Here is the dilemma - you don't want to spend more than $10 per bottle, yet you don't want to arrive with nasty ‘plonk’ or appear mean. A bit of savvy shopping and the two are not mutually exclusive.
For me party wines are quite different to wines that I would want to savor at the table with food. They need to be good, but not overly complex or serious. They should be tasty, refreshing, easy to drink and, importantly, they should not absolutely require food to be enjoyed. Finally, they should not be expensive.
With all this in mind I trotted along to our local Trader Joe's wine store in New York City to see what I could find. I gave myself a budget of max $10 per wine. Once again I was more than pleasantly delighted to find quite an array of wines under $10 on offer and from all corners of the globe.
As I wheeled around my cart, a few $11 to $12 Californian Chardonnay wines took my eye. While slightly above budget I reckoned that it would all even out once I had secured a mixed case. However, as my basket filled up with an array of interesting wines below $10, I decided to take out the Californian Chardonnays. Anyway, I said to myself, Thanksgiving is over, so I don't need to feel compelled to buy Californian, especially when other regions seemed to offer so much better value.
Over the next few days I tasted through all the wines, blind — just to remain more objective and not be influenced by a nice label, or a producer that I am more familiar with.
While I tried to buy a good cross-section of under $10 wines, there were many I did not buy. Many of these are also probably excellent party wines. So, if you go wine shopping to Trader Joe's, don't just stick to the recommendations below. As well as my stash from Trader Joe's I also included a number of other great value party wines.
Overall, I was very impressed at the price to quality ratio. I was also impressed by the authenticity of the old world wines. While often rather simple, and sometimes a bit rustic, they all tasted of 'somewhere', rather than industrialized juice that could have come from anywhere.
• 2007 Kunde Estate Chardonnay, Sonoma Valley $8.99 - Toffee, toasty oak nose, Creamy palate with ripe apricot , melon flavors. A bit hot on the finish, but definitely an appealing party wine.
• 2008 Jean Luc Colombo 'Les Abeilles', AC Côtes du Rhône Blanc, France $9.99 - The least aromatic of all the whites tasted, which might detract from its popularity. But appealing herbal and stone fruit flavors.
• 2008 Lacheteau, AC Vouvray, Loire Valley, France $6.99 - A delightful wine. Floral nose, orange blossoms. Juicy flavors, some honeysuckle notes, slightly off-dry, refreshing and bright. This was one of our favorites. No harsh sides to it.
• 2008 Laugel Cuvée Michel Léon Gewürztraminer, Alsace, $9.99 - Another firm favorite. Especially, as a day earlier a friend asked if I thought he could get a nice Gewürztraminer for $10, and I said ‘unlikely’. Well, I ate my words. This wine was well balanced. Classic rose petal, spice, and lychee aromas. Nice texture, refreshing and good flavor intensity. Not a masterpiece, but very well-made.
• 2008 Anton Bauer Grüner Veltliner 'GMÖRK', Wagram, Austria $7.99 - Another pleasant surprise. Dry, showing good Grüner typicity of savory aromas (dried grass, green bean) and white pepper. Simple, but enough fruit flavor and refreshing.
• NV Pacific Rim Riesling, USA $7.99 - I have tasted this wine before and liked it better. This example I found a little forced. Quite a fusel/kerosene nose. Ripe fruit flavors, but a little astringent on the palate.
• 2008 Chateau Saint Michelle Riesling, Columbia Valley $8.99 - Attractive floral nose. Light bodied with pleasant stone fruit. Easy drinking and refreshing.
Red Party Wines from Trader Joe's
• 2007 Albero Monastrell, D.O. Jumilla, Spain $6.99 - Made from organically grown Monastrell grapes (known as Mourvèdre in France). Earthy, lots of ripe dark fruit, prunes, plums and some leathery notes. Simple but amazing value and tasty.
• 2007 Trentatre Rosso, IGT Salento, Italy, $5.99 - A blend of the local Montepulciano grape, with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. On the nose, cassis notes of Cabernet prevail, proving that a little Cabernet goes a long way! Some obvious oak notes, but not over-powering. Ripe, smooth, well made with lots of black fruit. Excellent value.
• 2008 Ruffino Chianti, DOC Chianti $6.99 - Easy drinking, fruity with lots of strawberry, red-currant and cherry flavors. Light-to-medium body. Little astringency on the finish, but it does not detract from the wine. Refreshing and ideal for a party.
• 2008 La Loggia Barbera d'Alba, Italy $6.99 - Another tasty gem. Simple but has lots of ripe red cherry-berry flavors. Soft and smooth on the palate. Very juicy and refreshing.
• 2007 Yalumba Shiraz-Viognier, South Australia, $7.99 - Upfront ripe, sweet fruit - raspberry, blackberry. Soft tannins and easy drinking. Probably the most 'stylized' of the reds tasted. Also a little sweet on the finish. But sure to be a party hit.
A Few More Budget Party Wines from Elsewhere
I also want to include these additional great party wines, which I tasted recently - I did not buy these from Trader Joe's but in my opinion they deserve to be on any party list.
• 2008 Domaine Tour Boisée, AC Minervois, France, $10 - A French country white wine - blend of Marsanne, Vermentino, Rousanne, Grenache Blanc and Muscat à Petits Grains. Baked apple and pear aromas and flavors with resin note on finish. Simple, slightly rustic but good value as a party wine.
• 2007 Santa Carolina Carmenère Reserve, Rapel Valley, Chile $10 - I tasted this red wine at a recent Carmenère wine blogger's online conference, and was really quite impressed with the wine. Inky blue color, Lots of upfront lush fruit, spicy, toasty oak. Very smooth, juicy and easy to drink.
• 2008 Tormaresca Neprica, Puglia IGT, Italy $9.99 - I felt this wine really deserved to make the party list. Lots of rich ripe fruit, black pepper, spice. While fruity and juicy enough to be sipped at a party, this wine can also hold its own at the table. A blend of Southern Italian grapes Negroamaro and Primitivo, along with some Cabernet Sauvignon.
• 2008 Feudo Arancio Nero d'Avola, IGT Sicilia, $9.99 - Another red Italian gem. Delicious ripe red and black fruit. Very soft and smooth on the palate. Easy drinking at a party or with pizza.
• 2008 Montes Cabernet Sauvignon, Colchagua Valley, Chile $8.99 - A consistent banker for parties. Packed with juicy ripe black currant and blackberry berry fruit. Smooth and juicy with mocha notes. Another easy drinker and easy on the wallet.
Until next week, enjoy the holiday party season!
Mary Gorman-McAdams, DWS, is a New York based wine educator, freelance writer and consultant. She hold the Diploma in Wine & Spirits from the Wine and Spirits Education Trust (WSET), and is a candidate in the Master of Wine Program.
More budget and Trader Joe's wine recommendations:
• Supermarket Wines Review: Top Wine Picks from Trader Joe's Wine Store in NYC
• How To Choose Good Cheap Wine from the Big Brands: Pinot Grigio
• How To Choose Good Cheap Wine from the Big Brands: Cabernet Sauvignon
• Cheap Wine: Best Pinot Noir Under $20
• Cheap Wines for Tough Times
(Images: Wine producers)