Wine recommendations for the pandemic

I’ve accumulated quite a stock of wine over the past years, and, during lockdown, decided I wasn’t going to save my best bottles for wine-loving visitors, as I usually do, but would drink them myself, both as a treat and because nobody comes to visit during a pandemic. And wines don’t improve forever.

Assaying my supply, which must be forty cases or so, I found a number of whites that, in general, don’t age as well as reds. So I wound up drinking a lot of whites this spring and summer, and found, to my delight, that the Spanish and Argentinian whites I’d bought (Latinx wines?) had one of the highest quality/price ratios among all wines. (You’ll find such high ratios among Spanish sherries as well, and also among Riojas, though people are starting to discover the delights of a nicely aged Rioja.)

I won’t recommend specific brands, but will link to several varietals I’ve tried from my steady supplier, Vin Chicago (previously known as the Wine Discount Center). The three types of wines below are varietals, and they have in common a wonderful fruity aroma (one smelled just like grapefruit) and a fairly low price. You’d be hard pressed to pay a lot more more than $20 for a really good bottle of any of these.

I’ll give the varietals with a link to the Wikipedia page and then to a specimen or two from my own store:

Rueda (an example here, and recommendations here)

Torrontés (an example here). This is made largely in Argentina; some recommendations are here.

Albariño (two examples here, and some recommendations here).

Some of these wines have aging potential, though you’d best inquire before laying them down. One of the best wines I had this summer, for example, was a 2014 Albariño, which I thought had surely gone over the hill. It hadn’t: it had improved with aging.

Remember, there are great and not-so-great examples of each varietal. Either read about specific bottles or ask the people at the wine store before trying something you’ve never had.


  1. Barry Lyons
    Posted November 15, 2020 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

    “Another good fighting wine is ‘Melbourne Old-and-Yellow’, which is particularly heavy, and should be used only for hand-to-hand combat.”

  2. GBJames
    Posted November 15, 2020 at 3:05 pm | Permalink

    Not that it is relevant, but… the pandemic has found me drinking little wine but more beer and a bit of whiskey (and whisky). I do like a nice Bordeaux from time to time, though.

  3. LynnFDR
    Posted November 15, 2020 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

    I’ve been enjoying some west coast Rosés of Pinot Noir, but recently I had a riesling auslese that for the price could not have been any better. My tastes in whites strangely include cheap Alsatian pinot blancs or pinot gris, but skyrocket into Condrieu or Californian/Oregonian viognier. Never was a fan of chardonnay, generally.

    My favorite South American wine has been a sirah/shiraz, though sometimes a blend. On par and less expensive than some of the highly rated Australians.

    • Posted November 15, 2020 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

      I’ve concluded that chardonnay has rather subtle flavor which most makers try to boost by adding a lot of oak. Sometimes it tastes like your gnawing on a stick. Un-oaked chardonnay, on the other hand, can be a rather nice, simple, treat.

    • Posted November 15, 2020 at 5:12 pm | Permalink

      Another underrated wine is Chenin Blanc, which is a bit less dry yet more complex than most Chardonnays of comparable price. Sauvignon Blancs, with an appealing herbaceous flavor, can also be good bargains.

      • Robert Bray
        Posted November 16, 2020 at 8:58 am | Permalink

        Chenin Blanc: Chateau Moncontour Vouvray, which used to carry a printed band around the neck of every bottle saying, ‘Moncontour est ma prédilection–Honoré de Balzac, June 10, 1846’

        While B. was mostly speaking of the chateau, his praise became a marketing godsend for Moncontour.

        Still available today, and still delicious.

  4. dom
    Posted November 15, 2020 at 3:14 pm | Permalink

    As long as it’s warm & wet! 😉

  5. Posted November 15, 2020 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

    Sadly, we are nearly devoid of good wine stores around this part of Idaho. Grocery stores carry some OK stuff if you look hard. I only know one small wine store in Boise.
    Having said that, I’m living in the Sunnyslope wine district so there are locally made wines available within a few miles.
    We buddied up with a new immigrant from California who is setting up a small winery growing a few acres of temprenillo and chardonnay. We went in with him and bought 500 pounds of syrah from a local grower. We bottled it this summer and it is already drinkable and really good. You do what you have to.

  6. Alan Smithee
    Posted November 15, 2020 at 3:48 pm | Permalink


    • Posted November 15, 2020 at 5:12 pm | Permalink

      Me neither. I don’t think I have a bottle in my whole stash.

      That said, if someone wanted to give me a bottle of Chateau Petrus, I wouldn’t say no . . .

    • Posted November 15, 2020 at 7:03 pm | Permalink

      Sideways trashed merlot sales. We who appreciate the merlot grape benefitted. High quality merlots are more affordable than lousy pinots.

  7. Randall Schenck
    Posted November 15, 2020 at 3:52 pm | Permalink

    I no long drink much wine at all being diabetic but back in the days that I did, it was usually domestic California wines. One of my regulars was Inglenook Chenin Blanc. I do not think it is made now. A white wine and a bit on the dry side. I don’t like sweet wines. I recall drinking a white wine or two from Spain that was very good but could not tell you the name.

