Confession time: Many years ago, I attended a press event that took me through the cheese caves of Murray’s and ended at Ted Allen’s Chelsea home. His apartment was stunning, every inch so tastefully decorated that you would think Architectural Digest just wrapped up a photo shoot.
We were all gathered around in the kitchen listening to a chocolate expert when I noticed the Eurocave wine cellar. It was the size of most people’s refrigerators. I knew at that moment, before I left, I would have to sneak a peak at what this famous chef and T.V. personality drinks at home.
With ninja-like stealth, I seized my moment and got a look at the collection. It wasn’t filled with Château Latour, Screaming Eagle, or really any fancy-schmancy wine at all. There were quality, affordable wines that didn’t require a 7-figure salary to stock up on (unless he had hidden all the good stuff before we got there).
The other night a neighbor came over for a quick visit. When I returned from the kitchen with our drinks I found her poking through my wines. I was flattered; she was embarrassed. She quickly explained that she was curious about what a sommelier drinks at home. I smiled. Much like Ted, I do not have any big-label wines, expensive Burgundies, or vintage Champagnes. (Those were consumed long ago.)
Rather, my house is stocked with really tasty, value wines priced under $30.
I’m proud of my collection of misfits. And if you search the wine fridges of sommeliers around the country, you’ll find a similar group. Sure, these are the bottles that often get passed over on wine lists or ignored on the shelf, but that just means the supply and demand curve is in my favor. One of the reasons I became a sommelier, after all, was so that I could find great wines at good values.
So wonder no more! Here’s what sommeliers are drinking at home:
Crémant de Bourgogne
- Why: It’s made in the same method of Champagne, from the same varietals of grapes (Chardonnay and Pinot Noir), but at a fraction of the cost.
- Try: Louis Bouillot Crémant de Bourgogne "Perle d’Aurore" Brute Rosé
- Why: In my opinion, this wine, with its complexity and finesse, is the perfect affordable light red. It pairs with so many dishes, from fish to chicken to red meat.
- Try: Louis Jadot Moulin A Vent
Loire Valley Reds (Chinon) and Whites (Muscadet and Vouvray)
- Why: The Loire Valley is a treasure trove for sommeliers. With so many great and affordable wines coming from the region, it's almost always the first indicator we look for when scanning a restaurant’s wine list. For reds, try a medium-bodied Cabernet Franc from Chinon. For whites, a crisp refreshing Muscadet Sur Lies is an unbelievable value. For a richer, more complex wine, go with Vouvray.
- Try: Baudry "Les Grézeaux" Chinon and Chesnaie Muscadet
Old School Rioja (red and white)
- Why: Rioja is still one of the great values in red wine; you can find fantastic bottles for under $30. Most sommeliers have a bottle or two of R. Lopez de Heredia tucked away somewhere.
- Try: Viña Cubillo Rioja (red) and Viña Gravonia Rioja Blanco (white)
- Why: Sure it’s polarizing, but that’s probably one of the reasons sommeliers love it. Rieslings are versatile and complex, and I will argue to the death that there's no better pairing to a spicy Thai curry.
- Try: Erdener Treppchen Riesling Kabinett
Austrian Wines: Gruner Veltliner and Zweigelt
- Why: This white and red duo are a bit quirky but pack a ton of flavor in each sip. Gruner has become a bit more popular lately due to its crisp refreshing profile and hints of pepper. Zweigelt, on the other hand, remains a wine that most people have never heard of; but try it once and you'll remember it forever. It’s a go-to red wine for summer barbecues.
- Try: Leth Gruner Veltliner and Artner Zweigelt
White Burgundy from Macon and Saint Veran
- Why: White Burgundy wines are some of the most glorious nectars on the planet; that is both a personal and professional opinion. They are also darn expensive, so I’ve invested a great deal of time finding affordable, delicious examples, many of which hale from the villages of Macon and Saint Veran.
- Try: Domaine Michel Barraud Macon Villages
So what's the common thread through all these wines? You can find truly excellent bottles without spending a fortune. Having a variety of weights (light, medium, and full-bodied) means you'll always have a wine to pair with just about any food or occasion.
But really, what gets us sommeliers most excited about our wine collections is the ability to introduce a friend to a new wine he or she may have never tried. So don’t be shy: Just sneak a peak.
What is your go-to affordable bottle? If it's not a secret, share with us in the comments below!