(photo: grapes ready to be run through the press for homemade wine)
Well, what wine should you buy? This is a big question, maybe even equivalent to other big questions such as, “Does God Exist?” , “Do we have free will?”, and the classic, “What is Truth?” Unlike big philosophical questions, however, figuring out which wine to buy for dinner, long term storage, or just for a nice night by the fireplace isn’t too difficult.
Because my preferences for wine are informed by my pallate, food types, and background, the following list of perferred wine styles (all Reds, by the way) is just a suggestion. Drink what you like, but don’t be afraid to experiment and ask your local wine guy/gal for recommendations. The best tip I ever got was to walk into a wine shop and ask the salesperson to “build a case of wine” (say, in the $15-$20 range) with varried styles and world regions in mind.
Here’s a quick overview of seven wines everyone should have on their list:
1. Wines of Calabria (what did you expect this is an Italian food blog!)
While not the most well known wine region, Calabria is the home of my parents so the wines of the region are the very first wines I tasted and also happen to map well to the types of food I enjoy (afterall Bordeaux and Cabernet do not pair well with pasta and sauted escarole). Calabria has two key environmental qualities making it ideal for growing grapes: constant sunshine and mountain air. Ciro is the most well known wine producing region of Calabria. Ciro produces wines from Cabernet Sauvignon and Gagliopppo. Ciro also produces two full bodied red wines: DOC Rosso Classico and DOC Rosso Riserva. Other well know reds include Gragnano, Pollino, Lacrima di Castrovillari Pollino, and Savuto. Most Calabrians also produce a house wine or homemade wine which is vibrant and full of flavor
(see the intro to Cucina di Calabria for a nice primer on Calabrian wines).
Maybe the king of wines; produced in France and heralded by big time wine guys like Robert Parker. Bordeaux has big flavor and lots of tannins and is usually blended with Merlot and Cabernet Franc. This is the type of wine that can store well. I prefer old world wines and when Bordeaux is made well it’s hard to beat and surprisingly versatile. We’re just starting to see more affordable Bordeaux hit the market, so don’t be intimidated.
As an Italian, I can tell you the French having nothing on a big, bad bottle of Barolo! This wine is made from the Nebbiolo grape and can store for decades. The wine is made near Torino (in Piemonte) and is rich and full bodied. This wine will explode in your mouth and is my overall favorite, however the price of entry is expensive (with decent bottles starting in the $60 range) so I tend not to drink too much Barolo.
4. Southern Rhone Blend
Made primarily from Grenache, which is a sweet red grape. On its own Grenache doesn’t have much character (in my opinion) but when blended with Syrha or made into a Rhone blend it is outstanding! This is a great everyday wine.
This grape is native to northern Spain and usually blended with Grenache (sometime Cab) to produce a velvet red wine with very rich flavors that works well with many food types.
6. Pinot Noir
OK, you’ve seen Sideways so you know this wine (it doesn’t just grow in CA however, the Burgundy region of France is famous for this type of wine, usually blended to produce CÃ´te d’Or. The movie got it right, though, so drink up and enjoy. Pinot noir contains loads of fruity flavors such as cherry, as well as light spice. Good Pinot Noir has become expensive especially the bottles coming out of California and Oregon; do your research and but in bulk to find bargains.
7. Cabernet Sauvignon (or Cab)
Many of the world’s best wines are made from this grape (including Bordeaux). Loads of flavor here with high tannins, so the wine can be stored for decades, maybe even centuries (if the correct vintage is had). Cabs work well with hearty meals (including roasted meats, heavy sauces, etc.). Look for bottles from South America for the best deals.