The Perfect Rack

Options abound. Fill it with your favorites.

I'm not talking pool balls or your neighbor's recently augmented breasts. I'm talking a fully equipped and stocked wine rack — a basic requirement for every well-appointed wine lover. But with umpteen choices, filling a 10- or 12-bottle countertop accoutrement can be challenging at best, intimidating at worst. Will the hot, cosmetically enhanced neighbor appear unexpectedly or will gluttonous friends descend uninvited? Or maybe a side dish for your pizza is what you need. The rack slot decision depends on your lifestyle but it pays to be prepared with the best wine options. >>>

Do your daily menu choices involve Chinese take-out or a pie with extra pepperoni and cheese? Drinkable selections with most food include fragrant and friendly riesling from Germany or crisp, unoaked chardonnay. Like red? Stock up with something light and fruity like an inexpensive French beaujolais or Italian Chianti. If you've a penchant for piquant, keep a supply of softer, more aromatic grapes that stand up to spice: gewurztraminer or soft, flowery California viognier. But maybe you hanker for something hunkier like full-bodied zinfandel or bone-dry red Bordeaux. You can never go wrong with gutsy flavor.

For unannounced guests (whom you feel bad kicking out), you'll need a variety of bottles on hand — and possibly a bigger wine rack. The following selections appeal to most tastes: New Zealand sauvignon blanc, a buttery California chardonnay, Oregon pinot noir, under-14 percent-alcohol red zinfandel (so your guests don't crash on the couch), Australian shiraz, Napa or Sonoma Valley cabernet, Argentine malbec, Méthode Champenoise sparkling wine (bonus: real champagne impresses), and — my favorite — dry French rosé.

But say you're looking to impress your date, boss, dad, or other wine snob friends, you'll need to stock at least a couple of the latest and greatest in obscure wines. Randall Grahm — eccentric winemaker, owner of Bonny Doon Vineyards, and embracer of all things esoteric — recommends these tried-and-true-yet-sure-to-surprise varietals: Austrian gruner veltliner, Italian nebbiolo, cabernet franc from anywhere, Spanish albariño, Italian barbera, and French red Burgundy. I would add Spanish tempranillo and grenache blends, any zinfandel from Ridge Vineyards and French white Burgundy.

But most of us only want a good buzz to forget the boss' crap, collapse on the couch, and become one with the remote. Cheap but tasty is what we're after. Although most varietals have rare inexpensive exceptions, some grapes you're willing to spend a little more on, say, less than $12: chardonnay, Chianti, and pinot noir. To maximize the dollar, stick with varietals that can be produced in cost-saving, bulk quantities yet still provide palate pleasure: zinfandel; cabernet (Chile, Australia, California); sauvignon blanc; Italian pinot grigio or Prosecco, California merlot; petite syrah; and Washington State riesling.

With a sea of choices, enjoying the spoils will certainly be the best part of crafting the rack, but a local wine shop's priceless advice can help steer you towards vinous happiness. The rest is up to you and your friends.

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