Fact Sheet: House Wines

The perfect house wine should possess the following qualities: It should be affordable, easy to find, easy to restock and, above all, reliable from one vintage to the next.

Make it casual A great house wine lacks pretension; it's a comfortable wine that suits your palate but can also accommodate the tastes of others—in other words, it wouldn't hurt to have a bottle or two of Chardonnay and Merlot on hand. A great house wine is the sort of bottle that you'll want to have around when you've ordered a pizza or when friends happen to drop by.

Make it interesting This doesn't mean that a house wine can lack pizzazz. On the contrary: After all, it's representing your house. With all this in mind, the following are my top 10 house-wine candidates—each capable of matching any mood or occasion.

10 Top Bottles

2002 Ceretto Santo Stefano Moscato D'Asti ($17) From a renowned Piedmont producer, this exotic, low-alcohol (5.5 percent) off-dry wine is perfect as an aperitif with salty snacks or as an accompaniment to fruit or biscotti at dessert.

2001 Chappellet Dry Chenin Blanc Napa Valley ($13) Want a big, juicy white? Chappellet gives its Chenin Blanc grapes the star treatment, including small-barrel aging. The result is a white that's more exciting than most Chardonnays, with bright, melony fruit and a subtle touch of oak.

2001 Esperto Pinot Grigio Della Venezia ($11) This northern Italian white combines a rich texture with a brisk, palate-cleansing acidity, making it a versatile companion to anything from chicken to fish.

2001 Santa Carolina Chardonnay Reserva Maipo Valley ($9) This lovely, layered bottling features California-size flavor without excess richness. It's made by Consuelo Marín Gamé, one of Chile's few female winemakers.

2001 Louis Jadot Beaujolais-Villages ($10) Balanced and juicy, Beaujolais is one of the most versatile wines. This lively, ultrasmooth example is from the always-reliable Burgundy house of Jadot.

2000 Bulletin Place Merlot ($8) Supple and satisfying, with lots of lush, black cherry fruit, this Australian wine is what most people are looking for (but rarely get) when they ask for a Merlot.

2000 Foppiano Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley ($15) This superconcentrated Sonoma Zin pairs nicely with a wide range of everyday food—from spaghetti with meat sauce to London broil.

2000 Straccali Chianti ($9 for 1.5 liters) Ideal if you're feeding the multitudes or just want to save a few dollars. This light-bodied red may come in a jug, but it has a bit of true Chianti character.

Quinta Do Noval Raven Porto ($13 for 500 ml) This luscious ruby port has two things in its favor: robust cherry flavors and a snazzy, decanter-shaped bottle that's ideal for the table.

Willm Nonvintage Crémant D'Alsace ($14) This fruity, pleasingly soft Alsace sparkling wine, made from Pinot Blanc, tastes almost like real Champagne.

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