I never loved it when I'd ask a friend what to bring to her party, and she'd say, "Nothing. We're all set." We all know what that means: Bring a bottle of wine.
Ugh. You don't want to bring expensive wine to a party, because chances are that neither you nor your host will get to drink or appreciate it. Likewise, you can't bring something super-inexpensive, because a) you'll look cheap, and b) it might actually taste bad, and if it does, you can bet that someone's plus one will be a wine snob and actually notice that it tastes bad. Out loud.
Luckily, my plus one (now husband) knows his wine. And he's an expert at finding the $15 bottle, or even the $10 bottle, that tastes like it costs much more. While these have become our 'house wines,' they're also great choices for parties. They taste good, they won't break the bank, and if anyone asks you about them, you'll look like a bargain-hunting genius. Which, of course, you are.
A few caveats:
• The wines listed below do not constitute a balanced list. Most of the wines here are new world wines, partly because the Euro takes a lot of European wines out of the 'great deal' range. On top of that, we just tend to like big, California-style reds.
• The prices listed are what we tend to pay. My husband keeps all the receipts, which helps us remember what we like and what we don't.
• If there isn't a vintage listed for a particular wine, it's because the wine tends to be pretty consistent and I don't worry about it.
• If you run in circles where folks are routinely throwing back Duckhorn Cabernet, then I give up. Just bring flowers.
One wine on the list, the Ridge, costs more than $15. It's still a good deal, and you might choose it if you're going to a smaller dinner party or just want to treat yourself. It is the holidays, after all.
Cannonball Cabernet Sauvignon, 2007, $12. My brother-in-law discovered this one, and it's quickly become our favorite 'everyday' wine. If you can't find it, it's worth buying a case online and having it shipped to you. The case discount pretty much cancels out the shipping charges.
Marquis Phillips Sara's Blend, 2007, $12. We went through cases of this, and the Paringa below, at our wedding.
Paringa Shiraz, 2008, $11. The 2009 is more expensive. You do sometimes see this wine for quite a bit more, which is a recent phenomenon, at least in our area. We're stocking up.
Rancho Zabaco Dancing Bull Zinfandel, 2009. $11. They also have a more expensive version, but the $11 one is just fine.
Oak Ridge Zinfandel, $12.
Sebastiani Merlot, about $15, although depending on the year it can be more or less.
Lehmann Shiraz, 2008, $15. There is a $30 version, but we haven't tried it.
Lamadrid Malbec, 2009, $14.
Liberty School Cabernet Sauvignon, $12-$15. Even if you don't want to bring it to a party, tuck the name in the back of your mind somewhere (or on your iPhone). This wine appears on a lot of restaurant wine lists, including some, in my experience, that are otherwise devoid of reasonable deals. Liberty School can be a saving grace when you're out.
Educated Guess Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, $15. We've just discovered this one, and we're converts.
Unsung Heroes of Bordeaux. This might sound cheesy, but it's actually a great deal, from a wine shop in New York called Sherry Lehman. They buy bottles of Bordeaux from smaller, not-so-well-known vineyards, and sell it by the case. The cases are usually $159, and include a variety of producers. We've never been disappointed.
Chateau St. Michelle Chardonnay, $10. The best, most-consistent everyday white we have found. My parents would drink this most nights when I was a kid, and let me have a sip now and then, and (predictably) I thought was gross. Imagine how surprised I was 30 years later, when I said to my husband, "You know, I really like this wine. What is it?" Sure enough, it was Chardonnay from Chateau St. Michel.
Hogue Cellars White Riesling Late Harvest Columbia Valley, $8. So good! The perfect amount of sweetness. It can be a little hard to find, but yummy yummy. My personal favorite on this list.
Snoqualmie Sauvignon Blanc, 2008, $8. Bright, crisp, and eight bucks. You cannot lose. Another good one to watch for on restaurant wine lists.
Muirwood Chardonnay, $12.
Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc, $14.
Jonesy Port. $10. I do not know why it is this cheap. No one will guess, believe me.
Gruet Brut, $14. The blanc de noirs is also good, and either way it's a deal. And it's from New Mexico.
Cristalino Brut Cava, $8. From Spain.
Ridge Three Valleys. Starts at about $18. I don't think we've ever had a wine we didn't like from Ridge (or from Heitz Cellar, for that matter). I believe Three Valleys is the least expensive of the Ridge offerings.
I liked Ridge wines even before we visited the winery with a tired two-year old in tow. The staff there was as sweet as humanly possible, and acted as if everyone visits tasting rooms with toddlers on the edge. They and gave us chalk to play with and fish food to feed the fish. For that alone, they deserve a spot on this list. – KW
Image courtesy of flickr user godutchbaby