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  • Writer's pictureLushmuddled

House Wine

When I say 'house wine' I'm sure you start thinking of an old pub. “We have both wines,” the bartender proudly says. “Red and white.” Or, if the air you breathe is a bit more rarefied, you might think of that nameless plonk on the menu that you'd generally skip in favour of something good enough to be labelled.


While house wine has come a long way in recent years, we've all had a glass from that over-oxidised bottle that's been sitting on the counter too long and it has a bit of a bad reputation.


BUT - and here is the big but - house wine, at its heart, should be the friendliest thing on earth.


House wine should be easy, not impressive

In the Mediterranean, it's poured cheaply and cheerfully at the taverna, it's the wine for long afternoons full of tapas, sunsets and conversations under blossoming trees. The lesson for Australians is that good house wine should be easy and affordable. Something you can happily ask for another bottle or carafe of so you can continue chatting, rather than inspecting the menu and googling the name of every wine on the list (do this on your own time, guys).


A well chosen house wine is, quite simply, a beautiful thing. It's also something which you should constantly have in your house.


Imagine it – you've had a hard day at work, you got home late and just want to have a shower and an easy dinner. You're absolutely not going to reach for that $80 bottle of wine which you were saving for a special occasion. You're going to reach for Old Faithful.


There is a reason for this. It goes without saying that Good Wine is pretty serious stuff. It's big and needs to be decanted, or it's delicate and needs just the right food. More likely, you simply don't want to waste it. The point is - just because it is good does not mean it is easy.


It's a bit like movies. In 2019 the Oscar for Best Picture was The Green Book. Great film, but it was emotionally exhausting and I wouldn't necessarily watch it again. The movie that had the highest box office results was Avengers: Endgame – something fun, colourful and easily digestible. One was a movie for critics, the other was a movie for people.


Credit: Getty Images

It's the same with wine. Good Wine is great, and I am glad that it exists, but it can be hard. Statistically speaking, the wines that people buy more often are the easy drinking wines in that $5-$20 bracket. These are the wines made for the people, for the day-to-day. There is an argument to be made, I think, that these wines are more important than Good Wines because of this.


You also don't have to sacrifice quality just because they're cheap. There are definitely disappointments and nightmares at every price point, but my pet hate is people in the industry saying that 'there is no good wine under $20.' Bullshit. There's heaps.


I normally have a house white, red and sparkling in my place. I keep my special wines hidden away so I don't get tempted, but my house wines are on proud display. These are my trusty sidearms. I'm not embarrassed to let people see them, I'm happy to share them and I miss them when I run out.


Over the years, I've developed a few rules for choosing them. Hopefully they help you find some good go-to booze.


BUDGET

The name of the game here is to get the best wine you can at a price you're comfortable with. Stressing about the cost per bottle really defeats the point here. I'm fine with opening a $15 bottle of wine most nights, but everyone will have different budgets. The easiest way to get the sharpest price is by purchasing a case. Most retailers will have a case discount - take advantage of it. You should also sign up to the newsletters of your favourite winery. They'll send you out special offers and, sometimes, they'll release some cleanskins. These are going to be significantly better than the cleanskin bottles from big chains which you wouldn't touch with someone else's ten foot pole. They could be just the thing.


Keep it simple. Don't overcomplicate things

THIS IS NOT RISK VS REWARD

Don't be tempted to buy something you're not sure about just because it's a 'bargain.' Ask yourself – why are they selling an eight year old Merlot for $80 a case? Chances are it is because they can't sell it any other way. There is nothing worse than being stuck with a case of something you just can't stomach. It's much safer to stick to a known quantity. Choose a grape you like, a region you know or a winery you love. House wine is not the time to explore. But, in saying that...


MEDITERRANEAN GRAPES ARE A RELIABLE CHOICE

Vermentino, Sangiovese, Tempranillo – you may not be too familiar with them but they work really well here. I wouldn't recommend buying them just because I said so, but go buy a single bottle and see how you feel. Because these grapes don't have the same market demand as Shiraz or Chardonnay you'll tend to get much better value. They also come from cultures where wine and food are a part of life, rather than just for special occasions – they know how to make some easy-drinking booze.


CHANGE IT UP

It's totally okay to buy the same wines again and again – especially if you've found something that works for you. But your palate does get bored. You'll find that the killer bottle of Pinot Grigio you adored simply doesn't excite you as much after the 18th bottle of it. Mix it up. Keep yourself interested in what you're drinking.


In-laws pair well with inoffensive wines. Ironic, isn't it?

AVOID EXTREMES

An acidic white will only go with certain dishes. A light red will only go with delicate food. You want something food friendly and versatile. Is it pizza night? Impromptu BBQ? Have the in-laws annoyingly just 'dropped in'? A good house wine will meet all these challenges head on. The Goldilocks approach is what's called for here – not too heavy, not too light. Go for medium bodied reds and whites, quaffable without being overtly tannic or acidic.


FIVE BRANDS TO LOOK OUT FOR

Calabria Private Bin Range

These wines are great for the money. The range has, sadly, decreased but the Nero d'Avola and Montepulciano are shelf regulars for me. Both come in at $14.95 from the winery.

Castelli Estate 'The Sum' Range

Halliday has listed these as some of the best value for money wines in Australia, and this is a rare occasion where I agree with him. It's a great selection of whites, reds and rosé.

Redbank

The Emily Cuvee is probably the best value sparkling wine made in the country. There, I said it. Shop around for the best price and stock up. $13 is the record.

Twill and Daisy

These guys come from the Murray Darling region and make some friendly, juicy wines which I've seen for as little as $15 a bottle. The light reds and the rosé are my pick.

Berton

Consistently great bang-for-buck, but their Outlet page will offer some stupidly good deals on bin ends. They also make a $20 Aranel which pushes the limit of my budget, but it's just so good. If the local fish and chippie is your midweek takeaway go-to – you won't find a better match.

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