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Just Pick Six

May 29, 2020

Story: Megan Krigbaum

art: PUNCH

The dealer’s choice six-pack has become the new norm for wine buying. Here, five retailers mix their ideal half-case under $150.

“Let our staff take the reins,” reads the website for Red & White, Nathan Adams’ natural wine shop in Chicago’s Bucktown.

With wine shops now operating in an entirely different way—plexiglass barriers across their front doors, sterilizing wipe-downs of bottles, minimal staff—the way wine is sold has shifted, too. The old model of browsing through a shop, spinning bottles around to check the importer and peppering clerks with questions is but a distant memory. Wine shop owners have had to quickly solve for this new normal, turning to a hand-picked effort in response to customers’ stated preferences—price, taste or otherwise—while differentiating that shop’s point of view from another one down the block. “We will select a mixed case based on what our staff thinks is interesting in the shop right now,” Red & White’s site goes on to read. “Please mark any preferences in the order notes.”

As either a response or a preempt, shops have taken to mixing cases of staff favorites at different price levels, much of them in the six-pack format. Each is a potential window not just into what folks are drinking in quarantine, but what each of the shops has to say. So, to get to know some of our favorite shops better, we played customer and asked five from around the country to compile a six-pack of drink-right-now wines (white, red, rosé/sparkling) for $150 or less. Below is what they came up with—one for each category, and then another three to round out the pack.

Talitha Whidbee, Vine Wine | Brooklyn, New York

From her corner store in Williamsburg, Vine Wine owner Talitha Whidbee doles out small-production wines from American and European up-and-comers. These days, her customers are looking for light reds and orange wines; Whidbee says she’s noticed a drop in rosé sales this year. “I think rosé is too closely linked in people’s minds to fun summer group activities,” she says. Vine Wine’s offering a handful of pre-selected packs, including a four-bottle offering of wines from Le Coste in Italy’s Lazio, a $335 case of “Drink Your Feelings” wines and a made-to-order six-pack.

Georgas Family Hoot White Wine 2019 | $27/1.5L

“The winery calls this a ‘bag-num,’” says Whidbee of this organic white blend (mostly chardonnay) from central Greece that’s sold in a 1.5 liter pouch. “The wine sees one day of skin contact and is full of bright apple fruit and fresh air.”

Yves Duport Céline 2018 | $19

“This is the first time Duport has made this [rosé] cuvée. It’s light and silky and lifted, but with a little bit of structure that makes it super ‘glou’ without being annoying,” says Whidbee. While most pink wines from the Bugey region in France’s Savoie tend to have quite a bit of residual sugar, Whidbee finds this blend of gamay, chardonnay and mondeuse to be a little more restrained.

Flat Brim Wines Fortune Teller Red Blend 2019 | $25

“I have been searching out new-to-the-market American producers who will be overlooked in this pandemic craziness,” says Whidbee. This Portland, Oregon-based winery sources grapes from a handful of regions, including pinot meunier, pinot gris and cabernet from Washington State’s Columbia Valley for this blend. “This wine is young, juicy and made for a good chill and day at the park.”

Round It Out: Kraemer Müller Thurgau Pet Nat 2017 ($32), a thirst-quenching bubbly from Germany; Ramon Jane Baudili 2019 ($24), a citrusy still white from Spain’s Catalonia region; Donkey & Goat Isabel’s Cuvée Rosé 2019 ($39), a juicy, passion fruit–inflected rosé from Mendocino.

Josiah Baldivino, Bay Grape | Oakland, California

Josiah Baldivino owns Bay Grape, a wine shop/bar/classroom, with his partner Stevie Stacionis. Throughout the pandemic, the two have been putting together weekly six-pack offerings in two categories: Comfort or Cray. “The Comfort packs are designed to be really versatile, easy-drinking and, well... comforting,” says Baldivino. “The Cray packs are meant to have more adventurous, wild and offbeat selections.”

Testalonga Baby Bandito Stay Brave 2019 | $25

“‘Whoa. This is dope!’ were my thoughts when I first tried this savory-yet-refreshing slight-skin-contact chenin blanc from South Africa’s Swartland,” Baldivino says. For now, rather than doing in-person tastings, one of his distributors is dropping off little sampler packs of wine, which is how Baldivino first tasted this. “Bonus points because of the name, ‘Stay Brave,’ which I think is a reminder we can all use right about now.”

Paper Planes Flight School Can Sparkling Rosé NV | $8

“A lot of canned wine is whatever but this one is so dang good,” says Baldivino of this Sonoma Coast sparkler. “Nothing hits the spot more than working your butt off the whole day, grabbing one of these precious little cans out of the fridge and taking your dog for a walk.”

Jolie-Laide Trousseau Noir Poulsard Blend 2019 | $33

“Much like Scott [Schultz, Jolie-Laide’s winemaker], his wines are confident, kinda edgy but also loved by most,” says Baldivino. “This is a lighter, fresher red, but it has a ton of complexity, especially with those wild floral aromatics,” he says. “Wines like this remind me why I love wine so much.”

Round It Out: Raza Vinho Verde 2018 ($11): “If 7-Up had a wine relative, this would be it,” says Baldivino; Ulacia Txakolina Rosé 2018 ($18), a tart, red-berried fizzy rosé from northern Spain; Les Lunes Astral Blend 2019 ($24), a fresh, pale red blend of six varieties sourced from all over Northern California.

Nathan Adams, Red & White | Chicago, Illinois

Nathan Adams leads this natural wine–focused shop in Chicago’s Bucktown. Adams has been mixing six-packs and cases to order by asking that customers state their preferences in advance: “We always ask questions regarding style/variety/origin/still/sparkling/etc.” These days, he says, people mostly ask for light reds, rosés, pét-nats and orange wines.

