VinePair wine enthusiasts, we hear you! Readers have told us how hard it has been to discover new wines during the pandemic. Somms are in short supply, as many restaurants are still closed. Online wine platforms have algorithms that prioritize the same big brands, and many customers are still picking up their wine shop orders curbside. So we reached out to wine professionals we admire to ask for their help. With the challenge to build a 12-bottle case for under $250, these wine pros sifted through hundreds of bottles to find the best case possible — so you don’t have to. (And for wine pros who work with a brand, we also let them choose one of their own wines to highlight.) Then, we choose a retailer that ships nationally, and the pros only learn which retailer they’ll be choosing from after they accept the challenge. Their only guidance? Find wines that will wow wine enthusiasts.
VinePair challenged wine pro Tish Wiggins to create a 12-bottle case of wines from Henry’s Wine & Spirit. Though Brooklyn-based Henry’s mainly carries bottles from smaller natural wine producers, Wiggins — a Fintech consultant by day, wine educator and event curator by night — was up for the challenge.
“This challenge definitely forced me out of my comfort zone and pushed me to research and expand my knowledge in the area of natural and biodynamic wines,” Wiggins says.
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The Dallas-based wine pro works part time as a server at Trova Wine + Market. She also curates a blog and social media presence, Tish Around Town, where she shares food, wine, spirits, and travel stories. In addition, Wiggins hosts an event series called Chat n’ Sip, which features virtual wine tastings, demonstrations, and conversations with drinks experts.
During the ongoing pandemic, Wiggins says, she has been discovering new wines by purchasing bottles directly from wineries, both online and in person. “I keep a running list of wines, wineries, and winemakers I want to try, so during the pandemic I was able to knock a few off my list,” she says. When making her selections for this $250 Case Challenge, she took three main things into consideration: region, grape variety, and story.
“I feel that every bottle has a story to tell that’s relatable and inspiring, with also some teachable moments we all can use for navigating life,” she says.
Below, Wiggins shares her ideal case of wine, including regionally focused picks such as Portugal’s Vinho Verde, unique blends like Cabernet Franc and Riesling, and of course, bottles with great stories to tell.
Humus Vinho Tinto (meaning red wine in Portuguese) is produced at Quinta do Paço, a small family farm located right outside of Lisbon. This wine is made with Touriga Nacional, one of Portugal’s signature red grape varieties. Touriga Nacional is one of the grapes used to make port wine, though it’s also used to produce dry Portuguese red wines such as this one.
Wiggins reaches for a dry red with Touriga Nacional “when I’m looking for a wine that’s full-bodied with bold fruit flavors and firm tannins,” she says. “This grape is sometimes compared to Cabernet Sauvignon because they express similar flavor characteristics, and both varieties have great aging potential. I would pair this wine with a simply seasoned (not too spicy or salty) beef tenderloin to balance the bold fruit and tannins.”
This Cinsault is made with vines planted in the 1950s in Bordeaux’s St. Julien region. Its namesake winemaker Martin Texier is the son of Éric Texier, a northern Rhône natural wine producer.
Cinsault, also called Cinsaut, is one of the grapes widely planted in southern France, found in both Rhône-style red blends and Provençal rosés. Wiggins says she loves this grape’s combination of fruity, spicy, and floral notes. “This easy-drinking red wine would pair well with a hearty beef stew on a cold winter day,” she says.
Cuvée Kéké is produced by Kewin Descombes in Beaujolais, the southernmost subregion of Burgundy. Descombes followed in his father George’s winemaking footsteps, producing his first Beaujolais vintage in 2013 at the young age of 21. He adopted many of his father’s techniques, such as organic farming and minimal to no use of sulfur.
“Beaujolais is my go-to when I’m in the mood for a light- to medium-bodied red wine. The flavor profile is very similar to Pinot Noir, with intense red fruits, medium acidity, earthy notes, and low tannins,” Wiggins says. “One of Beaujolais’ redeeming qualities is versatility, and it can be paired with many foods. This is the perfect wine to enjoy with a charcuterie board because it will pair well with an assortment of meats, cheeses, olives, and spreads.”
Produced in the Finger Lakes region of New York, Usonia Vistas is made by a husband-and-wife team, Alex and Julia Alvarez-Perez. This unique blend of equal parts Cabernet Franc and Riesling is the couple’s newest release.
“I’m always open to trying something different, so this blend definitely piqued my interest and curiosity. This wine will express some notes of red fruit and a hint of spice from the Cabernet Franc. My pairing suggestion for this ‘untraditional’ blend is grilled salmon salad with a raspberry vinaigrette to balance the acidity from the Riesling and showcase the red fruit notes in the Cabernet Franc.”
