Bottles That Won't Break the Bank
We love hearing from you. And judging from the e-mails we've received since this column began two months ago, many of you have price on your mind.
"Would you consider a series on wines under $15 a bottle?" writes Marc Stern of McLean, echoing similar requests we've received. "Finding good everyday affordable table wine is my objective -- with an occasional splurge on a higher-priced bottle, just to keep the search for the Holy Grail alive. . . ."
Ask and you shall receive.
These days our home is filled with dozens of bottles awaiting their turn to be sampled in one of our roundups of wines grouped by style, grape, country or food pairing.
But before we started concentrating on tasting different wines every night, we'd often open an Osborne Solaz ($8) -- a surprisingly well-balanced Spanish red with soft tannins, made from tempranillo and cabernet sauvignon -- with chicken, salmon or steak. Our house white is Loosen Bros. "Dr. L" Riesling ($12), which we prefer over Rieslings at twice the price, and we've more recently come to enjoy Nora Albarino ($15), a Spanish "Dr. L" stunt double that complements spicy foods almost as well.
Even with such reliable favorites of our own, though, few things are more exciting than being turned on to beloved bargains of other wine lovers. A few weeks ago, Louis Alexander, general manager of Dish, introduced us to some terrific, gently priced wines by the glass at the River Inn's restaurant in the West End. Thus having earned our trust, he was one of the first people we asked in e-mail interviews about what they like to drink at home for less than $15.
Alexander, a passionate home cook, counts pork spareribs as one of his specialties. "One of my recipes for dry-rub pork spareribs is perfect paired with 2004 Edna Valley Vineyard Syrah[$15]," he says. "This wine's smoky black cherry and blackberry flavors with caramel and vanilla notes go really well with grilled pork."
Todd Thrasher, general manager and sommelier of Restaurant Eve in Alexandria, also likes to cook at home. "One of my favorite things to make is pizza, for which I usually keep a few bottles of Hill of Content Shiraz[$14] on hand," Thrasher says. "I also love to drink Ken Forrester Petite Chenin chenin blanc from South Africa [$13] with grilled prawns while sitting out back on my patio. And just for sipping on a hot summer afternoon, I turn to Mulderbosch Cabernet Sauvignon Rosé[$13], which tastes like Bing cherries and strawberries in a glass."
The Inn at Little Washington's sommelier, Sabato Sagaria, also claims to make a mean sausage pizza, which he says he'll pair with one of two favorite pizza wines. "From Spain, I'll open a Casa de la Ermita Castillo de Jumillia Crianza[$13]," Sagaria says. "From Italy, I like the Di Majo Norante Sangiovese[$10]. Both are medium- to full-bodied wines that have a lot of character without aggressive tannins, which makes them approachable on their own or with cheese."
Cafe Atlantico's sommelier, Jill Zimorski, enjoys Crios de Susana Balbo Torrontes ($10) from Argentina. "It's floral on the nose, yet dry -- like viognier in some ways, but certainly a lesser-known and therefore less-costly varietal," she says. "I like it with seafood that has some natural sweetness: crab, lobster or scallops. It's delicious with a seafood salad or on its own as a patio quaffer."
To Hank's Oyster Bar chef-owner Jamie Leeds, summer means casual patio dining with her family and friends -- and Muscadet. " Foliette Clos de la Fontaine Muscadet Sevre et Maine[$14] is my favorite warm-weather wine of choice because it is crisp, clean and refreshing," she writes. "I love it with West Coast oysters."
Andy Myers, sommelier at CityZen at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, introduced us to the lovely 2005 Cantina del Taburno Falanghina from Italy ($15). "I love it with grilled squid or shrimp or a nice, simple roasted fish," he tells us.
Dan Mesches, president of Star Restaurant Group (which owns Indigo Landing and Zola), and his wife, Kate, are fans of New World sauvignon blanc. "We both find that Thai food really enhances the fruit-forward qualities of these wines. Spicy squid salad is a home run with the Jibe[$13] or Brancott Sauvignon Blanc[$8]," he says. "Otherwise, Burgans Albariño[$11] is nice if you want to cut back on the fruit but still get some of those flavors. We'll also make a warm potato and kielbasa salad with a garlic-mustard dressing, which goes well with Elsa Malbec[$10]."
In the end, cost doesn't matter as much as the pleasure a wine brings you. "There's nothing better than taking your shoes off after a long day at work and sitting down to a good rosé," writes Nadine Brown, sommelier at Charlie Palmer Steak. " SoloRosa Rosé from California [$15] is good with whatever you are eating: fish, salads, duck, Thai, Indian, cheese -- anything!"
To us, that's priceless.
Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page are the award-winning authors of "What to Drink With What You Eat," the first book ever to be named both the IACP cookbook of the year and the Georges Duboeuf wine book of the year. They can be reached through their Web site,http:/