Having been a student for the past five years and more recently, for the last month, an intern (cf. this post) I'm used to not having very much disponsible cash in my purse.
I also have the unfortunate affliction that I enjoy wine.
If you put the two (perpetual shortage of cash and longing for a good wine) together, the common perception is that we have to drink the mass-produced stuff that you can find for less than 5 euros in the supermarkets here in France.
But I want to put forward the idea that your tastebuds don't necessarily have to be given an acid bath every time you open a bottle. But neither do you have to splash a lot of cash to enjoy the wine with a meal either. To do this, I'm going to take some wines that aren't great and pair them with foods which complement the wine, so that essentially the two are working in partnership to counteract the faults in the wine.
To start with, René Muré's Pinot Noir, 2009. It comes from the Alsace region of France, out to the east, on the border with Germany. This (relatively) cold climate means that the grapes don't get as ripe (and simply speaking, as sweet) as grapes from a warmer climate would. On top of that, the geology in the local area (to the best of my knowledge) is largely limestone and clay. It is partly because of these two reasons that the wine suffers. To my palate at least, it wasn't rounded, smooth and balanced - essential features for an easy-drinking wine surely...? For although the first impression is of pleasant fruit and spice, after just a moment, something else comes through. The complementary term for it would be to call it 'freshness' or 'cleansing' but I would probably veer towards calling it a bit astringent!
However, that doesn't mean it's bad. It just means you need to pair it with something a bit flabby.
I'm giving two options to pair with the wines. The two options have very self-explanatory names: "Splash Out" and "Scrimp" depending on the cost of the ingredients. The dishes are really easy to make (I'm not going to write out recipes - that's not my thing) but I will list the most important components so you can then put it together as you feel like.
Splash Out: duck breast with carmelised shallots and a red wine reduction
The photos are actually of the carmelised shallots and red wine reduction over a chicken breast. (Don't worry, I'm not that bad at cooking that my attempt at a duck breast ends up looking like that!) but I feel both birds would go well with the sauce, but duck would go better with the wine because it's a fattier meat and that would take the edge off the astringency of the wine.
If you're feeling particularly adventurous, you could put some fresh fruit, e.g. raspberries, or dried prunes in the sauce for example.
You can serve it with any kind of vegetables really. The only thing is that whatever you choose shouldn't have too much of a delicate flavour because it needs to be able to stand up to the meatiness of the rest of the dish. Purple sprouting is a favourite of mine, but more importantly, choose something that's in season.
If you don't haver the means or the inclination to splash out on duck breasts, a cheaper option would be to use duck thighs or chicken legs.
An alternative dish would be to make a poor man's version of a tartiflette (a popular local dish) made of potatoes, onions, bacon, cheese and cream, all baked in the oven. Fry off the onions, bacon and some garlic if you want and parboil the potatoes. Pile it all into an oven-proof dish, with some veggie stock, white wine, cream and lots of cheese. Normally the dish is made with reblochon cheese, but a camembert would do the trick for at least half the price. The next step is to invite your friends over and tuck in. Hopefully you'll agree that the fat in the dish not only counteracts the 'freshness' of the wine but also helps bring another side to the experience of drinking the wine.