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Tastings and Test Drives

Photo by: Greg Gorman

Posted: Apr 24, 2006 2:01pm ET

Two items have risen to the top of today’s to-do list.

No. 1 is work-related -- wrapping up our annual Chardonnay report. It is by far the easier of the two assignments.

Each year, I taste roughly 400 new Chardonnays. This year’s focus is on the 2004 vintage, which is first class, and there are plenty of late-arrival 2003s as well.

Because it grows easily and successfully in many areas of California and because it ripens early, Chardonnay is one California’s steadiest performers.

Rarely does Chardonnay encounter a disastrous vintage, and in most years the vintage differences are more subtle than exaggerated.

One reason is that Chardonnay is a winemaker’s wine. As a grape it is fairly neutral in flavor, and it is often quite manipulated.

When vinified in a Burgundian fashion, employing techniques such as barrel and malolactic fermentations, the wines are richly flavored and textured, and oak, in the way of smoke, vanilla or cedar, is often part of its flavor profile.

My editors in New York are anxious to see the copy, and they’re much easier to deal with than issue No. 2.

No. 2 is a domestic matter. I’m looking for another new used car for my 17-year-old daughter.

Car No. 1, Shelly, a 2000 Beetle I gave her for her birthday, was hit and totaled about a month ago. No one was hurt. The other driver ran a stop. But it was my daughter's first car, and first cars are like first loves. We were both sad to lose Shelly.

In the meantime, my daughter is driving my Dad’s car. It’s a 1992 Oldsmobile, a classic older-person’s car. It runs well, with only 72,000 miles, and boasts a powerful V-6 engine. But it’s not a teen-ager's car, and it’s been dinged and battered over the years. The driver’s side looks OK. But from the passenger’s side, well, it looks like it spent the past six months parked on the streets of Baghdad.

I enjoy tutoring my daughter about what to look for in a used car.

For me, it’s all about safety and economy.

For her, it’s mostly about looks (that is, how she looks in the car and whether the car makes the right statement about who she is), so she lights up when she sees a car with a spoiler, flashy rims or tinted windows. A CD player (with a cool sound system) is more important to her than airbags, a priority for me.

Then there’s the matter of used car dealers. After talking to six on Saturday, and going over the details of various car options and deals with my daughter, the thought of working on the Chardonnay report and negotiating with my editors suddenly seemed far more agreeable than facing the used car salesmen again.

Chris Tilley
April 24, 2006 6:38pm ET
If you want a great used car without the typical used car sales experience, check out www.CarMax.com. There is a location in Sacramento, trust me, it's worth the drive. Spend a little time on the website, it's all true, no games, no lies, no negotiating, lots of guarantees, even a 5 day money back return policy for any reason (as long as the car doesn't get wrecked).
Raymond Archacki Jr
Wethersfield, CT —  April 24, 2006 6:57pm ET
I agree having bought my share of cars for the kids. We found a nice 98 Acura CL coupe with 28,000 miles for my son, a widow was selling it. It was loaded and in mint condition. However, it got flooded back in Oct-05 in New Hampshire. You find those once in a blue moon. Anyhow he graduated from college and we helped him buy an 06 Mazda 3, a really cool car. Not wanting to hurt our feelings he finally admitted driving the widow's old car was not as cool as his new one!
James Laube
Napa, CA —  April 24, 2006 7:48pm ET
Thanks. I'll give it a try tonight...
James Novack
Agoura Hills, CA —  April 24, 2006 10:44pm ET
James also check Edmunds.com you can plug in all the options and even mileage and it will give you a report on what you should expect to pay, based on the zip code you live in
Mark A Dedow
Clarkston, MI —  April 25, 2006 12:21pm ET
My 17 year old daughter drives a 1997 Saturn SL2. Plastic body panels are perfect for high school parking lots. When dad is paying for the vehicle, price and safety win out over style.
Gregg Lien
April 25, 2006 10:40pm ET
As a kid growing up in the 60's, I had lots of used cars and lots of problems with them. No big deal if the car breaks down in the middle of no where, fix it or hitch a ride home. Time shift to the present. I now have 2 teen daughters. I opted to sleep nights and bought new cars at model year ends with heavy rebates, lots of haggling, and good discounted finance rates. A Neon, because it "smiled" at her and 2 years later a Mustang, because "it had better style for her" than the new model. Well, I had better reasons. Amazingly good net prices, full warranties, and I get to sleep nights.(Oh, good grades and safe driving were a part of the deal or the car gets parked.)

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