Why You Need a House Wine
Not just cheap cast-offs, house wines are a boon to stress-free entertaining.
I had some friends over for dinner last night.
We started with an aperitivo of pistachios, lemon stuffed olives, and truffle chips paired to sparkling wine – Cave Spring Blanc de Blancs if you are curious. It’s a terrific local sipper from Niagara that’s only about $30. I highly recommend it.
Dinner, inspired by this week’s farmers’ market haul, was simple but inviting: red beets with whipped feta dressing and fresh dill, yellow beans in a ridiculous amount of brown butter with toasted walnuts, butternut squash and blue cheese soup (to die for), and flatbreads topped with fresh mozzarella, mushroom, shallot, and pickled jalapeño.
To this smorgasbord of local bits and bobs, I went with Planeta Frappato, a light red grape from Sicily that came perilously close to extinction that is now making a very trendy comeback. Filled with flavours of tart wild berry, crushed black pepper, a touch of flinty smoke and a subtle balsamic note, it’s wonderfully easy to pair with a wide range of foods.
Satiated and content, we retired to the living room to wind the evening down. But, glasses now empty, we needed another bottle to send us off into the good night.
So, I went to my wine fridge and pulled out a bottle of my current house red. Problem solved, conversation continued, and now refilled wine glasses allowed the party eventually came to a graceful landing, as opposed to the potential hard and awkward crash of having nothing more to offer.
And this is my argument for having a house wine. Preferably a house red, white and sparkling.
Restaurants have house wines and so should you
A lifetime ago, when I was a Sommelier working in restaurants, we, of course, had house wines. These were carefully selected, reliable bottles, sold at a good price point, and were satisfying to most. At a few places, I worked with local wineries to create a private label, meaning my team and I chose the blend or the varietal we liked best and put our own label on each bottle. At a posh, private club, I used great photos from the club’s beginning in the 1920’s, at another restaurant we had modern graphic designs and cutesy names.
House wines have fallen slightly out of fashion: likely your father-in-law or know-it-all roommate from university have advised steering clear of the house wine, suggesting it’s just the plonk that restauranteurs are using to hose you. Maybe in some places that’s case, but then you shouldn’t be dining in those places.
In actual fact, good restaurants with decent beverage programs, use house wine as a way to serve interesting bottles that appeal to most palates and generally work with the food being served. Bought in bulk, these restaurants can take advantage of some savings or perks, which they can then pass on to the guest.
And for the guests, house wines provide some ease and relief for those who simply want a nice glass of wine to sip with their friends, not spend an hour dissecting an intricate wine list the size of War and Peace.
The house wine could be as routine as a Sauvignon Blanc or Chardonnay, or it could be a really interesting find that offers spectacular value from an off-the-beaten-path vineyard in Croatia or New York’s Hudson Valley.
A House Wine for Your Home
I bet you already have a house wine.
Your go-to Pinot Grigio or your favourite Cab. You like this wine because not only does it taste good to you, but you know it’s reliably consistent bottle-after-bottle, and you appreciate the value for money. You’re comfortable serving it to your friends, and, facing a last-minute dinner party invite, you know you can grab a bottle of this to offer as a host gift and it will be fine.
I entertain a lot, both professionally and personally, and it’s always good to have a few bottles on hand for when guests stay for just one more drink, or someone pops by unexpectedly. It’s also a handy time saver when I’m invited last minute to someone’s house, and I need a bottle to bring.
I always have a few bottles of the same red, white, and sparkling on hand. Because I’m a somm and a bit more invested in wines, I change these up seasonally, maybe even monthly, but I find something I like, for all the reasons you do, and buy a case of each. And when those run out, I stock up on more, or find something new.
I suggest you do the same. Find a bottle of at least a red and white (but you may want to also consider a sparkling or rosé, depending on the season, and your crowd.) Of course, pick a bottle that you like, which also appeals to most of your friends. Buy a case, or at the very least a few bottles, to keep on hand in the pantry or the laundry room fridge (just not by a window or the furnace).
You’ll find that having a house wine will be a tremendous boon to your party planning – whether guest or host. You will save time from always running to the store (especially around holidays and weekends when parking spaces are at a premium and the lines snake to the back of the store). Money, as you can sometimes find special perks, such as free delivery, or discounts on full case purchases (not so much in Ontario, where I live, but local wineries do offer savings on big buys.) And most certainly stress.
It may be the low road, but it's pretty satifying to smile smugly when walking past the frenzied store knowing you’ve got a stash at home.