  8. Steve Pollard
    Posted November 15, 2020 at 4:16 pm | Permalink

    Thanks very much for those grape recommendations, Jerry. I don’t know anything about them, and I will make it my duty to find out.

    One of my daughters lives in Italy, is a writer on wine, and is currently doing a degree in viticulture at Florence University (now entirely online). I will ask for her expert opinion!

  9. Posted November 15, 2020 at 4:30 pm | Permalink

    I’ve just polished off a nice bottle of Chianti (sans fava beans and a census-taker’s liver, alas).

  10. BJ
    Posted November 15, 2020 at 4:44 pm | Permalink

    While I enjoy both, I’m more of a whiskey man than a wine man. I’ve discovered a few gems in my decision to use the pandemic for trying out new whiskeys. Here are some new favorites of mine:

    Balvenie Carribean Cask — The rum casks give this a nice spice and sweetness. I was already a big fan of their 17-year Double Wood and they have several other offerings I’ve yet to try

    Glenmorangie Quinta Ruban — The port casks make this a smooth, deep whiskey. I was already a big fan of their Nectar D’or (which is absolutely phenomenal and a regular for me), but not so high on their other offerings I’ve tried, though they’re all fine whiskeys

    Hibiki 17 year — A rich, oaky, smokey whiskey, with a gorgeous bottle worthy of display on its own. Tastes great and looks great on your shelf

    Angel’s Envy — on the cheaper side, with a pleasant sweetness to it

    Elijah Craig 1789 Barrel Proof — Coming in at 127 proof, this is a beast. It’s not the easiest drink, but, considering its high alcoholic content, it’s flavor is surprisingly not overpowered by its proof

    I’m going to start trying more Japanese whiskeys in the next couple of months, so I’ll report back on those!

    • GBJames
      Posted November 15, 2020 at 7:18 pm | Permalink

      I almost think you’re more of a whisky man than a whiskey man.

      • BJ
        Posted November 15, 2020 at 7:31 pm | Permalink

        Heh, I’m really into both. I love bourbon just as much as I love scotch (not a fan of rye). I’ve just been drinking bourbon for so long that I didn’t have many new ones to try, though Angel’s Envy and Elijah Craig are both bourbons. I just stick to the American spelling because it gets far too confusing when you start trying to spell it properly by country, especially from memory!

  11. Debra Coplan
    Posted November 15, 2020 at 4:51 pm | Permalink

    I highly recommend the book “Judgement of Paris” by George M. Taber. It’s about the California vs French wine competition in 1976 in France. A real coincidence as I just finished it and see this post.
    Our Costco has quite a good wine section and tonight I will probably open a good Argentinian Malbec.

  12. Robert J Van Orden
    Posted November 15, 2020 at 7:24 pm | Permalink

    I’m not a wine connoisseur, I like beer.

    When I do pick up a bottle I have a rule of thumb which I call the $20 price point. I’m of the opinion that there is a large difference between a $8-10 bottle of wine and a $20 bottle. However, there is no discernable difference between a $20 bottle and a $50 bottle, or even a $100 bottle.

    Particularly after the first glass.

    Frankly, I’ve had as much luck in the $17ish range as I’ve had with $25ish range. And I rather enjoy waking up with a fin in my pocket.

  13. Posted November 15, 2020 at 9:42 pm | Permalink

    I’m no wine expert but I like the following Portuguese port which we got as a gift, as well as most ice wines especially the ones with lychee notes:

    This less expensive port is great in gingery chicken soup too!

  14. Posted November 15, 2020 at 10:28 pm | Permalink

    Surely after your trip you must appreciate Chilean wines? They’re up with (my native) Australian/NZ wines as my favorites. I’m more a vodka man myself but I like a good red once in awhile.

    D.A., NYC

  15. Alicia
    Posted November 15, 2020 at 11:00 pm | Permalink

    My favourite Albariño: Terras Gaudas
    I don’t really like verdejo (Rueda), even though Valladolid is where I was born and where my family Lives. But the red wine of the area (Ribera de Duero) is in my unauthorized opinion, better than Rioja; there are so many of them, last bottle I’ve opened, La Planta, excellent.
    Anyone coming to Madrid in the -let’s hope- not too far future, I’d love to ‘tomar unos vinos’ with you!

  16. JBaldwin
    Posted November 16, 2020 at 7:43 am | Permalink

    We have continued to enjoy wine during the pandemic but the new indulgence I’ve begun is fine rum, served neat and sipped slowly. Here’re a couple of favorite discoveries:

    Zafra 21
    Appleton Estate 21.

  17. Robert Bray
    Posted November 16, 2020 at 9:28 am | Permalink

    I am in love with Italian red wines from the Veneto / Verona region. I especially admire versions of Valpolicella that have been vinted using the ‘ripasso’ technique, which holds back a portion of the harvest until the majority of the grapes–exclusively local / regional varieties, particularly Corvina and Rondinella– are in late stages of fermentation. Then the balance is added in to recharge fermentation. The result is a wine that is smooth in the mouth yet deep in finish.

    Excellent values, too: most pass the $20 test with a few bucks to spare.

    My favorites:
    Palazzo Della Torre
    Bussola (more than $20)

  18. uhoh
    Posted November 17, 2020 at 2:29 am | Permalink

    A wine lover! Did you know Narasimhan, over in Eckhart?

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