Bo Rivage Brut Rosé, France NV
I don’t know what happened in the past couple years, but someone turned off the tap on France’s seemingly unlimited supply of good, inexpensive, pale pink bubbly. There’s plenty of darker, more substantial stuff out there, but that doesn’t fulfill what is, to me, cheap sparkling rosé’s essential function of effortless, bracing refreshment that is difficult to enjoy responsibly. With rosé’s explosive popularity, it’s not surprising that maybe the best-remaining why-not pink bubbles comes from rosé’s spiritual home: Provence. It’s a shame that dumb French wine law arcana prevents them labeling the wine with what it actually is, because the pedigree is no joke: 100% Grenache from Provence. It is redolent of roses, raspberries, limestone and acacia honey that are anything but shy, and carried to your eager lips on a light and lithe body with perfectly nice tiny bubbles. This wine could very well be the death of me, and hopefully you too! It would be too easy and lazy to suggest just pairing this with sushi and shellfish, but you should really just pair this with sushi and shellfish. It’ll pair with anything else, including the spiciest of foods, but you should really just pair this with sushi and shellfish.
Il Palagione Vernaccia di San Gimignano Hydra 2013
When is it gonna be Vernaccia di San Gimignano’s turn? Over the past decade we’ve seen so many former sleeper wines become huge, like Prosecco (cool!), dry rosé (great!), and Moscato (significantly less great and in fact not great all!), yet the biggest sleeper of them all is still completely unknown. Not just the first DOC wine in all of Italy, but still Tuscany’s only DOCG white wine. It’s cellar-worthy, capable of significant thrills, and versatile with food, so I’d advise us all to enjoy this while it’s still affordable. Il Palagione is a small farm tucked away in the Tuscan hills, with a modest 24-acre organically-farmed vineyard nestled among their walnut, olive, and cherry orchards, and their one wine is just as evocative of Italy as that florid description. Fresh orange and grapefruit peel blend seamlessly with the toasted almond and fruit blossom aromas on a classic Vernaccia nose that translates perfectly to the palate. The brisk acidity and faint nuttiness come as no surprise given the nose, but the fullness of body and depth of character lent by the flint, golden apple, and pear are novel and welcome. Tuscan wines (and just about anything else) always makes me want Tuscan cheeses, and it would be hard to envision a better match with this than a fresh hunk of Pecorino Toscano, some toasted walnuts, fresh olive oil and some crusty bread. That said, it’s capable of taking on the creamiest and garlicky of pasta and pizza sauces, so don’t be afraid to throw this at something bigger.
Domaine des Forges Gamay, Anjou 2015
As long as I can remember, Domaine des Forges has been among the very best values in wine. That they manage to do this in Anjou, a cooler region where value can’t come from volume, is remarkable and fortunate, and if we all keep this secret to ourselves we can continue to reach for their wines whenever we just a need a nice wine for nicer food without having to donate plasma for a little extra scratch. They’re known for their Chenin Blancs, which are indeed incredible wines, but there’s a pretty significant food holiday this month whose wine needs are a bit more pressing: Gamay is the ideal Thanksgiving wine thanks to its powerful aromatics and fruit but softer tannins and acids. Oh, and price, because it’s difficult to not open a second bottle. Little dark berries, violets, and a touch of smoky earth persist from nose to finish, bolstered by just enough body to keep it from floating away. That easy nature allows it to go with everything from the roast turkey to the sweet potatoes to the stuffing to whatever weird casserole the weird aunt brought over again. Every year! Say you don’t put this one on the Thanksgiving table. No sweat. Go ahead and chill it a bit, say15 minutes in the fridge, if you want. That’ll make it taste even better with country pâté and sharper cow’s milk cheeses. Or drink it at room temperature with grocery store rotisserie chicken or, well, nothing at all, if that’s this bottle’s destiny. Such is the diversity of Gamay. We’re just all put here on this earth to admire it.
