The best guest never arrives to a party empty-handed. Luckily, looking thoughtful is as easy as hitting your local supermarket (or wherever you buy wine) and dropping less than 20 bucks to pick up one of these bottles. Find the kind of party you’re attending and we’ll tell you what to bring. Cheers!
Dinner Party: Pinot Noir
When in doubt, bring a pinot noir. Its elegant, lighter style suits just about any dish or wine preference. A dry red wine, pinot is prized for its complex combo of fruit-forward flavors, earthiness and spice notes.
Standout Pick: 2013 Kendall-Jackson Vintner’s Reserve California Pinot Noir ($20)
Why: Inexpensive pinot is hard to pull off, but Kendall-Jackson consistently does so with this silky, medium-bodied pick. Ripe with red cherry, strawberry and raspberry, it also features hints of vanilla and spice with an earthy finish.
You can’t go wrong with America’s most popular grape. It’s accessible and versatile: Some styles are light and crisp with aromas of green apple and lemon, while others are rich and buttery with oak, vanilla and tropical fruit notes. No matter what the weather, a refreshing glass of chard warms up any home.
Standout Pick: 2012 Bogle Chardonnay ($11)
Why: Buttery and balanced, the Bogle is one of the best values in chardonnay you’ll find anywhere. Dry yet fruity, this easy sipper entices with green apple, pear and melon notes plus hints of vanilla, caramel and oak and a clean, crisp finish.
For Clubs and Groups: Malbec
Survey says more Americans prefer the red stuff over the white, so if you’re buying for a big group, a darker bottle’s a good bet. Bonus: It doesn’t need to be chilled, so it’s easier to serve to a crowd. A medium- to full-bodied dry red wine, