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Sip smarter in 2012: Resolution #1

Posted by Stephen Meuse  January 6, 2012 10:44 AM

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                                           In 2012,  I will have a house pour I love. 
The benefits of preparation are pretty well-established by now, wouldn't you say?  It's why you read ALL the directions before you start assembling your IKEA bookshelf, and why you set out all your ingredients - peeled, chopped, sliced and measured - before you start cooking. 

Take a similarly thoughtful approach to buying wine in the new year and you'll reap considerable benefits. Your wine life will feel significantly more organized, thought-out, and satisfying - and I can almost guarantee you'll drink better for less. 

The idea is to shift decisively away from the habit of buying individual bottles on an ad hoc basis and instead settle on a single red and a single white that are seasonally-appropriate and adapted to the dishes you prepare routinely from night to night, buy them in quantity, and stick with them until the weather changes.   

Get a feel for the system by putting in a modest inventory (six or eight bottles or each will do for a start) and take it from there. You'll be surprised at how satisfying it is when suppertime comes to put something genuinely pleasing on the table without going to any more trouble about it than deciding whether you'd rather have white or red.

Push away the thought that every dish has a single, dead-on wine match and that it's your job to discover it. The theory of the Ideal Pairing may hold in certain restaurant environments (we're frankly dubious it exists even there) but it's surely inappropriate in our homes on all but the rarest of occasions.

Why?  First because (thank heaven) your home is not a restaurant. Your kitchen doesn't offer an extensive menu of dishes that's always changing. Even assuming that your household includes one or more very capable and enthusiastic cooks, chances are the meals turned out on a regular weeknight basis comprise a very limited repertoire - the family faves -- with substantive changes occurring only as the seasons transition. 

Second, balanced wines of moderate scale with normative flavor profiles are more versatile things than you have been led to believe, quite capable of accompanying a range of dishes, even those involving ethnically distinctive ingredients and techniques. 

Third, there's a very long tradition in wine-producing communities of people drinking nothing but the local wine (whatever it may be) in their neighborhood bars and restos - and certainly in their homes -- with very little variation year 'round.  You could argue that in such places cuisines tend to be tradition-bound and therefore more or less static, but even hyperlocal cuisines are rich in the variety ingredients and dishes they can call on. A small number of wines serve perfectly well in these conditions, have done so for generations, and will do the same for you if given the chance.

The trick - if there is one - is simply to make good choices among wines that have what it takes to be viable house pours. What you're looking for are shapely, balanced wines of moderate body, reasonable alcohol (no more than 13.5% ABV) and enough acidity to offer a pleasing counterpoint to what's on the plate. Above all, find something you're genuinely taken with. Your house pour should be a wine you love

Shun wines with out-sized features that have initial charm but quickly become tiresome (no to the New Zealand sauvignon blanc; yes to the Macon Villages).  Run from national brands; pursue independent producers and quality-oriented co-ops.  Of course, they should be priced to allow each adult to enjoy a half bottle or so a night without straining the budget, whatever it is. Once you've landed on a red and a white that fill the bill, stick with them until a new season shifts the direction of your cooking, and only then look for a change.

And if at some point you feel the need for variation and a a fancier sip - and you will - well, that's what weekends were made for. 

Ellen Bhang

About By the Glass

Ellen Bhang writes about food and wine and reviews Cheap Eats restaurants for the Globe. Wine is the focus of her degree in the Gastronomy master's program at Boston University. She can be reached at


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