in that book.

Maybe a book into a specific region or specific topic?
I don't know. I've thumbed through WoW, but don't know it enough to break down comparisons. Anybody?

Immer takes a no-frills approach to learning the big six grapes, Cab, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Sauv. Blanc, Riesling. In a nutshell, you decide on your budget, get some friends and she guides you through tastings of the wines, to lock in their various flavors. She branches out of course, and discusses Old World/New World, Young/Old, plus other common varietals. I've never met her, but judging by her book, I'd imagine her to be a warm and friendly person who happens to really know what she's talking about.
kingofcool - one cool thing is to remember that "varietal" is an adjective, so although people use it improperly all the time, you don't make wine from a few varietals, you make it from a few cultivars. In common usage, people call those cultivars "varieties" but that's not actually right either.

Anyhow, it's the difference between and adjective and a noun if anyone cares.

Aside from that, if you insist on learning specific characteristics of each cultivar, you can do a lot worse than buying the wines put out by some of the big CA or WA wineries like BV, Columbia Crest and it's big sister Chat St Michelle. They're good examples. You don't need to read the Zraly/Immer stuff unless you really want to, but I think you can do as well on your own. Note the differences and make your own observations rather than look for what they tell you to look for. It's how Zraly learned, after all.

And of course you don't want to limit yourself to varietal wines, so taste wines from elsewhere as well, not sticking only to the US. Maybe you can get stuff shipped? There are some good retailers in CA and NJ and elsewhere. It's rough to shop at Kroger's for wine, so I feel for you!
Yeah I have looked at getting some wine shipped but everytime I look I get overwhelmed (by selection and shipping prices) and move on. Any particular websites to look at? Maybe I'll put together a half case, run it by y'all and bite the bullet.

Just to note, I'm not a total amateur. My mom's a pseudo/weekend connesieur and I've had some good wine with her. Now I want to actually know what I'm drinking. I have been taking down some tasting notes.

Thanks all.
Excuse the rudimentary (or incorrect) terms, just trying to stay as honest to the flavor as I can but also trying to pin point where those flavors come from.

So far:

2008 Nabuko - I actually went to spain this summer for my honeymoon but only went to Rioja and due to my poor planning, certainly did not see its full potential. We did go to two bodegas, the best being Ysios. Fortunately I did get to try my fair share of spanish wine while over there. This was a bottle of spanish wine I had before going thanks to a wine club I used to be a part of. I remember liking it back then which could have just been because I knew I was about to go to spain. This one is from the Yecla region which we did not go to and I don't remember ever having any wine from that area. 50/50 syrah monstrell. I don't think I have ever had monstrell before. From an initial taste, a lay description would be not much sweetness, dry and powerful finish. All I could get from the nose was alcohol, even after decanting it (which I am under the impression should "cool" the wine down some). Not much fruit up front and very strong tannin in the end. Not much balance. Not terrible but not my favorite.

2009 Jadot Beaujolais-villages - I was curious about the boujolias and gamay grape because my wife likes more fruity/light red wines. I actually chilled it down a little bit and served it with ceviche. After looking back I don't know if this was the best combo. I just thought more fruit = more sweetness so pair with something acidic. However, I am now realizing that the fruit doesn't necessarily mean acidic and the fruit itself is acidic. (I think). It was still pretty tasty, the ceviche was pretty tame for ceviche. Served chilled was good. Was a good cocktail wine. I would declare it my favorite but my wife liked it and I liked it for what it was. Would definitely like to try some different vintages/producers. Looking forward to the 2010 release.

(Bare with me here, don't know what exactly the pertinent info is so I'll just put it all).

2007 Molliard Cotes Du Rhone - I liked this one a lot. Had more fruit up front than the nabuko but also had some nice tannis as well. Much better balance. I have no idea what grapes were used but saw that in southern rhone grenache and syrah are the prevalent grapes. That makes sense seeing as how some of my favorite wines were from the granacha grape.

Have some more wines that I'll probably get into tonight.

2008 Ramspeck Cap - wondering if this is too young. I'm curious about the whole 2007 napa cab so I might go pick up a bottle of that and hold off on the 2008.

2006 cotes du rhone (that's all I remember at the moment) - a little higher price point than the molliard but I liked that one so I figured it'd be worth checking this one out.

2007 Fleur Central Coast Pinot - I've had this before multiple times and I remember enjoying it. The wife likes it which is the primary reason I got it. I will say, for the record, probably the best pinot I've tasted is either au bon climat or artesa.

Ramblings of an amateur...
I like Zraly's book and have also read Jancis Roninson's "How to Taste". If you poke around on the internet, you'll find a lot of good information as well. A couple of friends and I took an online wine course mostly oriented toward tasting. That was probably the most educational thing I've done in regards to wine as far as orienting my taste buds. We supplemented this by each participant taking responsibility to do research on the particular grape variety, one or more of the producers, the processes used for making and so forth, and shared with the rest of group.

I'm sure if you found a good wine store, they could give you good recommendations for specific wines that have typical characterics for the particular varietal (some wines can definitely fool you as they don't really taste like one would expect). Another way might be to contact a good online store as I'm sure they would help you as well. I've bought a lot from Gary's Wine in NJ. I think he would be capable and glad to help you. I've ordered from other online stores, but don't know how much help they would really be. I tried a new store (new for me) for last order. The name of the store is "Wine on the Way" in FL. They had really good pricing and I was happy with my experience. They even threw-in a free bottle opener and not one of those cheap plastic openers that only a serious body builder could use. However, I don't know whether or not could help you choose wines for what you're trying to do. Though I spoke with them, it only had to do with verifying that certain wines were in stock.

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