Every wine-loving household should have three wines — one pink, one white and one red — that are always on hand for casual, everyday drinking or bought by the case for entertaining. Often called "house wines" these are inexpensive wines that you enjoy drinking on their own that are also versatile enough to pair with the foods you eat most often.
Long Island wines have a reputation of being over-priced for the quality (a definite falsehood), but there are several locally made wines that are great choices for house wines. The following are available for less than $13 per bottle when bought by the case (which typically means at least a 10% discount). Each is perfect for everyday consumption but it's also great to stock up on for your holiday party.
Despite the bad reputation super-sweet versions — like many California wine zinfandels — have earned in recent, people still love rose. It is great as an aperitif and with a wide range of casual fare. Long Island winemakers are crafting several less-sweet versions these days and almost all of them are inexpensive enough to drink every day.
Bedell Cellars 2004 Domaines CC Rosé ($12). A delightfully fruity and fresh combination of cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon and merlot grapes, this recently released rose is outstanding with fresh soft goat cheese and other appetizers or cocktail food.
Macari Vineyards 2003 Rosé ($11.99). Refreshing and well balanced, this food-friendly rose offers cherry, pomegranate and watermelon flavors accented by just the right amount of body and acidity. It's crisp but not bracing and a bit more complex than your average rose. This is a rose for people who say they don't like "the pink stuff."
Osprey's Dominion Vineyards Vin Gris ($12). This award-winning rose is made with cabernet sauvignon grapes. With fresh strawberries and cherries on the nose with an almost buttery accent, this slightly fuller bodied rose is reminiscent of strawberry ice cream in a waffle cone — and is bound to be popular at your holiday open house.
When looking for your house white, steer clear of over-oaked, heavy wines. They just aren't as versatile as fresh, crisp bottlings. Chardonnay dominates this list because it's the most-planted white grape, meaning there's a lot of it to make into wine, which keeps prices down. And, many local producers make low-oak or no-oak versions.
Bedell Main Road White ($13.50). A mouth-watering, non-vintage blend of chardonnay, riesling and gewürztraminer, this medium-bodied white is filled with vivid citrus and apple flavors that are accented by understated floral notes and spice.
Castello di Borghese Chardonette ($8.75). Perhaps the best value of any wine on this list, this steel-fermented chardonnay expresses that grape's true character. Light, lemony and snappy, you might not recognize it as chardonnay, but it's easily recognizable as a tremendous value.
Lenz 2003 Chardonnay "White Label" ($11.99). In this wine, winemaker Eric Fry has created one of the best chardonnay values on the East End. Fermented in stainless steel and then aged briefly in oak, its nose is light with apple and pear aromas accented by vanilla cream and toast. This sleek wine offers a great balance between fruit flavors, oak influence and crisp acidity.
Peconic Bay Winery 2003 Steel Fermented Chardonnay ($12.99). Year in and year out, this un-oaked Chardonnay offers great acidity abundant citrus freshness. It's simple, but in a good way, and delicious with appetizers or seafood.
Channing Daughters Winery 2004 Scuttlehole Chardonnay ($14). Fresh, light and crisp this wine offers delightful citrusy flavors with hints of green apple, pear and minerals on the finish. This, like the other wines on this list, is the polar opposite of the buttered oak chardonnay you find most often in California.
Because of a more involved winemaking process, that almost always involves expensive oak barrels, it's a bit harder to keep red wine prices down. But, there are still some great wines available in our "house wine" price range. Remember, these wines are meant for immediate consumption — not years in your cellar.
Palmer Vineyards N41 W72 Merlot Cuvee 2003 ($12). Named for the vineyard’s Long Island latitude and longitude, it pays homage to “the coordinates for great Merlot.” It's straightforward and smooth with fresh blackberries and cherries — and just a little earthiness.
Lieb Family Cellars 2003 September's Mission Merlot ($9.11). Even if it weren't for a good cause (91 cents from every sale goes to charity) this easy-drinking Merlot has berry-forward flavors with more tannins and a bit more oak character than the 2002 vintage.
Castello di Borghese CdB Red Table Wine ($14 for a 1.5ml bottle). An interesting blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Pinot Noir, this is a gulpable red that is a tremendous value.
Wölffer 2001 La Ferme Martin Merlot ($13.50). Wolffer Estate may make Long Island's most expensive Merlot — the $125 Premier Cru Merlot — but this wine proves that winemaker Roman Roth makes quality wine at every price. Medium bodied and dominated by raspberry and strawberry flavors, it also features an impressive finish.
Raphael Estate 2002 Merlot ($12). Quite possibly the best bargain Merlot around, it is super soft, with generous blackberry and black cherry flavors with just a little spice and toasty vanilla. Raphael focuses on Merlot, so it's no surprise that they've produced this sophisticated second-label bottling.
(This story appeared in the Holiday 2005 issue of the Long Island Wine Gazette)