The holiday season means parties—and parties mean wine. But you don’t have to spend a lot for really good wine. Here are excellent party wines for about $10 a bottle…
Helpful: Figure on two to three glasses of wine per person. A bottle of wine holds four glasses.
A Bargain Red
Veni Vidi Vici Merlot, about $10, is from Bulgaria. Though Bulgaria is not known for great wine, the Veni Vidi Vici is everything a merlot should be. It has a little Old World earthiness, a quality that you don’t find in too-fruity California wine and something that adds a complexity that most $10 merlots don’t have. There is fresh but not-too-ripe berry fruit, and the tannins—the astringent quality in red wine—are soft, as they should be in merlot. That combination makes it an ideal party wine because it’s interesting enough for people who know wine but simple enough for those who just want a glass of red while they nibble on chicken wings.
A Bargain White
Finding a $10 chardonnay that is well-made, enjoyable and readily available isn’t impossible, but it often seems like it is. That’s because too much grocery store–quality chardonnay is made to be a touch sweet or is doused with so much “fake oak” that it tastes like vanilla extract with an alcohol chaser.
This is where Hess Select Chardonnay, about $10, comes in. Hess is a longtime and respected California producer that is best known for its expensive wines, but the company gives just as much attention to its $10 wines—hence, more than $10 worth of quality.
The Hess neatly combines everything that should be in a grocery store chardonnay—a little toasty oak flavor, green apple and pear fruit, and a smidge of tropical fruit in the middle. In all, it is crisp enough to balance the oak, another rarity in wine of this price. And again, a wine that is party-friendly because it is balanced and approachable.
And how does a $10 wine get oak aging, which adds greatly to production costs? It doesn’t, because that’s reserved for wines that cost more than $25. Wines such as this use what the industry calls oak adjuncts—bags of oak chips or oak staves attached to steel tanks. This “fake oak,” when used with restraint as it is in the Hess, gives oak quality without the time and expense of $1,000 oak barrels.
A Winter-Worthy Rosé Wine
I have long been suspicious of boxed wine—not because it comes in a box, but because it is made above all to hit price points and not necessarily for quality. That means a great boxed wine in one vintage can turn mediocre if the price of grapes goes up for the next vintage and cheaper grapes of lesser quality are used to make it.
So when you find a great boxed wine, such as the Bota Box Rosé, buy it and enjoy it. The Bota box costs about $18 for a three-liter box (equivalent to four bottles). That works out to less than $5 a bottle, an amazing value for a traditional dry rosé that isn’t made to taste like a red wine that is pink in color or a less sweet version of white zinfandel. The wine is crisp and fresh, with watermelon and ripe strawberry fruit. Be sure to serve it chilled.
The Bota Box Rosé won’t win awards, but this isn’t damning with faint praise. It’s not supposed to win awards. What it will do is please party guests who want something refreshing to drink in between all of the rich and fatty food that often makes up the holiday-party circuit.
Sparkling Wine to Toast With
Segura Viudas is one of Spain’s biggest sparkling-wine producers, which explains why its cava—the Spanish version of sparkling wine—can be so inexpensive, as little as $7 or $8 a bottle. That the Segura Cava has been one of the world’s great wine values for years speaks volumes about how much Segura cares about the wine it makes.
Most sparkling wine is nonvintage—that is, it uses grapes harvested in different years. This allows producers to maintain quality even if the quality of the grapes varies. That’s one secret to what Segura does, producing a sparkling wine that is consistently bone-dry, with tart green apple flavors balanced by a little tropical fruit, the yeastiness that you expect from more expensive Champagne-style wines and delightfully tight bubbles.
It’s not as soft or as sweet as Prosecco, the Italian sparkling wine, so know that difference going in. But also know that it’s the quintessential excellent party wine—inexpensive, well-made and fun to drink.
Good sweet wines have their place—they are the sort of thing that people enjoy with brownies or chocolate chip cookies. California’s Quady Winery has made sweet wine for more than 40 years, but it didn’t get all that much attention until the sweet red wine craze of the past several years. And that’s when retailers discovered the winery’s Red Electra Moscato, about $12. It’s made with two little-known grapes, orange muscat and black muscat, and is several steps above the cheap, sweet moscatos that were popular a few years ago. In other words, it has more than sweetness—lots of ripe red cherries mixed with berries and peaches, plus a little fizziness and an orange-ish aroma that only muscat grapes can give a wine.
Serve the Red Electra well-chilled, and keep it around the desserts.
Best Gift Wines
Wine makes a great gift—and these choices are well-priced…
Hostess gift: Sparkling wine is always an appropriate and welcome way to say thank you, and Valdo Prosecco Brut, about $12, is a stellar example of the Italian style of Prosecco, especially for the price. It has more structure—that is, it’s more than sweetish wine with bubbles—than similarly priced Proseccos, plus it has soft citrus fruit and an appealing character that says, “This is more than a cheap Prosecco.”
Dinner party: Not sure what goes with what? Not sure that even if you knew, you would get it right? Then consider Louis Latour Mâcon-Villages Chameroy, about $13. This is chardonnay from the Mâcon in the French region of Burgundy, generally regarded as the best place in the world for chardonnay. Hence, its price is practically a steal. Look for floral and honey aromas, ripe pear fruit and that distinctive French minerality. That’s a flavor profile that will pair with almost everything except red meat. If you know steak is on the menu, bring the Veni Vidi Vici Merlot (see above).
Wine geek: The key to making wine geeks happy is to find something just odd enough to appeal to them, and the Little James Basket Press Blanc, about $10, does that. It’s from a part of southern France better known for red wine, and it combines two grapes that are rarely mixed—viognier and sauvignon blanc. But the softer viognier, with peach flavors, tones down the citrus in the sauvignon blanc, and the result is fresh and delightful.
Boss or client: Italian winemaker Riccardo Cotarella is famous for his high-scoring and expensive wines fromhis country’s most famous regions. This makes the Falesco Vitiano red, white and rosé wines all that more appealing because you get the prestige and quality of Cotarella for around $10 a bottle. It’s perfect if you are on a budget because you’re getting $20 wine for $10 or $12, depending on where you buy it.