The soberest of art lovers put their kids’ crayon sketches on the fridge. Maniacs for Mahler sometimes get down with Minaj. Fellini aficionados let it hang with “Real Housewives.”
And especially in August, but really any time, no matter your relationship to wine, usually you just want something to drink. It should be charming, not demanding. It should refresh, not depress. It should go well with simple food preparations, and without. It won’t cost too much.
And even at the price I’m talking about – $10 to $15 retail – it can be distinctive. It can be made with grapes appropriate to the land they’re grown on, cultivated and vinified by real people using their hands. It can be a wine that People Who Care About Wine care about, even if the wines they care deepest about are manifestly better, which is to say they express complexities and qualities commensurate with their higher pedigrees and prices.
Let’s call these “quiver” wines. Every sharpshooter needs a quiver, a handy bag full of arrows ready for whatever comes up. These are that. Grab a few by the handful, stick ’em somewhere in your house that’s moderately dark and cool, and they’ll be ready when you are. Nock your arrows, and fire when ready.
You already have a couple of “fresh white wines with bright acidity” (how many times have you read those words on a back label?) you go to, the modern-style Sauvignon Blanc or Colombard or mystery blend for $9. That’s fine, but here are three white wines not trying to fit that mold. They fearlessly express a little more textural oomph and aromatic intricacy, even if it means someone out there will be put off by one or other of its unique components.
Felines Jourdan Picpoul de Pinet 2010, $14 (Crush). Who’s afraid of Picpoul? The Picpoul that makes it here from its home in France’s Languedoc is often dismissed as unserious. This is beautifully fragrant, with ripe-fruit flavors balanced between juicy pear and intense orange citrus. And minerality? Alongside the touch of oak that rounds out the wine but imparts no “oaky” flavors? Yes.
Vigneron Catalan Blanc, $12 (Devenish). Such a cool, traditional southwestern-France blend of Grenache Blanc and Macabeu (or Viura, as it’s known just across the Pyrenees in Spain) with a touch of Viognier. A touch is all it takes to impart luscious tropical-fruit flavors, with a fascinating, gutsy nuttiness as distant echo, courtesy of the Grenache.
Cantele Chardonnay 2010, $10 (Pine State). I can’t quite figure out how I feel about this unoaked Chardonnay from Puglia, Italy, but I want you to try it. I’m not the only one who thought after tasting it, but before being told what it was, that it was Chenin Blanc, perhaps from somewhere with a little less limestone than Vouvray. That honeyed nose, those herbal flavors, that weight in the mouth. This is a wine of substance and courage, an Earth mother.
The red-wine counterpart to “fresh white wines with bright acidity” is “full-bodied red with fresh red fruits, suitable for pastas (regardless of sauce!) and roasts.” Here are two reds substantially more tethered to reality.
Cino Langhe Rosso 2009, $15 (Easterly). I’m seeing more and more excellent Piemonte reds at doable prices. This blends a third each of the regionally classic Barbera, Nebbiolo and Dolcetto grapes, to arrive as a friendly, approachable Langhe wine. That’s important, since Nebbiolo is so inherently tannic. Dolcetto and Barbera are so naturally high in acidity, that more often than not less expensive Langhes are not well integrated and come across as thin and sour. (Or, they need seven more years in the bottle.) The key to the Cino is good fruit. Ready fruit, physiologically ripe and emotionally honest. The tannins are soft, the balance of Piemonte dustiness and florals is captivating.
Pylon 2010, $11 (Devenish). Could restore the good reputation of “table wine.” This is currently my favorite casual/everyday red wine, and will appeal to a broad spectrum of drinkers, from uncaring potluck companions to overeducated geeks. It’s made from biodynamically farmed and hand-harvested old-vine Carignan, Grenache and Syrah from the southern Rhone’s Ventoux subregion. Big raspberry fruit, jumpy black-pepper notes, tied together with an herbes-de-Provence bow. Should be a glass pour at eight out of 10 casual restaurants.