The benefits of preparation are pretty well-established by now, wouldn’t you say? It’s why you read all the directions before assembling your IKEA bookshelf, and why you do a mise en place (peel, chop, slice and measure all ingredients) before you begin to cook. Take a similarly thoughtful approach to buying wine in the new year and you’ll reap real benefits. Your wine life will feel more thought-out and organized – and you’ll drink better for less.
Here’s a fine place to start: put off the habit of buying individual bottles on an ad hoc basis and instead settle on a single red and a single white that are seasonally-appropriate and adapted to the dishes you prepare routinely from night to night. Make them your “house pours.” Buy them in quantity, and stick with them until the weather changes.
Get a feel for the system by putting in a modest inventory (six or eight bottles of each will do for a start) and go from there. You’ll be surprised at how satisfying it is when suppertime comes to put something genuinely pleasing on the table without going to any more trouble about it than deciding whether you’d rather have white or red. Push away the thought that every dish has a single, dead-on wine match and that it’s your job to discover it. The Ideal Pairing Theory may hold in certain restaurant environments but it’s surely inappropriate at home tables on all but a few occasions.
Why? First because (thank heaven) your home is not a restaurant. Your kitchen doesn’t offer an extensive menu of dishes that are always changing. Even assuming that your household includes one or more very capable and enthusiastic cooks, chances are the meals turned out on a regular weeknight basis comprise a very limited repertoire – the family faves — with substantive changes occurring only as the seasons transition.
Second, balanced wines of moderate scale with normative flavor profiles are more versatile things than you have been led to believe, quite capable of accompanying a range of dishes, even those involving ethnically distinctive ingredients and techniques.
Push away the thought that every dish has a single, dead-on wine match and that it’s your job to discover it.
Third, there’s a very long tradition in wine-producing communities of people drinking nothing but the local wine (whatever it may be) in their neighborhood bars and restos – and certainly in their homes — with very little variation year ’round. You could argue that in such places cuisines tend to be tradition-bound and therefore more or less static, but even hyperlocal cuisines are rich in the variety of ingredients and dishes they can call on. A small number of wines serve perfectly well in these conditions, have done so for generations, and will do the same for you if given the chance.
The trick – if there is one – is simply to choose wines that have what it takes to be viable house pours. What you’re looking for are shapely, balanced wines of moderate body, reasonable alcohol (no more than 13.5% ) and enough acidity to offer a pleasing counterpoint to what’s on the plate. Above all, find something you’re genuinely smitten with: Your house pours should be wines you love.
Shun wines with out-sized features that have initial charm but quickly become tiresome (no to the New Zealand sauvignon blanc; yes to the Macon Villages). Run from national brands; pursue independent producers and quality-oriented co-ops. Of course, they should be priced to allow you and your matey to enjoy several glasses a night without straining the budget, whatever it is. Once you’ve landed on a red and a white that fill the bill, stick with them until a new season shifts the direction of your cooking and only then look for a change.
And if at some point you feel the need for variation and a a fancier sip – and you will – well, that’s what weekends were made for.
Four for the house
2010 Chateau Les Arqueys Bordeaux. Signature Bordeaux scents of alluvial soil and plummy red fruits. Palate nicely firm, even a bit of chew. Fruit is crisp and juicy with some lightly vegetal and earthy notes. A lot of wine (and Bordeaux character) for a scant $11.
2012 Li Veli “Passamente” Salice Salentino. Lightly fragrant black cherry fruit with some lovely savory aspects. Medium-bodied with more sweet cherry fruit and a balsalmic note on the palate. Nicely firm; fresh acidity; easy-going texture. $13
2012 Saint-Peyre Picpoul de Pinet. In the years when I was writing the yearly wrap-up of the best little wines for the Boston Globe and soliciting nominations from local retailers, this wine from the Languedoc was almost always on someone’s list. Simple, fruity, and thoroughly appetizing it’s a splendid aperitif and couples easily with a variety of lighter dishes. Best of all, it’s hard to tire of – maybe the single most important qualifier for a house pour. $11
2012 Colterenzio Schreckbichl “Pfefferer” IGT Dolomiti Moscato Giallo. Fresh, lively moscato aromas with some floral-lychee notes. Palate shows lime-melon profile with base of crunchy fruit and nicely brisk acids. Clean-as-a-whistle finish. Always a winner at the tasting table. $17
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