Preparing for the 1L Moot Court competition has taught me a lot. For instance, it's taught me that I don't please the court. It's also taught me that gender-based classifications are invalid unless they have extremely persuasive justification.
I have to admit that I'm guilty of applying preferential treatment-between wines. I'm usually more of a fan of bigger, bolder red wines-malbec and cabernet, for instance-though recently I've begun to appreciate lighter-bodied reds. I'm certainly guilty of liking reds more than whites (does that require strict scrutiny?), though I've begun to appreciate white wine as well.
I've written previously about beaujolais (made from gamay), a terrific value and perhaps one of the most easy-going (yet serious) set of wines out there. In November there is the "beaujolais nouveau" craze which is fun but, like high school relationships, only for a short while. You can find great versions from the lower-end beaujolais and beaujolais villages, to the higher-end cru beaujolais. Cru beaujolais generally has more structure, finesse, and personality than the non-cru varieties. The Morgon cru beaujolais from Jean Descombes ($8.99) is a great example.
However, some fans of big red wines might not like beaujolais because it is still very light. They might come around for a cabernet franc, which is a parent grape of cabernet sauvignon. Cabernet franc is much lighter than cabernet sauvignon-both in body and color-and has more berry than plum. Those cabernet franc wines from the Loire Valley of France are especially wonderful and feature some nice acidity and a good streak of minerality. My favorite wine of the moment happens to be a cab franc: the Domaine Joulin Saumur Champigny Rouge ($17.99 at The Wine Specialist). Kermit Lynch also imports a pretty good version-the Charles Joguet Chinon "Clos de la Cure" (approx. $25.00).
Or, you could go to Italy for some really nice lighter reds. The barbaresco from the Produttori del Barbaresco collective in Piedmont, Italy ($20-$30) is made from nebbiolo and is very light but substantial nonetheless. Raisin and licorice are predominant. It's light but not fragile.
Beaujolais and cab franc are great with a bit of a chill on them. Try putting them in the fridge for about 15 minutes before serving. The other night I put some ice in cab franc (gasp!)-but hey, I needed a thirst quencher.
There is such diversity in white wine. I like to group whites into two general categories-those that are sweeter and those that are dry. This is not a definitive dichotomy, as some dry white wines seem sweet and vice-versa.
German riesling is an excellent white wine that comes in varying degrees of sweetness. Some are achingly sweet, others are off-dry (semi-sweet), and others are bone-dry. I'll write a separate article about different types of riesling, but this is one of those varietals where a knowledgeable wine steward can be of tremendous help. Off-dry riesling is especially good and versatile: its light sweetness and nice acidity go well with spicy ethnic cuisine like Thai food. Dr. Loosen's entry level riesling is a good bet and, at around $15, won't break the bank.
Gewurztraminer is another typically sweet wine, hailing predominantly from Austria. I've found it very similar to riesling, although gewurztraminer may have a touch more spice. If you really don't want to break the bank, you can go to Trader Joe's and pick up a few bottles of the J.W. Morris gewurztraminer for around $4 each. It won't be the best example out there, but it's certainly one of the cheapest.
My current favorite dry white is sauvignon blanc. There are many different styles of sauvignon blanc, very often corresponding to different countries. Good New Zealand sauvignon blancs are fresh and vibrant with notes of tropical fruit. You should try the Cloudy Bay from Marlborough (approx. $25). A wonderful Old World version is the Francois Chidaine sauvignon blanc from the Touraine (Loire Valley) region of France ($12-$14). It is grassy, clean, crisp, and has more minerality than its version down under.
I am personally not a fan of chardonnay. Chardonnay is probably the most popular white wine out there-you'll find it at every single catered law firm event anywhere in the country. Chardonnay can be lean and minerally (if found in, say, many parts of France) or a huge tropical, buttery affair (especially if found in California). If you are shopping for a chardonnay, I would recommend asking for one not aged in oak but rather in steel tanks-injudicious oak aging is what gives many of these "butterballs" their butterball quality.
I'm not going to say that preferential treatment between reds and whites is unconstitutional. But, with so many lighter reds and whites out there, you should at least give them equal consideration.