The problem with house wines

Camillo de Lellis Biferno Rosso Riserva 2009

I was thinking about house wines recently, partly prompted by another wine blogger (sedimentblog.com) who recently invested in some, and wrote about it. And what I was thinking, in brief, is thus: ‘Tis a mug’s game. We all want to drink wines that we know to be good, and we don’t want to pay too much for them. But while a generous stock of good, affordable wine is, like a decent shower and a fridge and walls, absolutely vital to any self-respecting household, a generous stock of one good, affordable wine is a fast track to boredom and ennui*.

I understand the temptation well enough. You might happen upon a particularly bargainous bargain and feel the urge to stock up. You might just get tired of having to decide, every time you want a glass of wine, which of all your wines – whether you’ve got half a dozen bottles to choose from or a couple of hundred – you want to open. You might long for a default option. At the end of a long day, when dinner’s on the hob and whatever’s about to start on the telly, decisions might be precisely the opposite of what you want. You want easy. You want simple. You want safe. You want a house wine.

And so you buy one, perhaps a red and a white, maybe a dozen or more of each. And then, well, then they sit there, annoying you with their lingering presence, like the friend you invited over to watch the football and is still in your living room, hunkered down with a sleeping bag, two years later. You might like how the wine tastes, but now you know how the wine tastes does your mouth really need regular reminders? Doesn’t it want, more and more desperately with every cork pulled or cap unscrewed, to know how another wine tastes?

So there will be no house wines in my house, though a couple of rows on my wine rack are dedicated to a constantly-refreshed selection of £6-to-£9 wines which I can try without risk of either boredom or bankruptcy. What I do consider essential, though, is an other-people’s-house wine.

Anyone who knows you well enough to invite you to their house probably knows you like wine, which adds a little pressure: your bottle must be good but it must also be interesting, the choice of someone who enjoys choosing. So it may well be that Cono Sur’s Bicicleta pinot noir, or Casillero del Diablo’s cabernet sauvignon, are always perfectly decent and either quite or amazingly good value, depending on whether you catch them on promotion, but they won’t do at all. Your job is not just to provide excellence, but intrigue.

But obviously you can’t take that one bottle of Chateau Exciting you’ve been looking forward to, in case your hosts don’t open it and you never get to try it. The perfect wine is one you’ve had before, one that is packaged fairly attractively, that isn’t too pricey and that you’re happy to drink again, or not drink, whatever. It’s a tough ask but there are plenty of qualifying bottles – pretty much everything from Portugal qualifies, or Alsace – but my other-people’s-house wine at the moment is the all-box-ticking Biferno Rosso from Camillo de Lellis, which is versatile, friendly without being bland, and sold by the Wine Society for £7.50 (and elsewhere, if you’re foolish enough to not be a member).

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One response to “The problem with house wines

  1. Great take on the subject! I try to have a couple of go to wines at home, but there is always room for new wines. One should never settle, really, in my book. And how exciting to return to a reliable, affordable wine after wandering around…

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