I love wine. I love how it smells, how it tastes and how it can turn an ordinary moment into an extraordinary one. I love how it inspires people to be together and how dinner parties come to life when the wine is flowing. The only thing I don’t love about wine is how expensive it can be.
If money were no object, I’d fill my wine rack with a mind-blowing selection of white burgundies from France — specifically, the two Montrachets, Puligny and Chassagne. You know the saying, “you never forget your first love?” Well, I’ll never forget my first Montrachet — positively the best wine I’ve ever had in my life. Sadly, my “first” time might be my last time — these heavenly chardonnays range in price from $150 to $3,000 a bottle, and in my tax bracket, that’s a deal-breaker.
Through my career in wine, I have learned price is not an indication of quality (with the exception of the two Montrachets) and that a little wine knowledge can come in handy when you want to get the most for your money. When it comes to buying wine, I mostly purchase imports because I think imports offer more value than domestic wines. This isn’t to say I don’t like domestic wines — Washington state produces some of the best — I just find I get more bang for my buck when I look outside the U.S.
I have fallen in love with many wines over the years, wines that, from vintage to vintage, never let me down and are in my price range. Following are a few wines I’ve had a long and loving relationship with over the years:
First is the 2020 Felsner Lossterrassen Gruner Veltliner from Austria ($14.99, available at Haggen stores). Gruner is one of my favorite grape varietals and the Felsner is a classic example of what makes this wine so tasty. The lime-sorbet aromas lead to flavors of spicy lemongrass and lime, and Gruner’s signature note of crunchy green bell peppers. As the wine moves toward the back of your palate, there is a slight softening of the acids and a hint of graham cracker lingers on the finish. This is a great alternative to pinot grigio and sauvignon blanc, and one of the few whites that pair well with asparagus.
Next is the 2020 Juan Gil Silver Label from Jumilla, Spain ($19.99, also at Haggen). The Juan Gil is made from 100% organic Monastrell and is the red I go to when I want something big and juicy. This red stands out in a crowd with its velvety layers of blackberries and blueberries and long, persistent finish. At 15% alcohol, you might expect the Juan Gil to be a little out of whack, but it’s not — the fine-tuned tannins keep everything in balance. It’s ideal served alongside steak.
Finally, I strongly recommend the 2021 Saint Cosme Cotes-du-Rhone from France ($19.99 at Haggen). The Saint Cosme estate, in the heart of Gigondas, has been making wine since 1490, and it is damn good stuff. The Cotes-du-Rhone is 100% syrah and displays the benchmark smoked bacon fat and blueberry character of the varietal from this region. I love this red for its complexity and richness — you’ll find loads of obvious fruit with a few hidden notes of fresh sage and black pepper. A match made in heaven is slowly simmered pot roast and a bottle of Saint Cosme.
I hope to meet my true love, Montrachet, again someday. In the meantime, however, I’ll continue to look for love on wine shelves around town. Who knows … I might even get lucky.
Katie Bechkowiak owned Vinostrology wine bar in downtown Bellingham from 2013–19. If you have wine suggestions for her monthly column, contact email@example.com.