Americans love chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon. More than one-fifth of all wine sold in the U.S. is chardonnay, and cabernet accounts for one out of every seven bottles sold.  Combined, cabernet and chardonnay make up more than one-third of all U.S. wine sales. That’s sort of sad, isn’t it?

This is not to knock these grapes, but to point out there is no law that forces us to drink them all the time. But we seem to do it anyway, and I think that’s because we’re hesitant to try anything else. Which is silly. The only two rules to keep in mind with wine are to drink what you like and to try something different.
The three wines this month are completely different from each other, and most people wouldn’t necessarily think of them when they wanted a glass of wine. But they’re mostly inexpensive, and they offer value regardless of price:
• Robert Hall Rhone de Robles 2006 ($20): Rhone-style blends are becoming more popular in the U.S., and this wine shows why. It’s made with four grapes, none of which are cabernet or merlot and one of which (counoise) I’ve never heard of. It’s fruity (think black cherries), but not over the top, and the tannins won’t sour your mouth. This is grilled beef and roast chicken wine.

• Gruet Brut Rose NV ($14): I have recommended Gruet’s sparkling wines for as long as I have been writing about wine. The rose is an exceptional value — firm acidic backbone, berry fruit, and just enough caramel to show that the Gruets know what they are doing. Drink this chilled on its own or with burgers and grilled chicken and seafood.

• Pillar Box White 2007 ($12): Henry’s Drive, the Australian winery that makes this wine, is best known for the $12 Pillar Box Red, a shiraz blend. It’s a nice wine, but I thought the white was more interesting. It’s a blend of sauvignon blanc, chardonnay and verdelho, which is mostly used to make Madeira. It has a mineral finish and what the tasting notes call a celery taste, which is actually more like grassy, in the style of a California sauvignon blanc.

Ask the Wine Guy

Q. Q: What’s the difference between syrah and shiraz?

A. A. Nothing, really. They’re the same grape, which is used to make red wine in France, Australia and California (and in other wine regions, including Texas, as well). The French call it syrah, and the Aussies call it shiraz. Winemakers here use both terms, usually depending on whether they make a French- or Australian-style of syrah.

Chicken braised with bell peppers, onions and mushrooms

This is an adaptation of various French-style braised chicken dishes. It’s almost impossible not to do well, and you really don’t have to brown the chicken if you don’t feel like it.

Serves four (45-60 minutes)
1 chicken, cut into serving pieces
2 onions, sliced
2-3 bell peppers, sliced
12-16 oz. mushooms, sliced
2-3 cloves garlic, chopped
2 tbsp olive oil
¼ tsp dried thyme
Salt and pepper to taste

• Remove the skin from the chicken, and season it with the salt and pepper. Brown in a non-stick skillet in the olive oil over medium-high heat, about 3 minutes on each side. Remove from skillet.
• Brown the sliced vegetables 3 to 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the garlic, thyme, salt and pepper, and mix well. Add the chicken back to the skillet, surrounding it with the vegetables.
• Cover and cook over low heat until the chicken is done, 30-40 minutes. The vegetables should be soft and almost melted, and there should be broth made by the chicken and vegetables. Serve over noodles, rice or couscous.