My cousin recently asked me, “Could you suggest five wines that don’t cost a ton of money that I could bring to a friend’s house for dinner?” I enthusiastically told her yes — then realized that you may have the same question.
So without further ado, I present my picks for five dinner party wines for $20 (or less). All are versatile enough to pair with a variety of foods, and should be easy to find at US wine retailers and/or online.
Now the next time your friends invite you over and you want to bring wine, you’ll be all kinds of ready!
There are definitely more intellectual sparkling wines you can bring to your friends’ homes, but you’ll have a tough time finding one that’s more fun. Lightly effervescent and sealed with a legit bottle cap, this New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc is neatly balanced with aromas of passionfruit, green pear, blackcurrant and lime peel, and tastes of crisp green apple, ripe lime and white grapefruit.
Cracklin’ Savie brings a little levity to any situation, and makes a great kick-off the evening’s festivities, with or without food.
Before you porch-pound the whole bottle while dinner’s still cooking, though, know that the lightning-in-a-bottle acidity of this frizzante white makes it a great pairing with fried chicken, fish tacos, and salty (but not spicy) charcuterie, fresh fruit, and mild cheeses.
Attems Pinot Grigio 2016 ($20)
No one is more surprised than I am that I’m including a Pinot Grigio in this list, believe me. Until fairly recently, I’d only had cheap, boring grocery-store versions, which always left me wishing I’d drunk something less like water and more like wine.
Then I started trying Pinot Grigios from the northern Italian region of Friuli-Venezia Giulia, specifically under the Collio wine appellation, and found them way worth my while. This elegant version from Attems, a Friuli winery founded in 1106 (because Italy), is bone dry and crisply acidic, smells like a combo of lemon juice, fresh apricot, and orange blossoms, and has a vibrant zing of citrus.
A safe bet when you you’re unsure what your hosts are serving, you can easily pair it with non-tomato-based pastas, cream-based veggie soups, green salads, white fish, roasted or baked chicken, grilled pork, and mild cheeses.
I have a crush on France’s Loire Valley, and especially its 100% Chenin Blanc wine known as Vouvray, grown in prized limestone, clay, and silex (ground-up flint) soil that gives this wine its signature stony minerality. Vouvray Sec (dry) is generally golden in color, with a scent of fresh green apple and acacia honey, and the lightly sweet taste of sunshine on a long summer afternoon.
This particular Vouvray from Domaine Vigneau-Chevreau, a winery in the Loire sub-region of Touraine, has all of the above — plus aromas of baked apricots and ginger, bright-acid tastes of Meyer lemon, starfruit and kiwi, and a medium body with real oomph. It’s a versatile wine that can hold up to the spice of any curry or Asian stir-fry, but also goes well with roasted pork and poultry, rich seafood dishes, and just about anything with its intended pairing, goat cheese.
Ken Forrester Petit Pinotage 2016 ($15-20)
The blessedly drought-resistant Pinotage variety, a cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsault (a dark, thick-skinned black grape from southern France), makes South Africa’s signature red wine. In my opinion, the highest quality versions of bold, full-bodied Pinotage come from the country’s Stellenbosch and Franschoek regions, but they often cost $30+ — while this one’s a bargain at about 20 bucks.
Even if you’re not usually a fan of Pinotage, it’s likely your group will really enjoy this soft, dry and beautifully easy-drinking version from the Stellenbosch. Unoaked, scented with a whiff of campfire smoke, and rich with black cherry and blackberry fruit, this host-friendly screw-capped number will pair divinely with barbecue, burgers, pizza, chili, spicy charcuterie and strong cheeses.
Slightly earthy with hints of baked cherries, fresh figs, nutmeg, and getting a good deal, this gorgeously priced, medium-bodied Pinot Noir drinks like that friendly, popular kid in high school who also wore lots of black, listened to The Cure, and edited the literary magazine. (In other words, it’s a lot like me.)
Pinot Noirs from California’s Edna Valley have steadily been gaining in quality and popularity over the last 20 years, but this particularly full and rich version has a distinct leg up: it’s made by Andrew Jones, the magic-touch winemaker who first brought the world rosé in a can.
Note that the 2016 vintage has Teddy Roosevelt on the label; if you can only find the 2015 version with Salvador Dalí on the label, though, go for it — it’s similarly delicious. Pair either gentlemen with grilled lamb or steak, baked ham, poached salmon, roast turkey, or creamy cheeses like brie.