This selection from Porter Bass Vineyard, an organic and biodynamic winery in the Russian River Valley, is made with organically grown grapes and fermented and aged in French oak.
“Pinot Noir is on the top of my list when I’m looking for a light- to medium-bodied red to enjoy,” Wiggins says “A Pinot Noir from this region will express lush red fruits like cherry and raspberry, as well as some earthy notes and delicate tannins. Mushroom risotto is the perfect dish to pair with this Pinot Noir, as the earthy notes in the wine will complement the mushrooms in the risotto.”
This Chardonnay is produced in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. Maison Noir’s winemaker André Hueston Mack is a former NYC sommelier. “Not only does he make great wine, but the labeling is fun,” says Wiggins.
“This was an easy selection because this is one of my go-to wines when I’m in the mood for an unoaked Chardonnay. This Chardonnay is crisp, with beautiful apple and pear notes and a great balance of minerality and acidity.” To elevate this bottle, Wiggins suggests pairing it with sushi.
Produced in the Vinho Verde region of Portugal, VēVē is made by Casal de Ventozela, a third-generation family estate in Mogege. This is a sustainable vegan wine, composed of a blend of handpicked white grapes.
“Wines from Vinho Verde are my favorites to enjoy during the summer, and the perfect ‘patio pounder’ to sip on a hot day. Vinho Verde expresses fresh green fruit notes and crisp acidity along with a subtle amount of effervescence and fizz similar to a spritzer. Ceviche and Vinho Verde are a match made in food heaven. The fresh citrus juices from the ceviche will pair perfectly to the acidity and fizz in the wine.”
A family-owned winery located in the Clarksburg region in the Sacramento Valley, Haarmeyer Wine Cellars is run by Craig and Kelley Haarmeyer, along with their children, Alex and Marian. The family is leading the charge in making this region known for its Chenin Blanc, Wiggins says.
“Chenin Blanc is very versatile when it comes to style and flavor profile — dry, off-dry, sweet, and sparkling. This particular Chenin is off-dry, so it’s slightly sweet. Chenin Blanc is another one of my ‘patio pounders’ I sip in the summer, and I enjoy the sparkling during the holidays. This Chenin Blanc would pair perfectly with some juicy pan-seared or grilled pork chops.”
Otto’s Constant Dream (OCD) Sauvignon Blanc is produced in Marlborough, New Zealand. “This wine was inspired by the obsessive nature and approach to wine by Melissa Saunders, importer and distributor from Communal Brands. Her friend and business partner, Chris Antista, decided to create a wine in her honor, hence the name OCD,” says Wiggins.
“Sauvignon Blanc is aromatic and medium-bodied, with high acidity and the signature varietal of New Zealand. It will typically express citrus notes like lemon, lime, green apple, and grapefruit. I’m always intrigued with trying Sauvignon Blanc because it’s grown all over the world, and it expresses slightly different in the glass based on where it’s grown.” Obsessed with oysters? Wiggins suggests pairing this bottle with them.
“Crémant is the ‘other’ sparkling wine made in France, other than Champagne,” Wiggins says. While both Champagne and Crémant are made using the traditional method (also called méthode Champenoise and méthode traditionnelle), Crémant is typically more affordable. Chenin Blanc was used to make this selection.
“Crémant is my inexpensive alternative when I’m in the mood for bubbles. My favorite pairing with Crémant and all other sparklings is fried and crunchy foods, like truffle fries and fried chicken,” says Wiggins.
This rosé is made with organically and biodynamically farmed Syrah. “Traditionally in France, Syrah is blended with Grenache and Mourvèdre to create the classic Côtes du Rhône blend affectionately known as GSM,” says Wiggins.
This wine is a collaboration between wine distributor and owner of The Ten Bells natural wine and tapas bar Fifi Essome, and the winery Domaine Leonine. “Fun fact about the label: Babushka is Fifi’s pet name for his daughter Mia, who also designed the label.”
Olga Raffault Chinon Rosé is produced by Domaine Olga Raffault in the Loire Valley, a family-owned vineyard run by Sylvie Raffault, granddaughter of Olga, the winery’s founder. This rosé is made with Cabernet Franc, which is the flagship varietal grown in their vineyard and in this region.
“I love all types of rosé, and I enjoy drinking Cabernet Franc from Chinon, so I’m definitely interested in trying this rosé,” Wiggins says. Pair this wine with paella to take it to the next level.