So what do you do when you’re headed to a potluck and you’re pressed for time? Before you pick the one with the prettiest label, I’ve got a few tips to make your choice quick, easy, inexpensive, and delicious.
Argentinian Malbec from Mendoza is usually near the top of my list for quality and value. The ripe flavors of plum and black cherry tend to please a lot of palates, while the dusty tannins on the finish balance it all out. I’d go “unoaked” if at all possible. They tend to be the most food-friendly with brighter acidity and more earthy complexity. Fermentation in steel keeps the costs low and the fruit and acid vibrant. Fans of robust Cabernet and Merlot will love Malbec too. If you know there’s gonna be red meat or charcuterie at the potluck, this is your wine.
Grenache might be my favorite red varietal on the planet. There are so many different expressions of it, and Spanish Garnacha may have the widest appeal. A lot of them are made in an international style – meaning the fruit is a little riper than your typical Old World red. Garnacha tends to be inexpensive to produce, again using only steel to ferment with no oak aging. Be aware of the alcohol on some of these, though. Stay away from the Garnachas that are over 15% alcohol. The higher alcohol means more ripeness and a lot less sophistication. To go with food, you want the acid bright, alcohol in check, and the fruit to be in balance with the tannins and earthy flavors. When made right Garnacha tastes somewhere between Pinot Noir and Zinfandel with the softness of blueberry-like fruit and Pinot Noir-like acidity.
Roederer Estate makes the best value sparkling wine in the country. From the famous Louis Roederer family in Champagne, Roederer Estate has been making great sparkling wines in Anderson Valley, Mendocino for 25 years. Their NV Brut has the sophistication of Champagne with half of the price tag. The notes of toast, brioche, and crisp pear fruit will make you wonder where the rest of the bottle went. If you’re having cheese or want to spruce up the party, this sparkling beauty is for you.
Pine Ridge Chenin Blanc / Viognier, California is consistently a wine that you can depend on year in and year out for value and deliciousness. It began as an experiment for Pine Ridge back in the early 90’s and has become their most popular wine – all for $13.99 retail. Its citrus and honeysuckle notes, combined with silky fruit and food-friendly acidity make this a perfect pairing with salads, antipasti, Thai curry, sushi or pan seared fish.
CMS by Hedges in Columbia Valley is one of the best values on the West Coast. It is Washington’s original Meritage (rhymes with Heritage!) blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah. It tastes as if you’re somehow getting away with a steal at $10.99 retail. The blend of jammy blackberry, cherry, and plum fruit mixed with vanilla and cocoa powder might make your friends want to smell the wine more than talk to you! The palate is not just all fruit, as it’s balanced out by a relatively low 13.5% alcohol, toasted oak, licorice, and pronounced tannins. Pick this one if you’re having red meat.
Your Grocery Store Cheat Sheet
- Alamos “Selección” Malbec, Mendoza, Argentina – $18.99
- Las Rocas Garnacha, Calatayud, Spain – $10.99
- Roederer Estate NV Brut, Anderson Valley, Mendo – $20.99
- Pine Ridge Chenin Blanc / Viognier, California – $13.99
- CMS Cab Sauv / Merlot / Syrah, Columbia Valley, Washington – $10.99
This short list of wines will save you time, money, and worry. You can rest assured that despite the varied array of cheeses, fruit salads, and barbecue, you can count these selections to work every time.
Be sure to let me know if you try one of my suggestions. Let me know what it paired best with. Are there any other gems you’ve found at the grocery store that we all should know about?
It’s impossible to know everything about wine. Let’s keep learning.