A year full of drinking wine, and what do I have to show for it? Fortunately, no cirrhosis of the liver quite yet, but I have developed a pretty solid list of go-to wines that I can lean on for nearly any occasion. And the best part? They're all less than $15.
As the holiday season approaches its peak, I've put together a line-up (or a wine-up!) of my favorite affordable sips of the year. Red and white, still and sparkling, Old World and New. Take this list with you if you're stocking up for family visits and parties to come in the next few weeks.
For a very versatile white, try the Jean Luc Colombo Les Abeilles Cotes Du Rhone Blanc 2011, which is a white blend of 80% Clairette and 20% Roussanne which sells for around $10. While you can pick up lemony scents pretty quickly, the flavor develops as you sip it. When it's right-out-of-the-fridge chilled, you get a crisp minerality and a bit of salinity. Let the wine warm up a bit, and it picks up a welcome richness. For food to serve alongside it, you could go as fancy as a nicely pan-seared red snapper or as casual as a turkey sub.
If you prefer a slightly sweeter white, or you're looking for a wine to accompany slightly sweet dishes like pad thai, reach for the Pine Ridge 2011 Chenin Blanc Viognier ($13). Tropical aromas lift out of the glass. There's a hint of herbal grassiness with some lime behind it and a relatively sweet finish. I find this a good introductory bottle for folks who are new to wine—it's easy to drink and very fruity, but has enough interesting stuff going on to get you to start appreciating what wine has to offer.
During the holiday season, whether you're serving roast beef, lamb, or goose, you'll want some affordable—but tasty—red wine on hand. Graffigna Centenario Estate Bottled Reserve 2010 is a steal at $12 a pop. Savory aromas, like soy-marinated steak, rise out of the glass. But the wine itself has ripe cherry and raspberry flavors (and a hint of black cherry cola) balanced by an earthy backbone and a very smooth texture. It's easy to drink on its own, even better with steak. This is a food friendly wine that I've recommended to friends more than once—a pair of friends even opted for this recommendation for their wedding and were quite happy with the choice.
Another of my favorite dependable budget wines is Juan Gil Monastrell. I've tried at least 3 vintages (including the 2010, which is on many U.S. wine shelves now for around $12), and have been consistently impressed by what's in the glass. When you sip this wine (from a grape also known as Mourvèdre), it's initially very inviting—smooth, soft fruit that evolves into darker flavors of black cherry with a little smokiness. The finish has a lovely hint of anise flavor. The best part about this wine is that it's so versatile—fine to drink on its own, even better with a little meat—it's something you can bring to a dinner party with confidence.
For a crowd-pleasing sparkling wine, I often default to the La Marca Prosecco DOC Extra Dry NV ($13), with its recognizable Tiffany-blue label. This bubbly exudes a savory-sweet aroma reminiscent of a classic pairing: apples and cheese. Crisp acidity and pleasant meyer lemon flavors balance out the sweetness of golden delicious apple. You might also pick up a hint of brioche-like richness, though this prosecco undergoes secondary fermentation in the tank (via the Charmat method) rather than in the bottle (via Method Champenoise). Feel free to serve alone as an aperitif or with a range of appetizers.
Want an interesting twist to accompany your next dinner party? Don't forget you can get red wine with bubbles, too—just try a bottle of Lambrusco. And for an affordable option, I reach for the Lini Lambrusca Rosso Emilia IGT Frizzante style 2010 ($15). This wine offers the typical slight bitterness you'd expect from a Lambrusco and offsets it with rich, ripe cherry flavors and velvety tannins. The fizzy red is approachable, fun, and festive—ideal for the holidays.
How has your year been in terms of wine? Did you discover any dependable and affordable bottles to recommend?
About the author: Seema Gunda is an avid wine traveler, collector, and student with a background in chemistry and a day job in consulting.