Hervé Villemade Sauvignon Blanc 2018 | $22

Hervé Villemade is a beloved producer in the natural wine world for his wines from the Cheverny area of the Loire Valley. Adams attributes this to not only Villemade’s longevity (he’s been making wine for over 25 years) but for the consistency of his wines from vintage to vintage. Adams looks to this, a négociant bottling, for “tropical, nuanced fruit and reaffirming acidity.”

Alessandro Viola Rosato 2019 | $25

This tiny biodynamic Sicilian producer has become a darling of Instagram over the last year and with good reason: “The wines are delicious!” says Adams. “This is nero d’avola with an amazing concentration of core fruit and a buoyant mouthfeel that’s so refreshing.”

Judith Beck Heideboden 2016 | $25

The wines from Judith Beck, in Austria’s Burgenland region, have long been underappreciated, something Adams endeavors to change. “She’s such a humble individual and there’s such superb value with all of her wines,” he says. The Heideboden bottling is Beck’s regional blend of zweigelt and blaufränkisch. “It has gorgeous spicy fruit, incredible complexity and the most amazing backbone of acidity.”

Round It Out: Les Vigne de Babass Groll n’ Roll 2018 ($36), a spiced red grolleau from the Loire; Le Raisin et L’ange Fable 2018 ($22), a bramble-berried red blend from the Rhône; Domaine Fond Cyprès Cyprès de Toi Rouge 2018 ($24), a vibrant, herbal red from Corbières.

Ceri Smith, Biondivino | San Francisco, California

For the last 14 years, Ceri Smith’s Biondivino in San Francisco’s Russian Hill neighborhood has been the go-to for natural Italian wines in the States. Today, Smith is even working with importer Terra Firma to create her own portfolio of new-to-market Italian producers. Each of the six-packs at Biondivino are tailored to the customer’s tastes and include a little watercolor painting from a young friend of the shop.

Tenuta Belvedere WAI Rosato Frizzante Pinot Nero 2018 | $24

“The color alone makes you want to drink this; it’s that perfect bright, shiny, light ruby red, made from 100 percent pinot nero from the Oltrepò Pavese region in Lombardia. It’s a perfect afternoon or evening aperitivo,” says Smith.

Foppiani Vino di Fognano Bianco 2018 | $26

“Though technically ‘orange,’ I’d throw an ‘ish’ after that orange,” says Smith. A blend of malvasia and ortrugo from the northern reaches of Emilia-Romagna, this wine is made by Paolo Foppiani with the help of Giulio Armani of La Stoppa and Denavolo. “It has a soft, fuzzy kind of feel for a skin-contact wine, no harsh edges,” says Smith.

Carussin Completo Vino Rosso | $23/1L

A Piemonte grab bag blend of barbera with freisa, dolcetto and grignolino, “This is just that wine that you want open and at your reach anytime of the day,” says Smith. “It’s a liter bottle, so it lasts just a little longer before having to get up to open another bottle.”

Round It Out: Terra della Luna Vermentino Vinacciolo di Luna Frizzante 2018 ($26), a zippy, lightly sparkling white from Liguria; Stefano Legnani Ponte de Toi Vermentino 2018 ($25), a crisp, seafood-ready white; Podere Casaccia Priscus 2018 ($26), a structured Tuscan sangiovese.

June Rodil, Montrose Cheese & Wine | Houston, Texas

Master sommelier June Rodil oversees the wine side of the newly opened Montrose, where she focused on modern classics. Rodil filled this six-pack with blends from around the globe. “Most people who are down to buy a mixed case of wine tend to be a bit more adventurous,” she says.

 Puech Redon Pour de Vrai 2019 | $29

“This pét-nat is from a new producer that just changed his entire growing methodology from conventional to biodynamic with the help of [Rhône winemaker] Éric Texier,” Rodil says. “He’s doing revelatory things in a region that’s known for bulk wine. Also, it’s a white bubbly made from red grapes, which I absolutely love.”

Moric Hidden Treasures No. 2 Somlo 2017 | $37

Winemaker Roland Velich is responsible for some of the more thrilling wines coming out of Austria’s Burgenland region. His Hidden Treasures project features collaborations with undiscovered winemakers just across the border in Hungary. In the case of this wine, he worked with Tamas Kis from the Somló area. “There is such a history of the Hungarian influence throughout southern Austria that is so often glazed over or ignored and I love how passionate he is about it,” says Rodil. “Also, [the] wines are great. Ripping acid and freshness that I can’t get enough of.”

Forlorn Hope Queen of the Sierra Estate Red 2017 | ($25)

This grab-bag blend of varieties (including barbera, trousseau noir, tempranillo, graciano, cabernet) comes from Matthew Rorick’s high-altitude estate vineyards in California’s Calaveras County, in the middle of the Sierras. “I applaud that he’s using his own estate fruit in this and that he’s fermenting each variety separately, using indigenous yeasts,” says Rodil. “This is a ‘think project’ for him, on a more affordable scale for the consumer, that’s just in its genesis.”

Round It Out: June’s Brut Rosé NV ($20), a rosé bubbly from Austria that Rodil works with winemaker Markus Huber to produce; Kuentz-Bas Alsace Blanc 2018 ($17), a dry, classic Alsatian white blend of sylvaner, muscat and auxerrois; 4 Monos GR-10 Tinto 2018 ($22), a goes-down-easy, garnacha-based red from outside Madrid.

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Tagged: wine, wine retail