In the midst of a dizzying holiday party season, keep in mind one thing: bringing wine to a dinner doesn’t have to be stressful. Instead of spending a fortune on a “name brand” or apologizing for bringing a bottle you’re not sure about, here are some options for you to feel confident about, ones so good you can walk in and say, “Try this. It’s amazing!” Everyone likes to hear that, and when they compliment your choice, you can add, “It’s such a great find, and it’s not expensive” to impress your friends even more. This list is not necessarily composed of the all-time best, but to make it easy for you to actually find the wines I’m recommending, these are the best of the widely-distributed. Trust me; you won’t be disappointed. Cheers!
Dave Phinney Locations E Spanish Red ($21.99)
Orin Swift is definitely a recognizable winemaker. Founder David Swift Phinney’s most famous is, of course, the Prisoner, but I love the concept for his Locations wines. He’s making the French crazy by blending appellations, which is a huge no-no in traditional wine-making, but his idea is to combine the greatest grapes and make incredible wine that’s affordable. In that case, who cares about tradition, right? We just want great wine! Spain has always been my favorite, but there are also options from California, Italy, French, and Argentina.
Whispering Angel ($22.99)
This is simply the best rosé out there – at any price point. Once you drink this, you’ll be hooked. From those who say they don’t drink wine to those who turn their noses up if you bring a cheap bottle, this is one of those few wines that truly pleases the entire crowd.
Ghost Pines Zinfandel ($19.99)
The Ghost Pines Zinfandel is surprisingly good with all the flavor profiles you expect in a Zin: peppery, fruit-forward, and smoky. This is great for those who find Cabernet Sauvignons to be hard on the tongue with too high a tannin concentration. I wouldn’t bring this bottle to those who are dead serious about their wines, but for a casual gathering, this will be enjoyed by most.
Duckhorn Chardonnay ($33.99)
This is very typical of a Californian Chardonnay, in that it’s super oaky, buttery, and delicious. It smells wonderful, almost like candy, but the finish is completely dry. This is one of my favorites to give as a gift because it’s a great value for such an exceptional white.
Frank Family Zinfandel ($37)
Another amazing Zin, this is more complex than the Ghost Pines and lighter, as well. I would let this breath for a couple of hours, so it’s probably best for a party you throw at your place rather than as a gift for a host. Even as the latter, though, I highly recommend this, even when it’s for the biggest wine Snob.
Whitehall Lane Carbernet Sauvignon ($33.99)
Cabernet Sauvignon is the most famous wine variety out of Napa (out of California in general, actually), but they do get pricey when you’re going in the direction of Silver Oak, Chateau Montelena, Caymus, Cakebread, etc. Don’t get me wrong; those are my favorites, but for regular occasions – vs. special – you can still impress and enjoy with Whitehall Lane. While they are smaller producers, the company is gaining popularity because of the value of its bottles.
Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs Brut Sparkling Wine ($27.99)
Sparkling gets so controversial; this is when wine aficionados get all in your grill about the specifics, but let’s leave politics and snobbery aside (the negative kind, anyway!). A bottle of Schramsberg, although not Champagne, gets credit for being an exceptional sparkling 100% Chardonnay that has a clean, light finish and is dry, fresh, and budget-friendly. For my New Years party, after the bottles of fancy stuff that people brought are polished off, we happily drink Schramsberg and enjoy it every bit as much. Although nothing beats my favorite, 1999 Billecart-Salmon “Blanc de Blancs” Brut Champagne ($134.99).