By Robert Paul –
What most wine drinkers want is the best value available for the taste they want to savor. All oenophiles have favorite affordable “house wines,” ones that are always in the inventory for a casual lunch, a more formal dinner, or just for happy-hour sipping. My favorites have no claim to fame in terms of experts’ ranking, but they are house wine labels that I’ve assembled over many years of tasting and pricing and I’m confident about serving these wines to friends and family. To my palate, they consistently taste delicious.
My wine ceiling for house wines is $16, which makes me a serious budget buyer. Also, my house wines must be widely available, which puts me at odds with wine articles in newspapers such as the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal. The wines that newspaper or magazine writers often recommend have to be hunted down like wild game and they generally reach prices of $50 a bottle. That’s too much to spend on a wine to drink every day.
The other caveat in these offerings is that, since I consume reds twice as often as whites, the former will dominate these suggestions.
My all-purpose red is a Rhone and I’m convinced the most dependable producer is Guigal. While there are several other dependable competitively priced producers, E. Guigal Cotes du Rhone Red gets my vote for flavor profile and consistency.
At home when we cook up a batch of marinara sauce for pasta, I go to the wine room for a Feudo Arancio Nero d’Avola or a Tuscan wine that’s mostly sangiovese, or I reach for a Ravenswood Vintner’s Blend Zinfandel. It’s available everywhere, and it’s a perfect complement for tomato based sauces. For an affordable quaffable Malbec, that will pare well with red meat or a hearty Irish stew, a Trapiche Malbec Oak Cask should satisfy. If you prefer a cab, Geyser Peak Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon offers excellent quality; while Liberty School may be more readily available.
Among whites, I admit that I’m not a big fan of chardonnays, but Hess Chardonnay Monterey works as well as any in this price range and Clos du Bois is a close second.
Sauvignon blancs are more likely to complement salads, seafood and chicken during the warmer months. Among my favorites are two New Zealand offerings: Kim Crawford and Villa Maria. The former is more consistently available in my area; although both are of consistently good quality.
I enjoy rieslings from Germany, Alsace, as well as from the Pacific Northwest. Part of the reason for their appeal is the increasing popularity of pan Asian cuisine (Thai, Vietnamese, Chinese, Japanese) as well as shellfish, sushi and a variety of pork dishes. Chateau Ste. Michelle Dry Riesling is an ubiquitous domestic offering and Villa Wolf Dry Riesling is a fairly priced German offering.
I’m sure that some of you have affordable favorites of pinot gris/pinot grigio or perhaps an albarino or a dry chenin blanc. If they satisfy your palate, congratulations. Everyone should build their own collection of house wines, an inventory that will invariably evolve over time providing personal enjoyment and enriching the pleasures of your table.