Just as you pull together outfits to reflect your style, you can build a wardrobe of wines to please your palate. Start with the basics, then layer and accessorize. From classic picks to exotic and less-recognized wines that add sparkle to your staples, creating a wine wardrobe is deliciously simple. The following suggestions are good in any vintage.
Chardonnay: Wine’s basic black
What’s not to love about black? It’s classy, slimming – and you keep buying more. The same is true of Chardonnay. Crafted in styles from light to lush with only about 125 calories a glass, it’s America’s most popular wine for a reason. From elegantly crisp versions that pair with Brie to creamy, fleshy ones to match grilled salmon, there are shelves full of choices.
Iconic spots planted with the grape variety Chardonnay are the Burgundy region of France and throughout California. The latter versions are often noted for their ripe fruit flavors and kiss of oak barrel aging, while French styles lean toward lightness.
- Beringer, Napa Valley, California, $17-$20
- Ponzi, Willamette Valley, Oregon, $18-$22
- Joseph Drouhin “Puligny-Montrachet” Burgundy, France,
- Felton Road, Central Otago, New Zealand, $34-$36
- Patz & Hall, Sonoma Coast, California, $33-$36
- Antinori “Cervaro della Sala” Umbria, Italy, $48-$52
If you like Chardonnay, try Grenache Blanc. A unique white variety hailing from northeastern Spain and southern France, this full-bodied, spicy dry wine is one to watch for in California, too. Try Tablas Creek from Paso Robles and Beckmen “Le Bec Blanc” from Santa Ynez Valley.
Riesling: The dressy wine
Autumn in the Bay Area is usually the best weather of the year, perfect for racy Riesling. With zesty freshness, floral aromas and flavors that span the spectrum from bone-dry to delicately sweet, Riesling is the ideal sip to ring in fall. Whether pairing alongside fiery Latin fare or sausages topped with spicy mustard, it’s as versatile as your favorite frock.
Germany’s Mosel region produces ethereal, sweeter versions, while France’s Alsace area begets richer, drier bottlings. Australia’s Clare and Eden valleys produce bone-dry, citrus-scented wines. Washington and New York states are home to a rainbow of Riesling styles.
- Dr. Konstantin Frank “Dry Riesling,” Finger Lakes, New York, $14-$17
- Chateau Ste. Michelle “Eroica,” Columbia Valley, Washington, $20-$22
- Dr. Loosen “Blue Slate,” Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, Germany, $20-$22
- Wolf Blass “Gold Label,” Clare Valley, Australia, $18-$22
- Grosset-Hill Smith “Mesh,” Eden Valley, Australia, $20-$22
- Craggy Range “Te Muna” Riesling, Martinborough, New Zealand, $20-$22
If you like Riesling, try Moscato – a lightly sweet, lemony sip that’s lower in alcohol and often slightly frizzante. Well-regarded wines come from northern Italy and are called Moscato d’Asti. Look for bottles from Marchesi de Gresy, Batasiolo or Michele Chiarlo.
Sauvignon Blanc: The crisp white shirt
An impeccably pressed white shirt under a jacket or atop a pair of jeans is the fashion equivalent of Sauvignon Blanc. With bracing vibrancy and aromas of green apples and fresh herbs, you can smell sunshine in the glass. Sauvignon Blanc marries beautifully with fresh-from-the-garden salads or rounds of goat cheese.
New Zealand’s Marlborough region is famed for its pungent, sassy savvies, as they’re dubbed in Kiwi country, while France’s historic Loire Valley spots Pouilly-Fumé and Sancerre are also planted with Sauvignon Blanc. California’s fruit-driven versions (some called Fumé Blanc) express the state’s warm climate.
- Robert Mondavi Fumé Blanc, Napa Valley, California, $18-$20
- Villa Maria “Cellar Selection,” Marlborough, New Zealand, $17-$20
- Pascal Jolivet Sancerre, France, $19-$21
- Middle Sister “Surfer Chick,” California, $10-$13
- Casa Marin “Cartegna,” San Antonio, Chile, $16-$18
- Efeste “Feral,” Columbia Valley, Washington, $20-$22
If you like Sauvignon Blanc, try Albarino. Hailing from northwestern Spain’s Rias Baixas region, this grape variety produces crisp yet fleshy whites ideal for shellfish. Seek out Fillaboa, Vionta and Martin Codax.
