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Eat & Drink » Wine

The Grapevine: The House Bet


Just because you don’t own a restaurant doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t have your own “house” red, white or sparkling wine. Why let the restaurateurs have all the fun?

What do I mean by house wine? Well, you know how you normally stock your fridge with Big K or maybe Sam’s Cola, eschewing the pricier Pepsi and Coke because you know your kids are going to drink half a case a day? Well, the Big K Cola is your “house” soda. Pepsi and Coca-Cola are for parties. The same rule holds with wine. Above all, your house wine (unless you happen to live in a much nicer house than mine) ought to be moderately priced. I’d say “cheap,” but that would offend my snobbier wine friends. Obviously, your budget is your business. But I wouldn’t spend more than $10 on a bottle of house wine, and preferably less. This is the stuff that you’re going to purchase by the case and not store deep in your cellar for aging. If your house bubbly is Dom Pérignon, then I want to drink at your house.

The second most important component of a good house wine is flexibility. So, think about it this way: Not only is a house wine—let’s say your house white—going to have to work both by itself for sipping solo and with all sorts of different foods and moods, it should also be agile enough to work through different seasons and in all sorts of weather. After all, you don’t want to have to switch your house wines with every change of season, do you?

I like to think of house wine like my favorite pair of Levi’s or Keds: Comfortable and reliable, but certainly not Armani or Kenneth Cole. That is, I don’t want a house wine to be too stylized. A wine that is too far to one end of the spectrum for its varietal—a huge, oaky Chardonnay, for example—is not going to meet your need for flexibility. Same goes for the biggest, most brutish red you can find, or the spiciest Shiraz. Instead, look for a little black dress of a wine: Something that tastes good on lots of occasions but maybe doesn’t knock anyone over backwards.

That doesn’t mean a house wine has to be dull. The trick is to find something you like first and foremost but also something that will appeal to the masses when they drop by on you unannounced. Now, I’m not especially proud of this, but my house white comes from a whiskey-style jug and it is very inexpensive (aka cheap). It’s called Three Thieves Chardonnay, made by California vintners (the three thieves) Joel Gott, Charles Bieler, and Roger Scommengna who call themselves “liberators of world-class wine.” The wine is very clean and fruity tasty, with no oak. It’s currently on sale at $7.99 for a 1,000 milliliter bottle. ’Nuff said.

As for red, maybe I’m influenced by the name itself but I think Bonny Doon’s Big House Red ($10.99) is a solid house choice: fragrant and slightly spicy, with soft tannins, it’ll go with just about anything your house white doesn’t. 

Sips: Red Rock Brewing Company cleaned up at the 2007 Los Angeles County Fair Commercial Beer Competition, the country’s largest annual county fair. As a warm-up for the Great American Beer Festival in Denver, Red Rock left Los Angeles with a gold medal for its Nut Brown Ale in the American Style Brown Ale category; a silver medal for Red Rock Organic Zwickel Bier (an organic pilsner); and a bronze medal in the Rye Ale competition for Red Rock Roggen Rock.