THE POUR Sept. 21, 2017
The requirements for weeknight cooking are easy to understand, but weeknight wine? It’s a bit more conceptual.
The last thing anyone wants after a long day of work is to put in another few hours over a cutting board and stove. But where is the labor in opening a bottle? It is the wine inside that matters.
Weeknight wines ought to be undemanding, like easygoing comedies rather than Ingmar Bergman films. They need not require rapt attention, but they should be delicious and refreshing. And if you do choose to focus on them, you should be rewarded with something of interest, a touch of nuance or complexity that would repay the gift of your attention.
Did I mention price? They should be relatively inexpensive and great values, which are not necessarily the same thing. You can find plenty of innocuous wines for $10. Most will be sound but boring — paint-by-numbers facsimiles of more interesting bottles. They are cheap, but where is the value?
In the range of $15 to $20, however, the level of interest and excitement rises exponentially over $10 wines. These 20 bottles I’ve selected, all under $20, are great weeknight wines, easygoing and friendly. And if you wish to engage with them, they will be worth your while.
I have been compiling similar lists for a few years now. If you compare this one with some others, you will see quite a few differences. No sparkling wine. No fortified wine. Nothing from Spain. Only one bottle from California. No particular reason, except that I am trying not to repeat too many bottles from past lists, like these from fall 2016 or fall 2015.
The bottles on those earlier lists are still worth seeking out, even if what you find are from more recent vintages. Sometimes prices may have increased a few dollars as well. Partisans of Spain or California will find more to choose from on those lists. Spain offers great values, even if I didn’t turn up any on my recent shopping trips. California? Not so many.
The majority of the wines on this list come from France and Italy. These cradles of modern wine production are the greatest sources of excellent values today because of their diversity and their traditions. You simply have many more types of interesting wines from which to choose.
Not that I want to rile anybody up. Weeknight wines are intended to relax, not to antagonize. But if you feel strongly that in the yearslong body of 20 Under $20 lists, I am neglecting areas of value and interest, I welcome your suggestions.
De Forville Langhe Nebbiolo 2015, $19.96
This fine producer in the Piedmont region of northwestern Italy specializes in Barbaresco, and its wines are generally excellent values. The Langhe nebbiolo is made largely from young Barbaresco vines. It’s earthy and lightly tannic with firm, long flavors that are more fruit than mineral, perhaps, but it’s well balanced and exceptional. (Rosenthal Wine Merchant, New York)
Brovia Dolcetto d’Alba Vignavillej 2015, $18.99
Dolcetto is one of those perennially underrated wines that never quite achieves the level of desirable. Yet when the grapes are grown conscientiously in the right places, and the wine made carefully, dolcetto can be delightful. This one from Brovia, a fine Barolo producer, is rich and mouthfilling; deliciously bitter, yet with a fruity sweetness and underlying mineral flavors. (Rosenthal Wine Merchant)