The holiday season is a prime time to have a few good bottles of wine on hand.
If you don’t need them for your family gatherings or other events that you’re hosting, bottles of wine make an easy grab-and-go contribution for friends’ parties or a last-minute gift.
But price is just part of the equation. “You also want to get the right wine: one that’s good enough to be noted as such by the people drinking it, while cheap enough to serve an entire table of relatives or party of friends,” says Wesley Narron, chief wine ambassador at CityWineTours.com.
As he puts it, “Your significant other will be impressed. Your auntie will chug-a-lug. And you’ll have some great wine with the meal, a happy wallet, and a much better buzz than Nana’s jug wine.”
We asked Narron and other wine experts for their picks, as well as a few specific bottles that come in under the $20 mark:
This French variety is only available during the holiday season — it’s the first release of this year’s vintage, explains Bob Wilson, the chief executive of Winestyr.com.
“Any brand will work, as this is simple wine that hasn’t been aged,” he says. Most bottles run $9 to $20. Try one as a gift, or pair with foods early into a holiday meal before heavier wines make an appearance.
At first glance, Narron says, this little-known, ever-so-slightly-sweet white wine from France looks like “the type of wine your wine-snob brother-in-law will disdain.”
But a Vouvray made #6 on Decanter Magazine’s list of the 100 Greatest Wines ever made, and its cheaper counterparts are a worthy choice for a holiday meal.
He likes the Domain de Vaufuget Vouvray for $10, the Charles Bove Vouvray for $14, or the Marc Bredif Vouvray for $20.
Hard cider is having its moment as an “it” drink. But for a place at a holiday table, look to those that are more like wine than beer.
Arthur Hon, wine director at Chicago restaurant Sepia, likes the 2009 Eric Bordelet Poiré “Authentique” from Normandy, a pear cider that sells for $19.
“It has slight sweetness that would work better at the end of meals, but with savory dishes that include fruit elements will be an eye-opening pairing,” he says.
“If you like a white with your Thanksgiving meal, Pinot Gris pairs well with turkey and all its fixings,” Wilson says.
Compared to a Pinot Grigio, which is made from the same grape, the French-style Pinot Gris is fuller-bodied and has more mineral flavors.
His pick: Rocky Hill 2010 Pinot Gris from Sonoma, which sells for $19.
“When it comes to sparkling wine, Spanish Cava can be one of the more budget-friendly picks,” says sommelier Matthew Carroll of BRABO restaurant and its shop, the Butcher’s Block, in Alexandria, Va.
He likes Castillo Perelada Brut Cava, a non-vintage sparkler that sells for $12. “It’s a beautiful dry sparkler that will work just as beautifully with turkey as it will with cranberry sauce, stuffing and sweet potatoes,” Carroll says.
Rioja “has the same strawberry-cherry aromas of Pinot Noir, and some of the floral characteristics of Chianti, minus the smokiness or earthiness,” Narron says.
Prices rise the longer the wine has been barrel-aged. Look for a bottle with “Crianza” or “Reserva” in the name. “’Tinto’ varieties have little aging and can be too harsh, while a ‘Gran Reserva’ isn’t enough of a flavor upgrade to justify the cost,” he says.
Two picks: the Marques de Caceres Crianza and the Lan Crianza, both $14.
Frugal Foodie is a journalist based in New York City who spends her days writing about personal finance and obsessing about what she’ll have for dinner. Chat with her on Twitter through @MintFoodie.