Winemaking arose in Europe over thousands of years through trial and error, and so each region developed its own folk wisdom of what worked best. In the end, nearly every indigenous European wine ended up as a blend of several different varietals of grapes—one for color, one for fruit flavors, and a third for fragrance, for instance. In America, winemaking was snuffed out by Prohibition and didn’t get going again till the 1960s, and for whatever reason we seem to have evolved the idea that a single varietal of wine bottled alone, say, Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot, is the best. Here’s a secret: That’s rarely true, and if you shop against the American trend of single varietals, you’ll find delicious, food-friendly bargains galore.
Multiplicity (NV), Le Lapin, Paso Robles, California
Don’t let the French name fool you: This wine from Paso Robles producer Rabbit Ridge is as inarguably Californian as the Beach Boys. It’s also fruity like a Beaujolais and concentrated like a Zinfandel, and a great backyard summer sipper. available: Widely. Try Minneapolis’s Zipps and South Lyndale Liquor.
2007 Claret, Steltzner Vineyards, Napa Valley
Claret was the British aristocracy’s name for Bordeaux. When Americans use it, we mean that the wine is based on Bordeaux varieties and is a well-balanced table wine, not an oak-monster. Steltzner’s claret has remarkable grace and concentration. Available: Widely. Try Haskell’s or Surdyk’s.
2008 Voyageur, Alexis Bailly Vineyard, Hastings, Minnesota
The best red table wine ever made in Minnesota, this grapey but also intensely blackberry and plum-scented red goes perfectly with all the things we love to grill in spring. Try it next to a rack of ribs in a chipotle glaze, or a good bison cheeseburger. Available: Widely. Try Lunds and Byerly’s, or MGM.
2003 Trifecta, Beaucanon Estate, Napa Valley
This pretty wine is juicy with red-fruit flavors of raspberry and cherry, but also well focused and intense with little sparks of pepper and spice. As likable as an ice-cream sundae but as sophisticated as a Renoir, it’s an especially good wine to pair with one of those restaurant meals that include everything from duck to ginger. Available: Rarely. Try St. Paul’s Little Wine Shoppe or Hugo’s On the Rocks.