Wine & Spirits magazine came out last month with its 14th annual 'restaurant poll,' its yearly survey of which wines are most popular in American eateries. Sonoma-Cutrer's Russian River Ranches heads the chardonnay list at $39, while Jordan Vineyard & Winery's cabernet sauvignon has top honors among red wines at $89.
True, these are restaurant wines, but prices such as these can put a damper on enjoying that glass of red or white.
I like little more than going into a wine store and assembling an entire case of good wine for less than $100. It can be done. Here are notes on and food suggestions for a dozen wines that I have purchased over the past three months. They add up to $98.18, before the government takes over. I bought the wines at Sam's Wine & Spirits, 1720 N. Marcey St., ( 312 ) 664-4394.
Whites and pinks:
2001 Domaine des Cassagnoles, Cotes de Gascogne ( $4.99 ) : From Armagnac country, made of the ugni blanc ( trebbiano ) , a grape imported to France from Italy in the 14th century when the papal court settled in Avignon. Super crisp and fresh, with lots of acidity, a 'five dollar, no holler' white. Would be an excellent aperitif with most sorts of finger food.
2000 Willm pinot blanc, Alsace ( $6.79 ) : The pinot blanc is the workhorse of Alsace, rendering whites that are subtle in flavor and aroma, fat and round in texture, with good acidity. All Alsatian wines are meant for the table and this one would do splendidly with most any fish preparation ( except markedly spicy ones ) .
2001 Chateau Mourges du Gres, Costiéres de Nimes ( $9.99 ) : The area is the closest to the Rhone Valley in the Languedoc, which indicates a high proportion of marsanne and rousanne grapes added to grenache blancsounds like gobbledygook, but that's more pedigree than common. The ripe melon flavors, extraordinary acidity and barest hint of butterscotch in the finish would be terrific with any full-fleshed fish topped by a tropical fruit and cilantro salsa.
2001 Marionnet Touraine blanc ( $10.49 ) : What a perfect expression of sauvignon blanc, with minerals and razor-sharp acidity to boot. There isn't an $11 sauvignon from this country that could match it ( or at least, one that I've tasted ) . It screams for shellfishshrimp, oysters, crab legsbut would grace anything from a chicken salad to a roast of pork.
2001 Les Tourettes rosé, Cotes de Luberon ( $8.99 ) : People downplay pink wines, confusing most of them with white zinfandel and other 'blush' wines ( they blush because they're too embarrassed to be real wines ) . But dry rosés from Europe are unsung heroes at the table, less hefty than reds, more flavorful than whites. Try this with your Easter hamor any other pink food. Down boy.
2001 Domaine de Campuget, Costiéres de Nimes ( $5.99 ) : Made predominately from carignane, the heartiest of the Rhone area grapes, this light-shade-of-black red sports dusty tannins and gobs of ripe, jammy fruit. Do this with some fatty red meat.
2001 Domaine le Grand Bois, Cotes du Rhone ( $6.99 ) : Just the name is appealing ( 'domain of the big wood' ) . A classic Cotes du Rhone: fleshy with super-ripe syrah and grenache fruit, softly tannic, and with aromaswaves of themof peppery, spicy fruit. A good match for a wide range of cooking, from roast chicken to stews and legs of lamb.
2001 Domaine de Monpezat merlot, vin pay's d'oc ( $6.99 ) : Try this simple red as an alternative to more expensive U.S. and Aussie merlotyou won't be disappointed. Chock full of fruit, can't-see-'em tannins and aromas of wood and spice, this is a good bet with steak, beef stir fries or grilled lamb chops.
2001 Brusset Cotes de Ventoux rouge ( $7.99 ) : The most well-known Ventoux wine is La Vielle Ferme, which has done a terrific job of delivering on well-priced, substantial reds from the region. This mix of carignane, grenache and cinsault has a bit more stuffing and tanninand buckets more aromaand costs less. Pop it with the major red meat groups, or after dinner with some funky cheeses.
2000 Clavel Le Mas, Coteaux de Languedoc ( $8.99 ) : A very elegant rendition from this region, with super-soft tannin, bright acidity ( for a red ) , and teasing, ripe fruit. Could pair nicely with a flavorful rendition of chicken breasts, up to a setoff meaty lamb shanks.
2001 Domaine de la Monadiére, merlot/ syrah, vin de pays ( $8.99 ) : In the glass, you cannot see through this red, it is so concentrated. Packed with fruitand a hefty dose of tannin and alcoholthe aromas of herbs, pepper and jammy fruit go on and on. A steak, with its ring of fat, has no better partner at the table.
2000 Domain Alary, Cairanne, Cotes du Rhone Villages ( $10.99 ) : A 'village' cru or special designation allowed from the area, signifying higher quality. The syrah in this wine jumps out of the bowl of the glassblack pepper, scents of rosemary and thyme, an overall assault to the noseand it delivers on lush, pillowy, dense, moderately tannic fruit. So delicious that it's juicy. Terrific by itself, by why waste it alone? Go for heartier preparations such as herbed leg of lamb, a beef roast, or live bear.