On Wine

Stock up on affordable, tasty wines

November 17, 2012 

Entertaining should be about enjoying family and friends – not worrying about whether you’re serving the right wine.

We all want something our guests will enjoy that doesn’t break the bank. The good news is that there are tons of delicious wines out there that are party-friendly, affordable enough to stock up on by the case, and so tasty you’ll be glad to have a leftover bottle or two after the entertaining season ends.

The best party wines are flexible for a variety of events, are good companions with or without food, and have moderate amounts of alcohol so guests can have a couple of glasses without drama. Consider these general wine styles; visit your favorite wine shop to find specific wines.

Nothing says “party” better than a glass full of bubbles. Spain produces a sparkling wine called cava that is unbelievably affordable. Italian prosecco is fun served Bellini-style with a hint of peach juice.

U.S. producers are making great sparkling wines, often well under $20. Try versions from Washington state, New Mexico and California. There also are rosé styles that are festive and fun.

The third Thursday in November is traditionally when Beaujolais Nouveau from France hits the market. A juicy, fruity, easy-to-drink red, both the timing and the price (less than $10) make it perfect for the holidays.

When choosing white wines, consider choices that are easy to drink, somewhat crisp, and not overly oaky. Wines high in acid, such as sauvignon blanc and gruner veldtliner, go well with lots of foods, particularly with seafood, like a chilled shrimp platter. If you prefer something with more moderate acid, a Spanish albarino, a rich California viognier, or a chenin blanc would be perfect.

Pinot gris (the same grape that makes the light, drinkable pinot grigio in Italy) is delicious, with amazing examples produced in Oregon.

If you love chardonnay, you are in luck. Many of the new releases have subtly changed the overt oak of a few years ago to a more nuanced oak influence, and alcohol contents are a bit lower as well, making popular chardonnay a smart choice for a big event.

If your guests prefer something with just a hint of sweetness, consider a riesling, perhaps from Germany or Washington state. With just a hint of ripe pear, apricot and flowers, and a touch of sweetness, this is likely to be a crowd-pleaser.

Pinot noir is one of the most versatile and food-friendly wines out there, with just enough mouthwatering acidity and not too much tannin. The problem is that the grape is hard to grow and good versions are in demand, so a tasty one can be pricey. Oregon and California’s Sonoma Coast produce affordable selections.

For other reds, the dilemma is how to satisfy the lover of big, powerful reds with a wine that also appeals to those who like something with a little less kick. One way is to choose a rich red made from a blend of grapes. This has been the year of the tasty red blend from California. Using grapes such as zinfandel, syrah and merlot, there are lots of smooth, silky and fun-to-drink versions, many around $10.

Try a GSM, which means a blend of the grapes grenache, syrah and mourvedre. The iconic versions are produced in the south of France, but American and Australian winemakers have been crafting lovely wines in this style. There have been more good merlots released this year than in recent memory, and they are a party favorite with rich fruit and a smooth mouth-feel.

For a very inexpensive yet fun idea, make sangria: Start with a value-priced wine, red or white; add some sugar, a splash of brandy and fresh fruit. Chill overnight in the refrigerator, strain, and add slices of fresh lemon and orange just before serving.

Catherine Rabb is a senior instructor at Johnson & Wales University in Charlotte. Email: catherine.rabb@jwu.edu

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