This is your wine rack speaking. Remember that optimistic moment in which you’d purchased me? You’d recently re-watched “Sideways” and conjured fantasies of curating a modest, eclectic wine collection, the type that might cause a future in-law to remark, “Oh, you have (blank)? I have completely underestimated you…” (You’d worry later about what wine would aptly fill that blank. And how to afford it. And how to snag a partner that would provide you with in-laws.)
Sorry to say it, but my sole tenant since then—the bottle of cheap Merlot that your friend’s parents pity-gifted you three Christmases ago—is not likely to make an appearance even in your tawdriest kitchen fantasies. You are not, as cautioned, drinking any friggin’ Merlot.
The time has come to clear away the cobwebs (and the cheap Merlot) and stock me up with accessible wines so that you will always have just the thing for any meal or occasion. Follow this simple matrix for eight stylistically diverse wines to keep on hand, then replace for each category as needed.
Yes, the real thing. Because of its nuanced method of production, Champagne has texture and energy that other, non-Champagne-method sparklers cannot hope to achieve. It pairs with everything and is appropriate for an aperitif, nightcap, or anything in between.
Look for: Brut or Extra Brut selections for maximum versatility
Pair with: literally anything, but especially fried or salty foods, special occasions and occasions such as “Tuesday”
2. Non-Champagne Sparkling
Because you don’t want to waste the really good stuff on people who won’t appreciate it, and you should have something else to offer. You should also never displace half a glass of real Champagne to make way for fruit juice.
Look for: Prosecco or domestic sparkling wine made in a traditional or Champagne method
Pair with: orange juice. You know the drill.
3. White No. 1
An unoaked, light-bodied white. It’s what you mean when you call for a “dry” wine. Something crisp and vivacious that goes equally well with sole meunière as with being upended into a S’well bottle alongside a bag of salt and vinegar potato chips. You can also swap in a rosé here, as it functions much the same way, unless you’re the kind of person who believes rosé deserves its own category, perhaps even its own wine rack.
Look for: a zippy Sauvignon Blanc, a mineral-driven Chenin Blanc, a peppery Grüner Veltliner, or an herbaceous rosé. Step away from the Pinot Grigio. We both deserve better.
Pair with: salads, sandwiches, seafood, and sea sides
4. White No. 2
A full-bodied, textured white. For when conditions are ripe and you lapse into your once-yearly moxie to steam lobsters or roast a chicken.
Look for: Chardonnay. Or if you’ve worked up the nerve to pronounce it, Viognier. Feeling extra? Go for a Marsanne/Roussane blend from France’s Rhone region.
Pair with: butter. Richer preparations of lighter meats and seafood. More butter.
5. Dealer’s Choice White or Rosé
You may exercise your power of agency here—go ahead, impress me! Are you well-rehearsed in the precise degree of gentle haughtiness with which to proclaim a wine “off dry?” Bonus points if your gut reaction was anything other than “more rosé!” Massive bonus points if you had even a fleeting thought of dessert wine or sherry.
Look for: off-dry Riesling or Vouvray, Sauternes or Tokaji, Fino Sherry
Pair with: (respectively) spicy foods, foie gras or ice cream, open-minded individuals
6. Red No. 1
A light-bodied, juicy red. The red wine equivalent of a Nancy Meyers film: stylish, breezy, and best enjoyed while not thinking too much.
Look for: Pinot Noir, Gamay Noir
Pair with: lighter meats like pork and chicken, cool evenings with sensitive creative types
7. Red No. 2
A medium-bodied, earthy or spicy red. These spirited, oft-forgotten reds are the chameleons in the red wine department, who can swing any direction you need them to—juicy enough to use for sangria, supple enough to stand in for a bigger red in a pinch. These also make for excellent cooking wines, both in terms of “the recipe calls for wine” as well as “the cook demands a glass.”
Look for: Cabernet Franc, Grenache, Sangiovese
Pair with: tomato sauce-based dishes, braises, that one jazz album you like to cook to
8. Red #3
Big red. I mean, big. Huge.
Look for: Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah/Shiraz
Pair with: something bold, something stewed, something with marrow, or something blue (i.e. very rare steak)
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