February 2011 - Second Tuesday

My brother Andy, a financial journalist and fellow wine lover, takes a sensible approach to wine buying.  He has the disposable income to afford the occasional high-end collectible, but his sweet spot for everyday drinking is in the $15 to $25 range.  His wife's a great cook, and virtually every dinner at home features a wine that takes the meal to the next level of enjoyment.

Andy has his pet wines, which in the better vintages he buys by the case at a savings - wines like the Catena chardonnay (Argentina), the Goldwater sauvignon blanc (New Zealand), Casa Lapostolle's reserve cabernet (Chile), the Bodegas Borsao Garnacha Tres Picos (Spain), Vietti's Barbera d'Asti (Italy) - but he's constantly on the hunt for new and interesting bottles at similarly reasonable prices:  albariños, Loire Valley whites, Australian shiraz, red blends from the south of France.

The bottom line is that he drinks remarkably well on a budget.  If a wine happens to disappoint, it's rarely an expensive letdown, and with that kind of discipline, he derives extra pleasure when he occasionally splurges on a special, pricier bottle.
I'd be thrilled if we all drank so well. But the fact is that although the average quality of wine available on retail shelves has probably never been higher than it is now, finding a wine with real personality, as opposed merely to an absence of obvious flaws, is not as easy as it sounds.

How do Josh Raynolds and I define the kind of wines we enjoy drinking?  Generally speaking, we look for some combination of concentration and character, power and personality - the key here is balance.  The wine must have flavor intensity while being true to its variety or varietal blend and to its geographic origin.  It's the distinctive differences among wines that make them endlessly fascinating, not the characteristics they have in common.

My own sine qua non for a satisfying wine is the quality I characterize as "energy."  Even if I'm opening a monster - say, an outsized Châteauneuf du Pape, a head-spinning Australian shiraz or a big Napa cabernet - the wine must have vitality or it quickly becomes tiring.  It needs a nervous system, not just a spine.  And it has to have the personality and complexity to make me want to pour a second glass.

Here then are some intriguing, ready-to-drink and affordable wines that meet our requirements - Andy's, Josh's and mine: