Saturday, November 27, 2010

Quick Hits – 10 Wines around $10 for the Season

Ah, the time of the year when big dinners, social events, and travel plans thicken on the calendar like grandma’s gravy. If you’re anything like we are, you’re always grabbing a bottle of wine or two to carry along. A few folks have asked me for wine suggestions, so I thought I’d shoot along a range for you to choose from, depending on your taste and the evening’s event.

One caveat with these recommendations, however – these are all meant to be general wines that go well with a range of dishes. They’re not supposed to be “perfect” wines, because with the wildly varied spreads that you might get at many parties, there’s no such thing. You’ll just want to look for something that falls squarely into the “good enough” category.


Friexenet Extra Dry (NV) Cava – The Swiss Army knife of sparkling wine. One of my fallbacks for years. The trademark black bottle is available just about anywhere. Light, crisp, and flavorful. I prefer the Extra Dry to the Brut. (Remember, brut is actually drier than extra dry…) The dab of residual sugar makes it a more flexible food wine. Also a fabulous mixer if you’re doing cocktails like kir, bellinis, and the like – or if you need a mimosa to start the next day.

Riondo (NV) Prosecco – Prosecco, an Italian sparkling wine, makes an absolutely perfect aperitif. Light, floral, and pleasantly tasty with flavors of pear and peaches, it’s a great way to start out any event. Also an excellent brunch wine, if you’re looking for a solid choice along those lines.

Lighter Whites

Santa Rita “120” 2009 Sauvignon Blanc – From Chile, this very light styled sauvignon has a very high acid content, so it will handle most lighter foods with ease. It’s also a pleasant, refreshing sipping wine if you’re in the need for something along those lines. Packed full of grapefruit and flowers, it’s a nice “open as needed.”

Terra di Brigante 2008 Falanghina – Sannio, the home of this tasty little number, is the province adjoining Campania, where Naples is located. A very pretty nose of green apples and peaches. Nice amount of body with some gentle acidity and a backbone of light oak. The finish is crisp and slightly oaky. Another refreshing option on its own. It holds its own with grilled pork and fish dishes, especially if lemon sauces get into the act.

Lighter Reds

Louis Jadot 2009 Beaujolais-Villages – Another wine you can absolutely rely on when you have no clue what to expect on the other side of the door. For a red wine, Beaujolais is about as flexible a wine as you’re going to find. Beaujolais can sometimes be a little watery, but the Jadot is a bit firmer than most of its counterparts. Strawberries and cherries greet you with a fair amount of acidity backing them up. Serve it slightly chilled.

Hahn 2009 Pinot Noir – I almost hesitate to put this under the “lighter red” section, since for a pinot noir, it’s pretty substantial. Most pinot noirs at this price are either watery messes or lacking in any kind of complexity. They’ve done a nice job here. Big, smoky cherry flavors in a wine that could almost, almost pass for a light-bodied zinfandel. Very approachable either right out of the bottle or next to a plate of almost anything,

Bigger White/Rosé

Pacific Rim 2007 Columbia Valley Dry Riesling – Any time I host a meal where I know there’ll be folks who aren’t huge wine drinkers, I try to make sure that I have a couple of bottles of dry Riesling stashed away. Dry Riesling (or “trocken” if you’re in the German aisle) usually still has a little bit of sweetness to make it a crowd pleaser with many, but with enough complexity to be interesting to corkheads. The Pacific Rim is a solid bet. Plenty of orange and apple with some mineral on the finish. If you’ve got something spicy (whether Asian, Hispanic, Indian…doesn’t matter) to serve up, this wine hangs in against the heat.

La Vieille Ferme 2009 Cotes Du Ventoux Rosé – Heavier whites are tough. Chardonnay, the obvious choice, has flavors that are often too strong to be good “general” wines. I thought I’d avoid that quandary by going pink, since there are few better food pairing wines than dry rosé. Rosé works as a food wine because of the same principle as light whites – in general, wines with higher acid contents cut through food more easily. The red wine grapes that create rose give it a little more oomph than a white if you’re looking for something a little more substantial. This wine has plenty of tart cranberry and citrus flavor with a pleasant mineral backbone. Don’t fear the pink!

Bigger Reds

Charles Smith "The Velvet Devil" 2008 Merlot – Charles Smith’s wines don’t leave much to the imagination. This is a big hearty wine from a big-spirited man. Merlot is usually a good bet for reds with muscle, as it pairs equally well with heavier meats and chocolate. The Devil has a big nose of blueberries and violets. The body yields more forward blueberry flavors along with a hint of bacon. (And that's not a bad thing in the slightest.) It’s a little tart at the end with a long, nicely balanced-but-tannic finish.

Marquis Phillips 2007 Roogle Red – A tasty blend from Down Under. It’s half Shiraz. The other half is Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Petit Verdot. Another worthwhile choice for either red table wine next to steak and mushrooms, as a chocolate accompaniment, or just on its own. The wine’s nose is big and plummy with a full body of dark fruits. The finish dries out the fruit with some substantial tannin. Make sure you either give this wine time to breathe or decant it. If you don’t, your first sip will be a mouthful of tannins – but give it some room and it wakes up really well.

Have a great holiday season and be careful out there!

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