Tenuta la Pergola Rosso, Monferrato DOC 2015
The best wine buying advice I ever got (short of my mother telling me I couldn’t buy any when I was 19; had I heeded her advice I could probably afford to buy my own island today) was to turn around the bottle and look for the importer. If the back label featured the name of one of a small handful of names, it was going to be good every time. One of those names was Kermit Lynch, who’s gone from being the most influential and revered European wine importer ever to making a few blends of his own. He mostly confines himself to the wines of southern France where he lives, but his biggest achievement is with the Piedmont producer Tenuta la Pergola. Where his other wines are enjoyably competent, this fairly sings with everything you’d expect out of a Piemontese red: Juicy dark red fruits, dried roses, mushrooms, tar, and dark rocks. A little pretty on the nose, a little gritty (in that incredible, inimitable Italian way) on the palate, it does tend to respond very well to Italian food from delivery (or, let’s be honest here, frozen) pizza to rabbit and white truffle tagliatelle, but is appropriate for a much wider range of dishes. Slow cooked game meats, roasted root vegetables with Gorgonzola, and smoked salmon would all benefit from a glass of this to wash them down. Do you need those things? Well, yes, in a cosmic sense, yes, you very much do. Life is brutally short; go get it. In mundane reality? No, this would make a mug of SpaghettiOs taste like a Massimo Bottura creation, so just pop it open when you need wine and are stumped for a pairing. This’ll take care of everything for you.
Echeverria Cabernet Sauvignon Gran Reserva, Maipo Valley 2014
Poor Chile. Argentina steals the South American thunder with Malbec, and Chile shows up late to the party with cabernet sauvignon that’s an arguably even better value and more distinctive than Argentinean malbec, and…nope. Still completely underappreciated. Sad for them? Yes. Sad for us? Gonna have to say no to that, because Chile holds some of the best values out there, and cabernet sauvignon is maybe the toughest grape in which to find value. The lush fruit and eucalyptus won’t be foreign to any Napa cab drinker, but the balance, purity, and clarity will be. When your vineyard’s at over 1,200 feet up like Echeverria’s is, higher acids will both rein in and illuminate the fruit unlike any other cab on earth. Instead of cab’s usual oppressive black and purple fruits, there’s fresh but intense wild cherry here that really pops due to the smoky, spicy backdrop. Instead of Napa’s often goopy juice that just colonizes your palate, there’s an openness of texture to this that’s much more complementary to food. So, sure, if you want to have this with a big ol’ steak or leg of lamb, that’ll be just fine. But, unlike other new world cabs, if you want to drink it with a roast chicken or pork tenderloin with a sautéed mushroom sauce, it’s got you covered.
Domaine de la Guicharde Côtes-du-Rhône Villages, Massif d’Uchaux Cuvée Genest 2011
I was lucky enough to stumble onto Domaine de la Guicharde’s greatness over a decade ago because their importer happened to live nearby. He repeatedly regaled me with tales of this biodynamic vineyard in one of the best hidden secret areas of France’s southern Rhône Valley and, like the jerk I am, I responded with a hearty “Yeah, sure pal.” So we opened a bottle together and in the space of maybe three seconds I went from confirmed skeptic to true believer, and ever since I’ve been telling everyone who’ll listen (not a lot, to be honest) that they need to get this when they’re in need of something with guts that costs less than a Bentley. The cool 2011 vintage was kind enough to leave grenache’s violet aromatics and brown spices intact, which only serves to complement Guicharde’s characteristic bright blueberry and hot black rock profile. Not that you asked, but that is far from common in a region often guilty of substituting power for nuance. So we have on our hands a serious wine, in an elegant vintage, with adequate bottle age. This calls for some slightly elevated food if you’re game.
If you’re not, it’s an exceptional companion to garlicky sausage, peppers, and onions on a roll. If you are up for breaking out just a single pot, even though this is not a Basque wine, try the simple Basque bean and cabbage soup recipe included here.