Wine, it’s safe to say, doesn’t have much in common with the world of fashion. Trends in the latter are conceived, blossom, and die in less time than it takes to age a bottle of Rioja, while wine’s obsession with soil is likely to have the average clothes-horse raising a well-manicured eyebrow.
But there’s one area where wine lovers can learn from fashionistas: the capsule wardrobe.
The concept dates back to the 1940s, and its premise is simple: that there are too many things stuffed into the modern wardrobe, where a smaller number of well-chosen garments that could be cleverly mixed and matched to suit all occasions makes more sense.
Most people buy wine the way they buy clothes: illogically. But if less can be more with clothes, then why not with wine, too?
The capsule cellar
Would it be possible to create a wine equivalent, with just one case? Such a case would need to work with all the main food styles and drinking occasions, from wines to share with friends and impress the in-laws to take-aways and date nights. All for under $25 a bottle.
The answer is yes, but it’s a job for professionals. Fortunately, the professionals were ready to help; each one was tasked with creating one section of the capsule cellar.
Creating the capsule wasn’t easy, even for people who do this kind of thing for a living. It’s far harder, after all, to create a good short wine list than a good long one, because there’s absolutely no room for any fat. And most wine lists are considerably longer than 12 bottles.
“Putting my section together definitely needed some research,” said Nicole Cheon, in charge of the red wine section. “But for people who like to enjoy wines every day and try different things rather than collect them, this is a great way to discover new favorites and broaden their knowledge.”
Create Your Own 12-Bottle Capsule Cellar
4 white wines you need:
“When I taste wines, I think of food pairings. First, I smell foods, then taste the foods, then pair in my head, or I look at ingredients,” says Tonya Pitts, the wine director and sommelier at One Market Restaurant, San Francisco, adding it’s the flavor profile that excites her. As to why she’s chosen these wines for the collection, she says it’s because they can all shine with everyday meals.
Bodega Vionta Galicia Rías Baixas Albariño 2019 (~$14)
“This is one of my favorite Albariños,” says Pitts, saying that the combination of salinity, minerality, and fruit makes the wine the perfect pairing with rich, fatty fish of all kinds, including sushi rolls and sashimi.
Clos des Lunes Lune d’Argent Grand Vin Blanc Sec 2018 (~$20)
When you need a wine that can be enjoyed on its own, but which will also match food, this is the one, because it “plays nicely with comfort food. Think stuffed roasted chicken or lamb sausage with creamy polenta with Parmesan cheese,” says Pitts. “It’s a wine for date night to replicate the fancy restaurant experience — it really over-delivers.”
Chalone Vineyard Estate Monterey Chardonnay 2019 (~$23)
This is “classic California Chardonnay produced in the old-school way,” says Pitts, and it offers a cornucopia of lemon peel, golden delicious apples, and crème brûlée characters on both the nose and palate, which is “layered with minerality and a dry finish. Pasta is calling for this one: not red sauce, but olive oil, butter, cream.” Pitts says this impressive wine is ideal to pull out when you need to make a good impression. “On the boss, say, or meeting your partner’s parents.”
Bollig-Lehnert Trittenheimer Apotheke Kabinett Riesling 2020 (~$19)
Pitts says she loves this wine for its complexity, adding it’s perfect for dishes with spice and heat. The wine has good acidity, and finishes dry.
“If I had more space I’d include white Burgundy, Greek Assyrtiko, and Jura Chardonnay. And Champagne works with so many styles. Some of my favorite pairing has been aged Blanc de Blancs with beef.”Tonya Pittssommelier and wine director for One Market Restaurant
4 red wines you need:
“To choose my red wines, I thought about major ingredients of food styles and cooking methods — meat, fish, grain, and vegetable — and tried to pick something to go with them in broad categories,” says Nicole Cheon, the sommelier at Le Bernardin in Manhattan, explaining that she went for wines with juicy fruit, bright acidity, and balanced structure. “Then I narrowed down the choices with my personal preferences; wines that express specific terroirs and wines made with biodynamic philosophy.”
Cheon says that red wines from Languedoc-Roussillon or Montsant in Spain are also worth considering, because “you can find an array of versatile red wines without a heavy price tag.”
Karim Vionnet Beaujolais Villages 2020 (~$20)
“Karim Vionnet makes pure, authentic, delightful wines that express respect for nature,” says Cheon. “Bursting with crunchy red fruits like cranberry, fresh red cherries, and wild strawberries, subtle spices, violet floral, and wet earth, the wine is juicy, vibrant, and incredibly easy-drinking. Great chilled for weeknights on a porch to unwind and relax.”
Pittnauer Pitti Burgenland Red Blend 2019 (~$21)
“A blend of Zweigelt and Blaufränkisch with a small portion of Merlot, this medium-bodied wine is fruity, savory, earthy, and floral with a touch of herbaceousness and crushed black pepper,” says Cheon. “Delicious with Peking Duck — and a fun wine to bring to a backyard barbeque party.”
Terre Nere Etna Rosso Nerello Mascalese 2019 (~$24)
Cheon says Tenuta delle Terre Nere consistently makes stunning examples of Etna Rosso from the slopes of Mount Etna, and this vintage is no exception. “With its bright acidity and firm tannin, food matching possibilities are limitless for this red-fruited, aromatic wine — anything from pasta with tomato-base sauce to eggplant, sardines, tuna, and steak. So it’s great for a multi-course dinner.”
Antiyal Pura Fe Maipo Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2018 (~$24)
“Produced by one of the leading biodynamic producers in Chile, Pura Fe Cabernet Sauvignon is full-bodied, rich, and flavorful yet has wonderful freshness from the high elevation of the vineyards,” says Cheon. “Aromas of dark cherry and plum fruit, dried tobacco leaves, and chocolate complemented by mint and eucalyptus make it a great wine for a Friday steak dinner — or to bring along to a winter getaway.”
4 sparkling, rosé, and orange alternatives:
“I chose these wines simply because they are delicious wines in their own right. I wanted to choose wines that would be inviting and approachable to drink and ultimately be gateways to the greater wine world.”Jhonel Faelnaraward-winning sommelier and wine director of Atomix NYC
Empire Estate Finger Lakes Riesling Blanc de Blancs Brut NV (~$20)
“An excellent sparkling wine featuring the mainstay grape variety of the Finger Lakes: Riesling,” says Faelnar, saying it has light tropical fruit characters on the nose. “This is an easy pairing with ceviche and green salads along with potentially heftier dishes like seared salmon in a butter sauce.”
La Caravelle Niña Champagne Brut NV (~$41)
Champagne for under $25? Look no further. This classic blend of Meunier, Pinot Noir, and Chardonnay from Rita and Andre Jammet “gives you value in spades and allows for Champagne to be a regular occurrence at the dinner table,” Faelnar says. “Great for random date nights at home.”
Alois Lageder Alto Adige Pinot Grigio 2019 (~$16)
This skin-contact orange wine from the Lageder family of Northern Italy is not your everyday Pinot Grigio. Faelnar says it’s “waxy, textured, and savory in all the right ways. Enjoy this wine with savory fare like roasted chicken or seafood pasta.” It’s one to bring out to share with wine-centric friends.
Chacra 'Nacha' Patagonia Rosé 2020 (~$24)
This Pinot Noir rosé from Patagonia in southern Argentina is a great example of a deliciously fruit-driven style that is acid-driven and balanced on the palate and one to pair with fresh salad or seared salmon. Faelnar says it’s a great bottle for those occasions where you’re expected to take a bottle, like a friend’s birthday. “It’s a crowd pleaser — a way to celebrate and also show you care.”