Wondering where to start? These are the essential wines you need to build your bar.
The other day a friend invited me over to see her new home. In the midst of unpacking, Covid, and dealing with dawdling trades people, she had nothing to offer. Literally zero.
She does, however, have a few beautiful, brand-spanking-new wine fridges, just waiting to be filled.
And that’s my cue.
Now, obvs, wine cellars can grow to take on a life of their own with a labyrinth of themes and bottles to keep any oenophile happy and entertained for years. But, for those of us just getting started, here are my choices for essential wines every home bar should have on hand.
Yes, every bar needs bubbly.
Not just for New Year’s and wedding celebrations, good fizz is integral for one of my fave cocktails of all time, and also clearly needed for livening up any given Monday.
For cocktails and mixing, I use quality, but less expensive, bubbly. Unless you’re Ina Garten, you don’t need to break out the best stuff around when there’s a lot of flavours happening in the glass – as they say, the sum is greater than the parts. (But Ina, if you’re reading this I still really, really want to be BFFs.)
When the sparkling is sipped unadorned, then a slight investment is key. You can go for gold-star Champagne (and I am here for it) or keep the budget slightly more in check with a terrific traditional method bubbly from nearly anywhere in the world.
Well made bubbles, when stored properly, can last a number of years in the cellar. Keep at least six bottles on hand, because when one cork pops, it has a domino effect on the rest.
Think of aromatic whites as everyone’s favourite party guest: bright, enjoyable, easy to get along with, and not overly serious.
Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Argentina’s Torrontés, Portugal’s Alvarinho … These wines are deeply flavoured with floral, citrus, and stone fruit notes. Plus, naturally high acidity makes these wines a pretty good dance partner with a wide variety of foods. And easy agreeability is key to any successful soirée.
With a few notable exceptions, these crowd-pleasing sippers are here for a good time, not a long time. But they are still essential wines that belong on your home bar. These joyous wines are the bottles people go back to for seconds and thirds, so keeping a case on hand is a really good idea.
I take a cue from the French cafés and Italian trattorias, where wine culture gathers to sip and laugh and debate and converse with these light-on-their-feet wines that are built for quaffable sipping and laid-back get togethers.
Fruity, mid-weight reds are juicy and smooth show a tremendous amount of versatility, from pairing with a wide range of foods, to sipping solo are perfect for parties.
Think Beaujolais, Italian Barbera, or Spanish Crianza Tempranillo. Bright and lively on the palate these transition perfectly from day drinking to dinner pairing. Keep a case on hand for unexpected drop-ins that turn into leisurely visits.
The buxom relatives of easy sipping reds bring heft and power, full of fierce tannin and chewy, opaque opulence.
There’s a time and place for these brooding heavy weights, and usually that’s on dark, wintery nights, with roaring fires and rich dinners filled with hearty meats.
This is an occasion for robust Cabernets, booming Shiraz and sturdy Barolos to shine. And you will be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t hold out their cup for a generous pour. Start with six bottles in your cellar and build from there.