Just as this issue was headed to press, a friend invited me to a BYOB dinner in Flushing, New York. He’s in the financial industry, and his group included other Wall Street folk as well as a chef and a sommelier. As it turned out, the restaurant was Guan Fu—an elegant, ambitiously authentic take on what Sichuan might be like for the one percent in China. And the food, in fact, was astonishing—crunchy tree-ear mushrooms with lacto-fermented peppers that supercharged a spice fire in the back of my throat; a rich pot of abalone and pork belly; king crab presented three ways (delicately steamed, fried with a coating of dried egg yolk, and stir-fried with peppers); and a whole steamed grouper with cheeks and fins as delicious as the flesh.
The wines ranged from Jacques Selosse V.O. Blanc de Blancs Champagne and J.J. Prüm’s Spätlese Mosel Riesling to older vintages of Vatan Sancerre Rouge and Rayas Châteauneuf-du-Pape. As I indulged in the last taste of the quick-stir-fried cabbage with Knoll 2013 Loibner Riesling Smaragd, it occurred to me how this was about as far from our Spicy Queen BYO event in San Francisco as one could get and still be on the same delicious planet. At that event (as reported by Barbara Haimes on page 16), the guests were limited to spending no more than $20 per bottle of wine, and dinner for eight cost less than $200. And yet, I left Guan Fu thinking that the only real differences were in the rarity of the ingredients, the décor and, perhaps, the clarity of the flavors. The intention and outcome were largely the same. Whether it’s a rich Muscadet or a 20-year-old Meursault, a bright brachetto blend or a brooding Rayas, wine can uplift Sichuan food in remarkable ways. And, if you want, it will do it for a song.
While you’ll find plenty of splurge-worthy wines in this issue, the bulk of it is devoted to wines that sing for $20 or less: the kind of wines that improve a weeknight meal without a lot of fuss. We’ve found a range of affordable investments to improve your summer.
Some of that research took us to new sources for great wine, such as the ancient vinelands of Armenia’s volcanic hills, where John Szabo, MS, discovered fragrant wines from the local areni grape. And to Uruguay’s Atlantic coast, where Julie Case found fresh, contemporary styles of tannat ready for summer drinking. Closer to home, David Darlington considered old-vine zinfandel, a wine that remains undervalued and underpriced when it comes to an authentic and delicious taste of California. You’ll find a host of terrific zinfandels and many other under-the-radar wines in our tasting section, even if some are more than twenty bucks.
This story appears in the print issue of June 2016. Like what you read? Subscribe today.