Yesterday I hinted at the topic I will to discuss today. What kind of wines should somebody, who does not want to invest a lot of money into a wine cellar, keep at home for regular consumption and for culinary emergencies? There is no unique answer to the question as it depends on individual tastes and on where each and every one of you is located. One thing to first look into is what is readily available where you live. There is no need to find a special wine for daily consumption and having no ready supply nearby. If you have to drive across town to get a few bottles of your favorite wine, then you might be better off to buy a few cases and cellar it and this is another story entirely.
I am talking here of having a ready supply of wine at hand to drink occasionally and to help if you have unannounced guests coming in at the last minute. Let’s put an upper limit to our fictitious kitchen cache at about a dozen bottles, what most small wine racks or built-in wine storage areas would hold. We will talk about cellaring another day, but today let’s focus on what those dozen bottles should be.
First, think about what you like to drink yourself and also about the taste of the people in your social group. Do you prefer red or white wines? Is your taste for the more robust styles, or for the light and fruity? This should point you to the types of wines you should keep at hand. Remember we are talking here of wines for daily consumption, so lets not concentrate for now on those special bottles that we keep for special occasions. We want to look at wines that are good to drink now and that you will need to drink in the coming year for them to be at their peak.
The first thing we need to look into is price. I cannot quote a specific price as each geographical market play by its own rules. There are some general rules of thumbs, in most markets, that we will look into that will help in making the right choices. In most markets there are the low end wines. We are talking here about the price range of the cheapest wines available locally. In some markets they are predominately screw top bottles or bulk packaging like wine-in-the-bag, or TetraPack. Strangely enough, in our neighborhood of Mexico City, the low end is almost entirely populated by cheap Spanish or Chilean wines in regular corked bottles. The new packagings are almost non-existent. For example, those wines are in the USD$2-4 range here. With the exception of a few wines in the high end of this price range, I tend to stay away completely from them. Let’s call that category the ‘Cheap And Awfuls’ (CAA) and try to forget about them for now.
The second category is what I call the ‘Cheap And Decents’ (CAD). The first category we looked at are normally not numerous, but the CAD are normally populated by a huge variety of wines. They are normally more geographically diverse, and also more diverse in the varietals types available. In our neighborhood their price tend to go from USD$5 to USD$8. This is the category where we will concentrate our search in.
The third category is what we will call the ‘Cheap And Premiums’ (CAP). There is normally a price gap between the CAD and the CAP wines, and normally they are less numerous in most stores. In our local market we are talking about wines in the USD$10-15 range. A lot of time they can be premium bottlings from the same producer as the CAD.
Of course there is a lot more wines available at higher price, but let’s not look at them for now. Instead let’s look at the CAD wines where you will normally find the most value for your money. Once you have figured out what price are the CAD wines in your neighborhood, look around if there are any that you like in the lot from past experience. You can ask for advices if your store has properly trained staff that will know their products instead of just point you to what management wants them to push at the time you ask. If not on both counts, then pick some bottles at random. You will never know what they taste if you do not try them.
Based on your personal taste, and since the prices of those wines are pretty low, select a few different bottles to try. Over the next days try the bottles you brought back home and see if there is one that stands out, and that you like a lot. If so note it down. The following week pick up a few new ones and one of your favorites from the previous tasting. After some weeks of doing this you will be able to find some wines that you like, and those will be the ones that you should use for your kitchen cache.
As you can see this type of wine tasting will not break your budget, and can be real fun to do. We are not talking here about taking extensive tasting notes using esoteric terms, but in finding which wines you drink you like the best and want to drink again. This is the core of what tasting wine should be. Pleasure is at the forefront of the experience.
After a few months of fun tasting what is available locally, select a variety of wines for you kitchen cache to suit your needs. If you are like me and have a very eclectic palate and normally like most types of wines, you should try to select various wines to match different situations. As a rule of thumb I would keep in the kitchen a few bottles each of robust red wine, lighter-fruiter style red wine, sharp and acidic white wine, and of fuller and fruiter style white wine. Add to that a couple bottles of dry sparkling wine, a bottle of sweet fortified wine like port for after dinner, and maybe a bottle of cooking sherry and you have a perfect and useful kitchen cache that can provide wine for daily drinking and to cover most needs. Don’t forget to replenish your cache whenever you open a bottle, and you will never have a wine emergency again.
Later we will discuss some suggestions for the various categories and styles of wines and start discussing wine selection in more details. In the meantime enjoy your weekly wine tasting and the pleasures of setting up your kitchen wine cache.