Plonk of the Month

Bottles worthy of going the distance

(Stephen Meuse for The Boston Globe)
By Stephen Meuse
Globe Correspondent / September 29, 2010

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Hunting for value in $12 and under wines is a year-round occupation for us, but at least twice annually our investigations take on a somewhat different cast. Spring and fall we’re on the prowl for wines with an aptitude for extended tours of duty: the kind we like enough to buy a lot of and stick with for months at a time. Once in place they’re expected to serve us — and, for anything short of a fancy dinner, our guests, too — through an entire season. We refer to wines of this sort, as restaurants often do, as house pours.

Because these wines have to go with whatever comes to the table, candidates for the position need to be versatile and congenitally well-adjusted. In our view, this eliminates wines with any but the most subtle oaky elements, as well as assertively aromatic or flamboyantly fruity types, characteristics that can quickly become fatiguing.

In this situation “too’’ may well be the operative term, since almost anything unusual enough to be remarked upon in a wine is likely to become irritating before very long. If we were to give one piece of advice to winemakers on the subject of making wines we can set up housekeeping with, it might be this: “Don’t be annoying.’’

But inoffensiveness is hardly our sole criterion. There’s also acidity (bright is good; dull bad), character (a know-it-when-you-see-it kind of thing), and a clutch of qualities best captured by the single word: appetizing. It’s an appetizing wine that piques our interest in the glass and what’s on the plate, then holds our attention over the course of a meal, keeping everything moving briskly along.

Pour you another?

Haut Marin “Cuvee Marine’’ Cotes de Gascogne 2009 Bright, brisk, piney charmer with modest levels of alcohol; outstanding as aperitif, lunchtime, or first-course wine. Fine for a crowd. Around $10. Ball Square Fine Wine & Liquors, Somerville, 617-623-9500; Andover Liquors, Andover, 978-470-0500; Winestone, Chestnut Hill, 617-264-0393.

Domaine Augis “Elegance’’ Touraine 2009 Stiffer and a bit edgier than the Valencay from the same producer we recommended in an earlier column. Appealing floral and mineral aspects; lively, fresh, stimulating sip. Around $12. At Derby Street Wine and Spirits, Hingham, 781-749-9463; Wine Emporium, South End, 617-262-0379; Richard’s Wine & Spirits, Hyde Park, 617-364-3745.

Domaine de Saint-Antoine Vin de Pays du Gard Syrah 2007 A sturdy fellow fit to do some of your kitchen’s heavier lifting come cold weather. Pair its hefty, dry fruit and firm acidity with a stew, braise, or chop. A surprising amount of wine for the money. Around $11. At Federal Wine & Spirits, Boston, 617-367-8605; Bin Ends, Braintree, 781-817-1212; Concord Cheese Shop, Concord, 978-369-5778.

Mas de Libian “Vin de Petanque’’ Vin de Pays des Coteaux de l’Ardeche 2009 Pleasantly chewy texture with plummy fruit and pronounced loamy notes. A whole lot of southern French character packed into one little wine. A sweetheart. Around $12. At Formaggio Kitchen, Cambridge, 617-354-4750; Wine Bottega, North End, 617-227-6607; Dave’s Fresh Pasta, Somerville, 617-623-0867.

Line 39 Lake County Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 If New World richness is more your style, you may well find this Californian to your liking. Solid but not imposing red fruits with fine zip and a clean finish. Around $11. At Cambridge Wine & Spirits, 617-864-7171; Marty’s Fine Wine, Newton, 617-332-1230; Curtis Liquors, South Weymouth, 781-331-2345.

Stephen Meuse can be reached at