Stock up now...
a wine lover’s duty
is to be prepared.
By: W.R. Tish
Photography by John O'Donnell
The following 10 wines are diverse in style but share a few important traits. They check in on the affordable side (under $20), they’re generally food-friendly, and they represent types of wine that are consistently well made and readily available. All you need to do is add glasses, edibles, and a reason to uncork (or, as the case may be, unscrew).
Riesling prospers in Germany’s cool, short growing season, where it is often left “off-dry” (just a tad sweet) to highlight the grape’s natural floral/peachy character. Interestingly, a well-made Riesling, with an underlying tang for counterbalance, will taste fruity rather than sweet. And low alcohol (10 to 11 percent) ensures delicacy; serve with any light foods or enjoy as an aperitif. If you like a fuller-bodied Riesling, look to Alsace,the Finger Lakes, or Washington, and choose wines with alcohol of 12 percent or more.
The days of Chardonnays that taste like two-by-fours are waning, fortunately. Chardonnay is easily molded by vinicultural techniques, and vintners are cutting back on the amount of time they leave their Chards in barrel. The result is less butter and toast, but still plenty of body and that ripe, tropical/pear fruit that avowed Chardophiles prize. And even if you don’t love Chardonnay, keep a bottle on hand for guests who do.
Recommended: Bernardus, Kendall-Jackson,J. Lohr, Simi
3 2005 Bordeaux
Bordeaux remains the standard for combinations of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot made around the globe. Hailing from a cooler climate than most New World regions, the wine is less fruit-forward (you might say earthier), with more evident structure (tannin and acidity) that positions it to improve over time. What I love about Bordeaux is its ability to taste better with food (even meatloaf!) and to change in the glass. Because this wine is fairly vintage-variable, now is an ideal time to pounce. The stellar 2005s are hitting shelves finally, and even bottlings from humble sub-appellations and those simply designated Bordeaux hit the mark.
Recommended: Stick with 2005s and it’s hard to go wrong; some bargains include Chateau Malbat, Chateau Sainte Colombe, La Rose Tour Blanche, Mouton-Cadet, and Premiat
4 Dry Rosé
Pink is red-hot; sales of rosé wines priced $8 and up grew nearly 50 percent over the course of 2007, and are set to soar this summer. Why? They are seasonal marvels—light, refreshing, simple...perfect for porch or picnic, boat or poolside. Dry rosés—as opposed to the sweet White Zins that dominated pink drinks in the 1990s—are thoroughly sophisticated as well; close your eyes and you can practically hear the Mediterranean Sea…or is that the Long Island Sound?
Recommended: Chivite “Gran Fuedo” (Spain), Mulderbosch (South Africa), Wolffer (Long Island), most anything fresh from Provençe
5 Oregon Pinot Noir
Sideways is old news, but Pinot Noir is still going strong. It’s very flexible with food, striking a balance of ripe fruit and acid, with moderate tannin adding texture. Burgundy, the motherland of Pinot, tends to yield wines on the earthier side. Oregon’s Willamette Valley—peppered with small, hands-on wineries—is the new hot spot, and ready for prime-time exposure with the bountiful 2006 vintage. Keep a bottle around to spoil yourself or impress guests.
Recommended: Alas, good Oregon Pinot is never cheap; prices usually start in the $20s; look for the basic bottlings of Rex Hill, Chehalem, Cristom, Erath, or Owen Roe
6 Beefy Malbec
Malbec, a minor blending grape in Bordeaux, thrives in Argentina, where it yields a dark, inky, and fairly chewy red; a signature wine, à la Shiraz in Australia. Argentina’s export market is poised to take off; lots of new brands are appearing, and bang-for-buck is generally good, even though prices have crept over $10. Great house wine, with more flavor than Merlot and not a lot of the “puckery” tannins you find in some “big” wines.
Recommended: Alamos, Altos Las Hormigas, High Altitude, Terra Rosa, Gougenheim, Pascual Toso
7 Box O’ Red
Done laughing yet? Box—or, more precisely, bag-in-box—wine is a savvy host’s wild card. Not only are these three-liter babies more economical than bottles, they are also more “green” (the packaging has a significantly lower carbon footprint) and allow you to serve individual glasses over an extended period of time without air spoiling the rest of the juice. Most important, in this golden age of wine, box-bound vino can hold its own in the quality department.
Recommended: Killer Juice Cabernet, Black Box Merlot, Hardys “Stamp” Shiraz
8 Côtes-du-Rhône, France
The classic table wine of the Rhône Valley, C-d-R combines Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvedre in a modestly built frame that balances red fruits and spice with just enough “bite.” Think of this as the “vin” in coq au vin. It’s ideal with pizza, cheeses, and charcuterie—burgers, too. Yes, these humble bottlings may cost a couple bucks more than they did a few months ago, but they still deliver good taste and good value.
Recommended: Louis Bernard, Chapoutier “Belleruche,” Jaboulet “Parallel 45”
9 Bubbly Prosecco
So light it’s practically ethereal, this Italian bubbly, hailing from the Veneto region, has mild citrusy, apple-y fruit and just a hint of sweetness that makes it hard to resist. No, it’s not Champagne, but good Proseccos can be had for a third of the price of real Champers. The modest, crowd-pleasing character comes in handy for a simple lunch, and the bubbles will be every bit as celebratory if you are toasting some good news.
Sauvignon Blanc grown in the Marlborough region of New Zealand expresses bold citrusy fruit (think grapefruit) and enough zippy acidity to practically induce drooling. This is the white-wine star of the New World—and not just because the Kiwis pioneered the cause of screw-tops; by comparison, French versions (e.g., Sancerre) tend to be less aggressive and more minerally. Pour it on with goat cheese, lemon-based dishes, or grilled fish.
Recommended: Kim Crawford, Villa Maria, Giesen, The Crossings; style is amazingly consistent throughout the Marlborough region
W. R. Tish, based in Katonah, writes on wine and food for various publications and develops private and corporate wine events via his website, wineforall.com.