Serious Grape: A Wine Survival Guide for Fall

Every other week, Deb Harkness of Good Wine Under $20 joins us to talk some Serious Grape. Here's the latest.

Is it just me or is everyone suffering from the early fall crazies?

The Labor Day holiday is looming ahead of us. Kids need back-to-school supplies and rides to and from soccer, ballet, and piano lessons (circle as appropriate). Then there's your boss, who returned from vacation full of new plans for office efficiency and greater productivity. It's enough to make the lazy days of summer seem all but a distant memory.

Here's my wine survival tip for late summer and early fall: buy a mixed case of wine now, because things will only get more hectic.

Why Buy a Mixed Case?

Having a mixed case in your house is like having a little nest egg for a rainy day. Even better, most merchants will give you a discount of 10 to 15 percent off when you buy a case of wine—so it makes good financial sense, too.

When you buy your mixed case, I'd suggest visiting a wine merchant that you trust, or one that's been recommended to you by friends. Such a store will have an educated staff able to suggest specific wines fitting both your budget and the general categories I've outlined below.

Two Bottles of Riesling

Perfect with any kind of Asian takeout, Riesling is one of the world's most misunderstood and under-appreciated grapes. Rieslings tend to be lower in alcohol, are wonderfully aromatic, and can range in style from dry to slightly sweet. Excellent Rieslings from the United States and Germany range between $10 and $20. I'd head for the dry or off-dry bottles with their crisp apple and citrus flavors. Keep them in the fridge, and when you pick up some Kung Pao chicken or beef panang curry, you'll know a cool bottle of wine awaits at home—a perfect complement to dinner.

Two Bottles of Unoaked Chardonnay

Many of us resort to roast chickens from the supermarket for quick dinners. The ideal pairing for such a meal is unoaked Chardonnay. Chardonnay's buttered apple flavors bring out the best in the bird. Now that many winemakers are no longer using toasted oak barrels in favor of stainless steel aging, Chardonnays are less expensive and more food-friendly. Good unoaked Chardonnays are produced in many parts of the world, including Australia, the U.S., and France. Expect to pay around $15 to $20 for a good bottle.

Two Bottles of Sparkling Wine

Why we don't drink sparkling wine more regularly in this country is a complete mystery to me. It's versatile, affordable, and can turn a tuna sandwich into a festive event. Ask your wine merchant to select a Spanish and an Italian sparkling wine for you. Use one bottle as an excuse to invite friends to weekend brunch, and keep the other one for a celebratory night. Neither should cost more than $15, plus there are some very good Spanish sparklers for under $10.

Three Bottles of Sicilian Red Wine

Sicily is the best place to find Italian red wine bargains. Wines from this region are juicy, flavorful, and the ideal mate for pizza, pasta, and burgers. The most common Sicilian reds include Nero d'Avola and Nerello Mascalese, two zesty grapes that produce full-flavored, fruit-forward wines with nuances of leather and flowers. Expect to pay as little as $8 and as much as $20 for a bottle, depending on the reputation of the producer. But I have never spent more than $15 for a Sicilian red—and I've never been disappointed.

Three Bottles of Beaujolais

I'm not talking about the nouveau stuff released in November, fresh from the wine press. I'm talking about real Beaujolais wine, made from Gamay grapes and sold with some age to them. Gamay is the poor man's Pinot Noir. It has the same silky texture, fresh cherry-berry flavors, and earth aromas. But at around $8 to $15 a bottle, for wine made by excellent producers, it's much more affordable. Gamay grapes produce wine that's lower in alcohol and lower in body than most reds. Often served slightly chilled, they're perfect with grilled foods, stews, and cheese dishes which makes them the ideal red transition wine as we move from summer into fall.

And There You Have 12 Bottles

Even if you purchase wines at the higher end of the price spectrum that I've sketched, your mixed case of 12 bottles will cost you around $215 plus tax. And that's before the typical case discount is applied. The cash you shell out now will save you from a lot of aggravation and last-minute running around later when friends drop by for dinner or you're late getting home from work.

If you have a wine merchant that you recommend who gives mixed case discounts and good advice on purchases, feel free to share your tips with Serious Grape readers in the comments.