As The Internal Revenue Service’s April 18 deadline looms (we get a few extra days because Emancipation Day falls on the April 15 this year), each of us must face the inevitable reckoning: We will either owe the IRS more of our hard-earned money, we will have miraculously paid sufficient withholding to break even, or we will be able to happily anticipate a refund (while admitting that the portion of our money that Uncle Sam has been holding might better have been invested in a high-yield dividend stock).
First, condolences to those of you whose insufficient withholding will require you to write a fat check to the government. It’s painful, and you'll need some comfort. I turn to pasta when I’m feeling strapped; one can eat well on a budget and forget one’s overdrafts for a bit. The following wines won’t break the bank and will pair well with equally frugal food; there will even be enough for friends to help console you.
Full disclosure: I have a weakness for self-deprecating humor, and no one does it better than the self-styled “humble winemaker,” Jean-Claude Mas. His Arrogant Frog line will amuse and enchant you with its wacky labels featuring a louche, well-dressed frog, complete with beret, and silly subheads (e.g., Lily Pad White). Even if you’re in full IRS-induced panic mode, the labels will make you laugh. Let's begin, then, with two of his wines:
Arrogant Frog Sauvignon Blanc (Savvy Sauvignon) 2015 ($10)
This is a lovely light wine at a truly remarkable price, and is perfect for those mourning on tax day. Pale straw in the glass, with lime, lemon, and a touch of grapefruit in the nose, this wine balances citrus with pear, gooseberry, and fresh herbs on the palate. Boasting a surprisingly silky mouthfeel for a budget wine, it also has a zingy, mouthwatering finish — altogether refreshing. To accompany it, I’d buy a kilo of inexpensive mussels, make a simple sauce of shallots, white wine, and butter, serve the whole shebang on a bed of al dente linguine, and rejoice in delicious simplicity.
Arrogant Frog Chardonnay (Lily Pad White) 2015 ($10)
This is another budget winner. Light straw in the glass and decidedly French in style, it is neither oaky nor excessively buttery. Light- to medium-bodied with a creamy mouthfeel, the wine features white peach and citrus in the nose with pineapple and vanilla chiming in on the palate. It is nicely balanced and easy drinking. Hunt for some fish filets on sale, dot them with herb butter, wrap them in parchment paper with julienned carrots and zucchini, and bake just until the fish flakes easily. Angel hair pasta with butter and fresh lemon zest complements a luxurious but inexpensive meal.
For those of you who hit the sweet spot: You owe not one cent, and managed to funnel your earnings into your own, rather than Uncle Sam’s, pocket. You are sensible and value-oriented, but have earned the right to move past entry-level bottles. For you, I recommend:
Nipozzano Riserva Chianti Rufina 2011 ($19)
This is a really well-priced chianti from the legendary house of Frescobaldi. While it is composed mostly of sangiovese grapes, the vintner added a whole slew of complementary varietals (malvasia nero, colorino, merlot and cabernet sauvignon) for added complexity. The resulting wine is a very pretty ruby red, fruit-forward blend that entices with dark fruit, clove, and a bit of pepper in the nose and on the palate, with berry and cherry notes predominating. Some floral and mineral elements emerge as it opens and smooth tannins contribute to a moderately long finish. The wine has a pleasing acidity, and is extremely food-friendly. To go with it, I’d spend the afternoon making Marcella Hazen’s unctuous ragù, buy some fresh linguini to anchor it, and invite some less fortunate friends to share in the feast. No time for a five-hour sauce? Simply marinate a richly flavorful flatiron steak and toss it on the grill with seasonal fresh vegetables; you’ve earned it.
Luce della Vite Lucente 2012 ($29)
This is a big, bold and ground-breaking sangiovese/merlot blend from the house of Frescobaldi, and it makes quite an impression. It's almost inky purple in the glass, and the nose is rich with red fruit, with pie spices and herb notes chiming in. Sangiovese contributes fine tannins and some acidity while the merlot reinforces the fruit-forward nature of the blend and contributes a roundness as well as a whiff of cedar and oak. The mouthfeel is smooth and velvety; it's a pleasure to drink. This wine will, of course, complement all things Tuscan, from hearty bean soups to rich game ragùs; but given the season, I’d opt for a riff on bistecca alle fiorentina, with roasted wild mushrooms. Ask your butcher for a great t-bone, salt and pepper it well, and grill it rare!
JCB Crémant de Bourgogne No. 69 ($25)
You needn’t spend a fortune to celebrate with a bit of style: This pretty, well-balanced crémant (Champagne-method sparkling wine) is from Jean-Claude Boisset, and it is a lot of fun. Boisset Family Estates is the largest wine producer in Burgundy (it owns such famed enterprises as Bouchard, Moreau, and Mommessin, among others) and has acquired a number of fine wineries in California (including Buena Vista, De Loach, and Raymond) to add to its various French wineries. No. 69 is made exclusively from pinot noir. It's a lovely pale rose color in the glass, with plenty of berry fruit on the palate. Styled as a brut, it offers a pleasing balance of fruit and acidity, and although the label calls it “flamboyant, vibrant and sensual,” I’ll leave that up to the individuals happy enough to be imbibing it. I’d pair this with a creamy, rich wild mushroom risotto or skip straight to dessert, perhaps a decadent flourless chocolate cake.
Finally, a few suggestions for those of you who are celebrating a tax return: try using some of your windfall to treat yourselves to something new: a different varietal, a different country of origin, or a different price range. I’d start by reading through The 101 Best Wineries in America and I know I would start my search with the latest soaring star from Paso Robles, California, and winner of our 2015 Winery of the Year, Tablas Creek. Salut!