Cabernet Sauvignon: The classic suit
Whether it’s the designer version or inexpensive but well-built, a classic suit gives structure and sophistication to your wardrobe. Cabernet Sauvignon is powerful yet plush, and because of its palate-cleansing grip of tannins (the healthy component in red wines that lets them age well), it’s the ideal pairing for a power lunch of filet mignon.
An equal-opportunity grape that thrives in a variety of climates, Cabernet is planted worldwide. From its home in the blends of France’s Bordeaux area to its perch in the Golden State’s Napa and Sonoma valleys, Cab is king. But don’t miss versions from Chile and the sunny reaches of western Australia.
- Silver Oak, Alexander Valley, California, $70-$75
- Louis Martini, Napa Valley, California, $30-$32
- Chateau Greysac, Medoc, Bordeaux, France, $18-$22
- Leeuwin Estate “Art Series,” Margaret River, western Australia,
- Simi “Landslide Vineyard,” Alexander Valley, California, $30-$35
- Montes, Colchagua Valley, Chile, $12-$15
If you like Cabernet Sauvignon, try another hearty red, Malbec. Part of the blend in Bordeaux’s reds (along with Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Petite Verdot), Malbec has become a star in Argentina. Check out Argentinian Malbec from Alamos by Catena, Bodega Colomé and Massimo.
Pinot Noir: Sexy satin
Pinot Noir is my favorite red. It’s silky, sleek, sexy – the same feeling you get when slipping into a satin nightgown. With an elegance that’s the hallmark of the grape variety, it’s an ideal red to pair with fish, as it won’t overwhelm. But because of Pinot’s telltale vibrancy, it’s also a wine that will match spicy cuisine.
The finicky grape (thin skinned, hence its lighter color) only grows well in select places. Anchored as the red variety producing the great wines of the Burgundy region of France, it’s also risen to prominence in California’s cooler reaches of Carneros, Russian River, Monterey and Santa Maria Valley, and Oregon’s Willamette Valley. It’s also a rising star in New Zealand, South Africa and even coastal Chile.
- Irony, Monterey, California, $14-$16
- Elk Cove, Willamette Valley, Oregon, $25-$28
- Domaine de la Vougeraie, Gevrey-Chambertin, Burgundy, France, $45-$48
- Solomon Hills, Santa Maria Valley, California, $55-$58
- Cameron Hughes, Russian River Valley, California,
- Hamilton Russell, Walker Bay, South Africa, $45-$48
If you like Pinot Noir’s elegance, try Chianti/Sangiovese. Chianti is a region in Tuscany, and the whole area is planted primarily with the grape variety Sangiovese, which produces wines of depth yet delicacy. Don’t miss affordable Banfi “Centine,” Antinori “Peppoli” Chianti Classico and Ornellaia’s “Le Volte” blend.
Merlot: The cashmere of wine
You know the feeling of draping a luxurious cashmere scarf over your shoulders: It makes you feel special. The same is true of Merlot. When you sip a well-made bottle that showcases the succulent, stylish nature of the grape, it can be a special experience.
An early-ripening grape, Merlot leans toward refinement in Bordeaux’s right bank areas of Pomerol and St. Emilion. Domestically, Long Island in New York is known for Merlot, and California sports famous versions, but Washington State’s warm/cold Columbia Valley is the star spot.
- Northstar, Columbia Valley, Washington, $35-$38
- Shafer, Napa Valley, California, $46-$48
- Chateau Clinet, Pomerol, Bordeaux, France, $70-$72
- Wölffer Estate, Long Island, New York, $20-$22
- Bonterra (made with organic grapes), Mendocino County, California,
- Buty, Merlot/Cabernet Franc, Columbia Valley, Washington, $40-$42
If you like Merlot, try Syrah – a spicy red with full-bodied flair. The grape’s most well-known expression is Australian Shiraz, but its home is in France’s Rhône Valley. Try French versions from Chapoutier, and California picks such as Miraflores Syrah from El Dorado foothills and Paso Robles’ Justin Winery’s “Savant” blend. From Australia, don’t miss Shiraz from iconic producer Penfolds, or Shingleback’s Sparkling Shiraz.