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Senior editor Alison Napjus joined Wine Spectator in 2000. She is the lead taster for Alsace, Beaujolais and Champagne and also tastes wines from regions throughout Italy.
Alison Napjus

A Crowd-Pleasing Pair of Wines

Gabbiano Pinot Grigio Delle Venezie 2008 and Bodegas LAN Rioja Crianza 2006

Alison Napjus
Posted: May 23, 2011

Last weekend, my college friends and I gathered to wish one couple bon voyage as they move to L.A., to congratulate another on their engagement, and to raise a glass to a new dad (his wife was very understanding and stayed at home with their newborn!). We decided to have dinner and drinks at Cask, a neighborhood bar and restaurant in Manhattan’s Murray Hill area.

Cask is a comfortable, relaxing place to hang out, with good food and a great list of beers and specialty cocktails. Their wine list is solid too—although small, there’s enough diversity to offer something for most occasions and moods.

Not surprisingly, once our group of nine was seated, the wine list was immediately passed down to me, and I began to juggle all of the various factors that come into play when ordering for a group. For example, Person 1 doesn’t drink Sauvignon Blanc, Person 2 doesn’t drink Riesling and Person 3 doesn’t like “big, oaky wines.” Also, would I order different wines and have to deal with changing stemware and all the rigamarole of multiple bottles on the table? What might work best with the restaurant’s menu in general? And, given that we would probably drink several bottles over the course of the evening, what offered the most bang for the buck?

Ultimately, I decided to go with one white and one red and let each person work out with the server what they would drink. It seemed like the easiest solution all around. I selected the Gabbiano Pinot Grigio, from northeastern Italy, at $32 a bottle and the LAN Rioja 2006, from Spain, for $40 a bottle, and I was pleased with both wines.

The Pinot Grigio was a light-bodied white, clean and tangy, with subtle apple and pear fruit. It shows a light smoky layer as well, giving it a bit more character, and I rated it 85 points, non-blind.

The LAN was a notch up though, and I gave this lightly spiced red 88 points, non-blind, for its ripe cherry and berry fruit flavor, as well as hints of leather, tobacco and light tannins. Both wines were well-received by the table though, making it a terrific evening of good food, wine and friends.

WineSpectator.com members: Read the original blind-tasting review for Bodegas LAN Rioja Crianza 2006 (90, $12, Top 100 of 2010: No. 44).

• Plus, get scores and tasting notes for more recently rated Pinot Grigios and Rioja reds.

William Thomen
San Francisco —  May 23, 2011 5:18pm ET
Allison - I see from the bio under your picture that you are responsible for Beaujolais. I would appreciate it if you could let me know whether you will have an article in WS covering the exciting 2009 vintage.

Martin Wehrli
Denver Colorado —  May 31, 2011 12:17am ET
"Person 1 doesn’t drink Sauvignon Blanc, Person 2 doesn’t drink Riesling and Person 3 doesn’t like “big, oaky wines.”

Congratulations on having a bunch of high maintenance and fussy friends. Bah! Their response should have been, "Here's the wine list Alison. Order up".
Giancarlo Ortega
Washington DC —  May 31, 2011 6:42pm ET
Uff!! Stiff mark up on the LAN no? I simpathize with you. I don't like picking wines for large groups. Yesterday I was faced with the same decision, feed red wine to a group of 9 while at a brazilian churrascaria. Tried to do the contrast of Napa Cabs (St Supery Estate and Elu) vrs a Cab-Malbec blend from CARO and same year of 2005. My latino friends surprisingly preferred the 2005 Napa Cabs to the Mendoza 05s. That was unexpected as I expected the CARO to be the star. The ELU was superb though.

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