Renaissance of House Wines: Value, Versatility and Quality

What is a house wine? In my book a house wine is a wine that you have on-hand at home and that can be called on in a myriad of situations, whether to quietly sip at home with family, or to offer guests. It is a wine that you can trot out on any number of occasions. A wine that may not rock the world, but you know that it will not disappoint.

Plus, as more people are taking to entertaining and dining at home it makes sense to consider stocking up on a few cases of wine rather than buying individual bottles on a day by day or week by week basis.

That way you can benefit from the great discounts (15-20% often) offered when you buy a 12 bottle case, and you also save on multiple trips to the wine store.

I often liken house wines to house guests in terms of how they should behave. They should be interesting. They should stimulate and contribute to the conversation, but never loud or over-bearing. They should be comfortable and confident in all situations.

So, how do you find this in a wine?

Look for a wine that will have broad appeal. This does not mean that it has to be bland. Rather it should be subtle. I tend to avoid overly oaked whites and big, tannic, powerful reds. These might be perfect for certain dishes and occasions but may lack the versatility you are looking for.

While many of the big well-known brands can work as house wines, I prefer to seek out the little known producer from a lesser well known area. That way, it can be more of your signature and provide a topic of conversation, and you tend to get better value.

Importantly, house wine does not mean cheap wine, but rather value for money. Decide on the budget that works for your household. If you are not in the habit of buying wine by the case, I would asking advice from your local wine store. Maybe buy a few different bottles first and find that one that best works for you. In our house we have a house white and a house red. We usually change every 3-5 months (or with the seasons), but you may find a wine that works for you all year round.

Here are some suggestions that have worked well for us, and all under $15/bottle (before the case discount):

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House Reds

2006 Clos Siguier, AOC Cahors (France) $12.99 - Made from Malbec grapes. Inviting nose of spice and cloves. Medium bodied with good concentration of wild plummy flavors. Great value and very food friendly

2006 Solane Santi Valpollicella Classico Superiore Ripasso (Italy) $13.99 - Baked red cherries, coffee, smoke, spice and tiny hints of vanilla. Very well balanced and integrated wine. Smooth, generous, yet elegant.

2005 Quinta dos Aciprestes Tinto, Douro DOC (Portugal) $11.99 - Portuguese wines are making great headway all over these days, and are great value. Made from the traditional Port grape varieties, this wine has a vibrant, ripe red fruit character, yet shows restraint. Definitely a wine for the table.

2005 Montecillo Crianza, Viña Cumbrero, Rioja (Spain) $8.99 - Amazing value wine. Packed with ripe fruit, strawberry, cherry notes mingling with toasty vanilla. Medium bodied and very smooth.

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House Whites

2006 Chateau du Champs des Treilles, Sainte Foy, Bordeaux Blanc (France) $13.99 - Biodynamic producer, extremely passionate about his vines and wines. The wine has an ethereal elegance, yet has great depth and length on the palate. Beautifully balanced with aromas and flavors of roses, stone fruit, pepper and a tangy piquant note.

2007 Albariño, Burgans, Rías Baixas (Spain) $12 - Albariño seems to be taking the U.S by storm. This one is great value. Refreshing with lots of ripe bright fruit, peach, nectarine, citrus and some floral notes.

2007 Funtanin, DOC Roero Arneis (Italy) $12 - From Roero in the northern Piedmont region, and made from the almost forgotten Arneis grape variety. Lovely pear, tangerine and melon fruit with notes of almonds and white flowers. Good viscosity, medium bodied. Works well on it own or with food.

2007 Lugano "San Benedetto, Zenato (Italy) $12 - Extremely pleasing and versatile wine. Delicate stone fruit with honeyed, exotic and mineral notes.

For those who don't want to buy a full 12 bottle case of a particular wine, many stores still give the discount on a mixed case. Always ask.

And when you bring the case home, try to store it in a cool, dry spot - around 50-55 degrees F and away from direct sunlight. The exact temperature is not as important as maintaining a steady even temperature. Wine suffers most when temperatures go up and down all the time.

Enjoy scouting out the perfect house wine. It is great fun, even before you get to drink it.

Until next week...

Related: Wine: What Are You Drinking?

(Image: Flickr member bignoseduglyguy licensed for use under Creative Commons)

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Mary Gorman-McAdams, MW (Master of Wine), is a New York based wine educator, freelance writer and consultant. In 2012 she was honored as a Dame Chevalier de L'Ordre des Coteaux de Champagne.