How to Choose your House Wine

How to Choose your House Wine

How to Choose your House Wine

At Chez Passet, our chambers d’hôtes, we offer an evening meal accompanied with house wine. As we serve the wine in carafes, I’m always asked what it is and where it comes from by our guests.

These questions usually start a conversation about how we chose our house wine.

So, what is a “house” wine?
A “house” wine to me is the “go to” wine for any occasion. It’s what you offer if someone drops by (other than tea!), it can be drunk on it’s own, it can be drunk with food, it suits most people’s palates, doesn’t offend and most of all, it’s not expensive.

Why inexpensive? Because we drink gallons of the stuff!


If we had a large budget, and we don’t, as any B&B owners will tell you, I still wouldn’t spend lot of money on a house wine. I’d use my money for a special bottle/s of wine that can be drunk as a treat.  

It’s easy to become complacent with a wine that you drink every day but a wine drunk as a treat feels special regardless of the resulting taste. There are some fantastic wines out there for those with a lower budget, likewise there are wines for those who have a bit more to spend.

How do you choose your house wine?

I’ll tell you the story of how we chose ours, and as we have had hundreds of positive remarks about it I would say we were successful in finding the one that works for us.

I had to base my choice on these facts, some of which could be applicable to you and can maybe help you in your search:

Look for a wine that would suit everyone as we have guests of all ages and nationalities coming to stay.

We don’t charge a lot for dinner and so the price we pay for our house wine couldn’t be high.

Assume that the majority of people drinking our house wine would have basic needs in terms of wine structure so we didn’t need anything too complex.

Guests with a lot of wine experience should also enjoy our house wine and if not enough for them, there would be a wine list with other wines. This is rarely the case as our house wine is very drinkable!

Men and women, old and young have differing palates so I had to find a wine suitable for all.

A wine that would pair with most foods and dishes. I was looking for red and white. To find only one wine is impossible if you want a varied menu.

The wine could be drunk without food. Something that would show well outside in the sunshine or in front of the fire during the winter.

I needed something that would have both old world and new world traits to appease both our European and international guests.

More importantly, I was looking for something that tasted good!

So, not too much to look for then!

As we were new to the Pyrenees I wasn’t sure exactly what to try but thought I should start with the local wines to be true to the area. 
I also didn’t want to spend more than 3€ a bottle.

In a nutshell here are some of the things we tried:

Local producer at the market, you bring your bottles, he fills them up. Result - nasty and the wine is off by the 3rd day.

Buy local wines from vineyard, at co-operative or on promotion at the supermarket. Result – the local wines are too big, bold and tannic for reds, very distinctive and "skunky" for whites. There is nothing that will suit our needs and they are not at all cheap.

In supermarket, see what the locals are buying and get some. Result - don’t follow the locals, they are all alcoholics! Just joking but many of them don’t know about wine, they only know what they like.

I tried plastic barrels of red, white and rose and couldn’t even cook with it let alone drink it. Result - I was worried about the state of my stomach lining.

What an experience and one not to be undertaken again.


By trying all of the things above I surmised that I needed to find a cheap wine from and area that produces wines in both styles: 

1, New world-ish - with lots of fruit flavours, soft tannin (reds) and drinkable now not in 10 years time if at all and 

2, Old world traits – well structured with layers of flavours, texture, and a certain amount of body

Which Grape?

I needed to take a close look at the grape variety. I didn’t need a full-bodied, tannic Cabernet Sauvignon, as it would not work with my food. It also wouldn’t be soft enough for most females to drink on it’s own. 

The delicate Pinot Noir fruit would be lost with the heat in the summer, and it might not stand up to some of the heavier dishes I serve, so I had choose middle of the road.

Merlot is popular with the ladies due to it’s middle-of-the-road easy to drink style but depending where it comes from it can show an incredible character and depth that is completely different yet acceptable to all palates.

It’s a versatile grape with subtle structure and medium tannin. It’s silky in the mouth and shows a good amount of fruit properties depending on where the grapes are grown and how the wine is made. I wanted the fruity version of merlot.

Where to find it? 

The Languedoc. 

It’s close by, has the sunshine, the heat, the grapes, makes friendly drinkable wines and a lot of winemakers are making great wines there. 

The Merlot from this area that I tried showed in a new world style with plenty of fruit but with enough layers and complexity to stop it from becoming a fruit bomb. It is what I call a European new world style and they make a lot of it. 

It’s not called the “wine lake of France” for nothing and I wanted to drink from the lake.

So off I went, to the Languedoc, to check it all out. 

I had a great time and tasted some fantastic wines that would work perfectly but still couldn’t find a wine in bulk that would do the trick. I also didn’t want to go to there every time I needed more and I didn’t want to pay for shipping.

I would need to look closer to home to see if I could find some, couldn’t be that hard, there’s a lot of it around.

So, that’s how I found our house wine. 

As a Sommelier, I am by no means above drinking or recommending any wine if it is good regardless of where it comes from. There is a market for wines in a box as well as there is for fine wines, it all depends on the needs of those who are going to be drinking it.

For a house wine that is cheap, cheerful and great to drink it’s the wine that is going to speak, not the container from which it is stored. 
It also gives you a good excuse to have an eclectic collection of carafes!

Drink This: 

Broaden your horizons, try a mixed case from a wine supplier


Mixed wine case
Wine Tags: 


Loved this insight into how a house wine is chosen.

Had a giggle at the trial tastings, especially the plastic barrels!

It sounds like you made a great selection in the end.

Thank you for joining the #WINENOT Linky Party!

Cheers, Louise

di's picture

Thanks Louise, thanks for organising the linky party, i'll be back!

I found this so interesting. I love the amount of care you put into looking for your house wine.
Much of the merlot we get in Australia is just a fruit bomb but I am always impressed with the French examples. Staying at your B&B is firmly in my 5 year plan.
Thanks for joining in with #Winenot Wednesday

di's picture

Thanks Nicole - the search is ongoing and i'm having a lot of fun searching!

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