In Friday's WINE GAL EXPLAINS WINE THINGS -- a spinoff of our WINE GUY EXPLAINS WINE THINGS series -- SQUID INK talked with Cut sommelier Dana Farner about the best strategies for ordering affordable wine in expensive restaurants. She had some great tips. Our favorite involved her "littlest kitten" theory: "I think you're just as fine choosing the least expensive bottle," she told us. "I just feel that the wines that are at the lower end are the ones I really had to seek out, you know? Think of it like choosing the littlest kitten. It was the one you took the most risks on, but the love that you get from that bottle really pays off!" Of course, this got us to wondering about Farner's own kittens. Which wines on her list does she consider her littlest kittens? In other words, which wines of hers can we afford to order. We followed up with Farner and she suggested the following eight wines, starting with a little-known $34 Italian that our restaurant critic Jonathan Gold also loves.
Abbazia di Novacella Kerner, Alto Adige, Italy, $34: "Tastes like a lightly sugared grapefruit. This is exactly the kind of wine you should ask about -- it's completely unfamiliar and hard to pronounce. Someone put it on the list because they just couldn't resist."
Albrecht "Réserve" Riesling, Alsace, France $40: "Riesling is so great with food. It's not always sweet! Give Riesling a chance."
Stuhlmuller Chardonnay, Alexander Valley, California, $50: "This toasty California Chardonnay has great fruit, mouth-watering crispness and a surprising touch of mineral."
Cold Heaven "Le Bon Climat" Viognier, Santa Barbara, California: $56: "Morgan Clendenen has devoted her winery exclusively to Viognier. This wine tastes like bright peach and melon."
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Gramercy Cellars "Lagniappe" Syrah, Columbia Valley, Washington, $60: "Blue fruit, violets, smoke and meat. These Washington State Syrahs are perfect with almost anything from a grill."
Le Sang des Cailloux Vacqueyras, Southern Rhône, France, $60: "If you like Châteauneuf du Pape, try Vacqueyras or Gigondas -- same grapes, same basic flavor profile, lower price."
Château Dassault, Saint Émilion, Bordeaux, France, $60: "This is the least expensive Bordeaux on my list. I tasted it blind with my study group and fell for it. I searched all over and finally found it and placed it in my Right Bank section."
Becker Pinot Noir, Pfalz, Germany, $64: "German Pinot Noir. On the brighter and lighter side -- a great white wine drinker's red. Don't be scared."