The party animal within most wine enthusiasts presents an eternal conflict. When serving a large gathering, do you go for quality or price? For all but those with the deepest pockets, price generally wins.
That is, unless you can do both. With a modest budget of $10 to $20 a bottle, I'm of the opinion that anybody can throw a party with world-class wines that everyone will enjoy. And I've done the research that proves this beyond a reasonable doubt.
This is a short list culled from wines I tasted during the recent Winemaker Challenge competition in San Diego. Each of them won a gold medal or above; all impressed me and are widely available. The prices shown are nationally suggested retail prices. A careful shopper should be able to find most of them for less.
My Value Selections:
Allegrini was among the first producers in the Veneto region of Italy to embrace the wine renaissance that lifted Italian wines to world-class levels over the past three decades. At $17, the Allegrini 2015 Valpolicella DOC is a shining example of the strides made in the once-spotty Valpolicella district.
Banfi scores big with a couple of its least expensive wines, the 2013 Banfi Chianti Classico DOCG Riserva and the 2014 Centine Rosso, which, at $19 and $12 respectively, cost a fraction of the winery's benchmark Brunello di Montalcino. The Centine Rosso is what I refer to as a baby Super Tuscan in that it combines international grape varieties such as cabernet sauvignon, merlot and syrah with Tuscany's indigenous sangiovese grape.
Black Stallion's 2015 Chardonnay is a superb blend of multiple California appellations. Beautifully balanced, it combines richness with firm structure and is seriously delicious with a modest price of $19.
The Emiliana 2015 Natura Rose from Chile's Rapel Valley is another example of inexpensive excellence from South America. This organically farmed rose is crisp and refreshing. It has the pale rose petal color that is often associated with dry rose wines from Provence. It's a steal at $12.
The Francis Ford Coppola 2015 Diamond Collection Sauvignon Blanc is a superb sauvignon with notes of melon and citrus, and it has a beautiful price of $15. At $18, Coppola's 2014 Merlot isn't too shabby either. But if you're throwing a party and you need a very good wine for even less, you can't go wrong with the Coppola 2014 Rosso for $12.
Navarro, a family-run winery situated in the remote Anderson Valley of California, is famous for its aromatic white wines, and the 2015 Gewurztraminer for $19.50 is certainly a stunner. And would you believe a superb Anderson Valley pinot noir for under $20? Indeed, the 2015 Navarro Anderson Valley Pinot also checks in at $19.50. The Anderson Valley's success with both of those grape varieties can be attributed to the cool breezes blowing in from the Mendocino coast, which preserves acidity and freshness.
Rodney Strong has long been a Sonoma County bellwether of value. The wines are consistently outstanding at prices that seem to me to be better than fair. The 2014 Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon for $20 is a gem.
The Niven family owns the Paragon Vineyard in the heart of the Edna Valley, a cool region close to the Pacific coast along the California Central Coast. Under the firm hand of winemaker Christian Roguenant, the Nivens launch a number of outstanding brands from this remarkable vineyard. Three beauties for $20 or less are the Zocker 2015 Gruner Veltliner ($20), the True Myth 2015 Chardonnay ($18) and the Tangent 2015 Sauvignon Blanc ($13). All are vineyard-designate wines; all are splendid; and all represent unparalleled value.
The fastest-growing subcategory of sparkling wine is Prosecco, the fresh, juicy bubbly from Northern Italy's Veneto region. Prosecco from top producers is not only delicious and refreshing but also generally reasonably priced. Two that ring the value bell for me are the Zonin Prosecco DOC at $15 and the Lunetta Prosecco DOC at $14. Both wines are widely available, and in many retail outlets you can take a discount off those prices if you buy six bottles or more. For most of my summer parties, six bottles of Prosecco is just about right!
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