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The House Wine Redux

By Staff in Food on Jun 27, 2014 6:00PM


House wines have traditionally been inexpensive wines sold by the glass or carafe. In France, Spain or Italy house wines are often outstanding local wines. Here in the USA however, they're usually just cheap and characterless, and not something anyone interested in good wine would ever consider ordering. In fact, they were often so bad you hardly ever see a “house” wine offered today because they eventually sold so poorly.

Lisa Kelly, owner of Bread & Wine (3732 W. Irving Park Rd.) in Old Irving Park, is changing this. For the past year Bread & Wine has offered private label house wines, a red and a white, by the glass ($11) or bottle ($38).

As a wine lover herself, having a high quality wine was important to Kelly; rather than the usual cheap plonk that is typically found as a house wine. Kelly explains “I wanted to blend something that would go well with our food and would offer our customers a reasonably priced wine that is also high quality.” She goes on “My focus was to make wines that were not only good with our food but would also appeal to a wide audience. I wanted to be able to put a bottle of each of our house wines on the table and have the whole table be happy.”

Working with the wine distributor Vinejoy, Kelly, along with her business partner Jennifer Wisniewski began their search for a winemaker “We started meeting with different distributors to try to get them introduce us to winemakers. And we really hit it off with one of these winemakers, Andrew Jones. So we decided he was going to be the winemaker that we worked with in creating our wines,” Kelly says.

The wines are made in central California's Paso Robles region by Jones of Field Recordings. When asked why she chose Paso Robles, Kelly says, “I spent a lot of time in Paso Robles and found that they deliver really quality wine at a much lower cost than Napa and Sonoma.”

Instead of just buying and labeling already made wine, Kelly takes an active role in the making of their wines. While Jones handles the wine making, Kelly makes the final call on the blend. She tells me “We talk about what I'm looking for and he presents me with different blends and I decide on the final version.”

The 2012 white is a blend of 70% pinot gris, 20% muscat blanc, and 10% sauvignon blanc. While pinot gris typically makes wines that are spicy and acidic the Bread & Wine white is quite fruit forward and typically Californian in style. When asked about the style Kelly says “I didn't want it to be a hundred percent pinot gris because I just didn't feel like it would have the complexity that I wanted. It's more full bodied than you would expect from a pinot gris because of the muscat blanc.”

The 2012 red is a blend of 70% cabernet franc and 30% merlot. Like the white, the red is fruit forward but balanced with light tannins and good acidity. “It's lighter in flavor than you might expect from this particular blend. We wanted a brighter, lighter bodied wine for the summer months.” She goes on “I even like to slightly chill this wine for barbecues.”

Just in time for summer, next week Bread & Wine will introduce their new 2013 house rosé. Produced in Santa Barbara County by Curt Schalclin of Sans Liege, only 42 cases were made. “I'm super excited about the rosé,” Kelly says. The rosé is 100% grenache, blended from 3 of the winemaker's favorite grenache sites. While it wasn't available for me to taste, Kelly describes it as having “a lot of tropical notes and orchard fruits. It's a little bit richer in body and fruit than you would get from a rosé from Provence. It's an easy, fun, patio wine.”

Now, because of the reputation of the “house wine” you might think that Bread & Wine would have a tough time selling their wines. Actually, it's quite the opposite. Kelly tells me “I have always thought the reason the quality of our house wine is not questioned is because it actually belongs to us, meaning we have our own private label: we don't call another, random wine our house wine.”

Because of their quality, wide appeal, and value, of the 60 wines on the wine list at Bread & Wine the house wines are their best sellers.

“I'm very proud of the fact that we worked really hard to get these wines in here,” says Kelly. “It's something we felt passionately about and the wines have been well received. So it makes me happy and proud of our wines.”

By John Lenart