10 Must-Have Wines
Stock up now... a wine lover’s duty is to be prepared.
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).
1 Light German Riesling
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.
Recommended: Clean Slate,
2 Modern California Chardonnay
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;
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
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
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,
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.
Recommended: Bisol, Nino Franco, Mionetto, Zardetto