Wine Woes? We Picked a Sommelier’s Brain and Learned So Much
We’re always on the hunt for a new bottle of vino to add to our list of faves, but scoring a stellar find can be such a daunting task. To help us with our troubles—the struggle is real!—we tapped a super cool wine pro, Ashley Ragovin, for some sound advice. As a former sommelier who perfected her palette at L.A. hot spots Osteria Mozza, Trois Mec, and Animal (just to name a few), Ragovin has been around the vineyard and back, and now runs the online wine boutique Pour This, where members can sign up to for a monthly subscription service, or to buy unique, hand-selected bottles à la carte from their daily flash sales.
Below, Ragovin answers the q’s that plague us, helping us figure out what we should be buying, and what we should be gifting. She schools us wine pairings, too. Heads up, we’ve been doing it wrong all along.
What should I bring to a hostess?
"One approach is to ask them if they need anything, or find out what they are cooking so that you can bring something appropriate. But I like the thought of bringing something that you personally love and want to introduce them to. Definitely wrap whatever you gift and include a handwritten note saying something like, 'This is a Pinot Noir from Italy. Drink it the next time you make Ragu,' or whatever. They don’t have to open it that night.
"And if you really don’t know about wine are feeling anxiety about gifting it, then a good Italian red is always a great option. They’re very food friendly, and echo that warm, sharing sentiment of Italian food and culture. Plus most people order pizza or slap together a pasta every now and then, right?"
Any specific reds?
"$18 to $20 is a safe, affordable range to get something quality, and the $25 to $30 is a more promising price point. I say seek out something from Piedmont, Italy because the value to quality ratio here is solid. I like Brovia Dolcetto d’Alba ‘Vignavillej’ from there. It’s from an iconic producer in the region who makes his product the old-school, old-world way.
"And if you’re gifting fancy, skip the more commonly-gifted Barolo and look for anything from producer Paolo Bea. The Umbrian producer uses ancient techniques and is a cult favorite in the wine world. It’s pure awesomeness in a bottle: Deep, rich reds with a distinct, untamed quality and wild, forest-y things like herbs and brambly berries. An unforgettable wine and inspiring gift for sure."
What should I buy by the case?
"If you stock up on something you know you like and wouldn’t mind having all the time, you’ll spend less money in the long run because you won’t always have to scramble for a random bottle for an occasion. Find an affordable, food-friendly white and red to have on hand as your 'house' wines.
"For white, Broc Cellars 'Love White' is a California blend made of Rhone varietals. It's fruit forward with yellow plum, tropical fruits, citrus and golden nectar vibes; round and fleshy without being heavy or rich.
"A delicious red is Domain Faillenc St. Marie Corbieres Rouge from the Languedoc region. This is a Syrah at its most approachable—a total crowd pleaser, and awesome to have around.
"You should also invest in a good case of bubbles—something that you can offer to someone the second they walk in the door and not have to think twice about. Of course if you spend a few extra dollars a bottle, you can get something amazing (One of the most delicious wines I’ve tasted this year is Pierre Gerbais. It’s the epitome of the perfect wine: well-made, affordable, and loved by everyone)."
Can we talk about stemware?
"Use a universal glass. Don’t go crazy investing in a bunch of different types because inevitably they will break and then you’ll be left with odd numbers. I’m pro stem because it is better for the temperature of the wine and it is a cleaner look.
"Riedel is a great brand with affordable options, and higher-end ones as well. I like their Degustazione red wine glass. It’s technically a restaurant glass, which is a great ‘hack’ for customers, who would normally pay a lot more for a Riedel glass.
"For everyday, I love the Ikea Ivrig white wine glass. It’s a smaller glass and resembles what they have in Europe at wine tasting rooms and bistros, and they’re under $3—so cheap you can break a million and not feel bad! Plus is a guilt-free serving size—because it’s smaller, it feels like you’re drinking less."
What about pairings? What are you having with meat, veggies, chicken, etc?
"People always want a default, like a red for meat and white for fish, but a good way to up your experience is to look at what the flavoring components are for the preparations. For example, I was working with a chef who did an amazing bone-in T-bone steak dressed with olive oil, chili, garlic and lemon. It had so many pronounced flavors that we determined Champagne was actually the best pairing over a red.
"And the same for vegetables. People always think, “Vegetables are light, I would drink white wine,” but you don’t have to. Dark greens like spinach go well with a fruitier red, and with earthy veggies like mushrooms and lentils, you could do a Pinot Noir or Gamay (an easy-to-drink, food-friendly red that has a nice fruit profile without being sweet).
"For global cuisines, a good barometer rule is try to stay close to the source. If you are eating or cooking something from Southern Italy, try a bottle from Umbria or Sicily—somewhere in that general area where the food is from because that is how the pairings came to be anyway.
With spicy foods like Korean BBQ, Thai, and Indian, anything slightly sweet could work really well, but stay away from acidic varieties, which will just amplify the burn. "Pet-nat or petillant-naturel, is a buzzy category of wine that has softer bubbles and a touch of residual sugar which combats the heat, and is like the adult version of soda—it's refreshing, has depth and is also super fun."