As the season changes, check your wine stock

I frequently get asked for wine recommendations and am always happy to oblige. Most people I talk to are “just looking for a few different, good, affordable, easy-to-find bottles.”

I encourage others to keep a small stock of wines at home. I’m not talking about a big capital investment; even a mixed case (12 bottles) eliminates the hassle of always having to go hunt for wine when you need it. Getting started can seem daunting. In that spirit, I’ve put together a cellar-starter list.

What follows is a list of 10 outstanding values, each under $20. I’ve selected a range of varietals and styles. All of them drink well on their own in addition to pairing well with food, and are widely available in shops here on Capitol Hill. If you find one that really speaks to you, buy a case of it. You’ll never regret it.


Dry Creek Chenin Blanc, Sonoma, Calif., $13. A perfect aperitif, this bright white offers loads of tropical fruit flavors on the nose and palate with just the right amount of acidity to be refreshing. 

Duckhorn Decoy Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley, Calif., $17. This is a well-structured wine with layers of lemongrass and fresh apple. A substantial amount of the Semillon grape is blended with the Sauvignon Blanc, creating a mysterious, supple finish that is gentle but substantial. 

Louis Jadot Macon Villages, Chardonnay, Burgundy, France, $16. An old-school, un-oaked French Chardonnay. This is a clean, crisp sipper with firm acidity and expressions of toasted bread, walnuts, pear and apricots throughout.

Chateau Ste Michelle Eroica Riesling, Columbia Valley, Wash., $19. Harmonized scents of citrus peel, honey and fresh herbs recede to lime and mineral flavors. The finish is slightly sweet but complex and lasting. This is a white that has enough character to evolve and improve for several years.


Gloria Ferrer Blanc de Noir, Non-Vintage, Carneros, Calif., $19. Predominantly Pinot Noir, this wine presents a pretty pink hue due to a special pressing technique. It has bright strawberry, dark cherry and vanilla aromas and cherry, cola and lemon flavors. Lively bubbles frame a refreshing finish. 


Saintsbury Vincent Vin Gris (Pinot Noir), Carneros, Calif., $15. This is one of my favorite wines for any occasion. Raspberries, strawberries, pomegranate and guava permeate the nose and palate, with a subtle expression of spicy Nasturtium weaved throughout. 


A to Z Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, Ore., $16. This wine has everything you would want and expect from a basic Oregon Pinot: dark spice aromas and blackberry, cherry, earth and measured oak expressions. Incredibly smooth. 

Seghesio Zinfandel, Sonoma, Calif., $18. Aromas of blueberry, cracked pepper and freshly baked bread give way to layers of sage, soil and espresso flavors. Zesty tannins hold everything together.

Columbia Crest Horse Heaven Hills Merlot, Wash., $14. A dark and bold but well-balanced expression of black currants, plum and cedar with accents of chocolate and spice. The equally brash bouquet boasts red fruit, dried sage and cedar. You can sense oak and tannins in its frame, but they are polite and well-proportioned. 

Newton Red Label Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, Calif., $20.Layers of violets, anise, cherry pie and white chocolate and pine compete for attention in the glass. On the palate, smoke, blackberry, leather and cassis combine with ripe tannins. This is a rich, thick, full-bodied Cabernet.

Derek M. LaVallee, director of public relations and public affairs at Kemp Goldberg Partners and certified wine buff, can be reached at