Spring is always the busiest time of year for us desert-dwellers. On top of all the holidays like Easter, Passover, Mother’s Day and Memorial Day, we are flooded with local festivals and shows. The weather begs for pool parties, patio dinner parties, and any other excuse we can think of to be outside enjoying the company of others.
Most of the time, I am tasked with bringing the wine to my friends’ get-togethers. (If that gets me out of having to cook something as a contribution, I happily accept my responsibility.)
One recent weekend, I put together a mixed case of wine to bring to a friend’s house for dinner. She was entertaining 20 of us (!), and the menu was as diverse as her guest list, So, I selected six different wines, two bottles of each, that I’ve found are notorious crowd-pleasers. At the party, friends kept commenting on the different wines and how much they loved them. “I’ve never had a wine from here before,” one person said. “What’s this wine called? It’s delicious!” another friend said. “I would have just grabbed some cab and chard to bring,” someone else said.
Of course, putting together wines for entertaining can be challenging—and selecting wines that are food-friendly and will appeal to lots of different palates can be daunting. Not everyone loves chardonnay. Some people prefer Italian wines. Others only drink California wines. And staring at a wall of wine in a retail shop can be totally overwhelming.
So … you can think of me as your personal sommelier. Here, I’ve assembled a list of wines that are party-perfect—and will make you, either as the host or the guest, look like a wine savant!
For white wines, I always suggest something like a sauvignon blanc, but not as grapefruit-y. Something like a chardonnay but not oaky or buttery. A white wine that will be enjoyed by fans of both chardonnay and sauvignon blanc. What is this magical white wine, you ask? It’s an albarino from the Rias Baixas region of Spain. One whiff, and your nose is filled with citrus blossoms, passionfruit and fresh Key limes. It has weight without being heavy, and bright acid without being tart. One of my personal favorites is the La Cana albarino, which sells for around $17 and is imported by the godfather of Spanish wine, Jorge Ordonez.
If you’re looking for a screaming value to pour, look no further than a torrontes from Argentina. These wines are usually around $10 a bottle and deliver aromas of white peaches, Meyer lemons and jasmine blossoms. The Filus torrontes and Zolo torrontes are two examples that never disappoint.
I always include bubbles in my party-wine mix. Nothing kicks off a celebration or gathering like sparkling wine—but there’s no need to drop a small fortune on Champagne. There are gorgeous bottles of bubbles from across the globe. I have always found that Spanish cava gives the biggest bang for your buck. Produced in the same way the French make Champagne—the bubbles are created in the bottle—there is no better value on the market. The Paul Cheneau “Lady of Spain” cava is a nonvintage sparkler with a beautifully wrapped bottle that comes in less than $15 a bottle. If you want to splurge a little (and I do mean a little), look for the Raventos Cava. Produced from a single vintage and available in either a blanc de blancs or rose, this will make everyone say, “Champagne who?” and sells for around $25 a bottle.
With the weather heating up, it’s always a good idea to have a crisp rose in the mix. I like to grab something from the Mediterranean region of France. There’s just something about the flavors of wild strawberries and fresh herbs—with a touch of salinity—that makes rose such a perfect wine to sip in the afternoon. Or the evening. Or at brunch. You get my drift. I have found a fabulous rose called Le Paradou, and it’s made from the cinsault grape. In addition to the beautiful berry notes, it has a little touch of pepper on the finish and sells for less than $10 dollars a bottle. It’s a steal!
For the red wines, I always grab a lighter-bodied style like a pinot noir—without the pinot-noir price tag. For this last party, I included a nero d’Avola from Sicily. I just love the bright red fruits married with the subtle earthiness from the volcanic soils. It’s like raspberries, leather and sweet pipe tobacco all wrapped up together. Messer del Fauno makes a nero d’Avola that goes down way too easy for around $8.
For a richer-style red wine, Portugal is my go-to. Made from the same grapes that go into the country’s famed Port production, like touriga nacional, tinta roriz and touriga franca, the reds from the Douro region are velvety and full-bodied. I’ve found one in particular called Silk and Spice that has an inky darkness in the glass with ripe black fruits, warm vanilla spice and rich dark chocolate notes. I know, right? My mouth is watering, too. Best part is it’s around $13!
Finally, to round out the selection, I like to throw in a red wine that’s fun and juicy—one of those lip-smacking, thank-you-sir-may-I-have-another wines that takes the party well into the evening (until you run out of wine, and then everyone leaves). Currently, I’m obsessed with the Alfaro Family Vineyards “Dragon Slayer” red blend. It’s kind of a wacky mix of zinfandel, sangiovese, carignan and syrah, and it positively bursts out of the glass with boysenberries, blueberries, cinnamon and vanilla. I can’t think of another wine in recent memory that is as chuggable as this red. The Alfaro Family Vineyards are located in the Santa Cruz Mountains; after one sip of this heavenly blend, you’ll be wondering why you’ve never been wine-tasting there. For around $15 a bottle, this wine might become your new house staple.
And here’s a thought: Even if you don’t have a shindig you’re heading off to, these are ideal wines to have on hand in case the neighbor drops by, or there’s something binge-worthy on Netflix, or you find you’re thirsty. Either way, these beauties are sure to impress!
Katie Finn is a certified sommelier and certified specialist of wine with two decades in the wine industry. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.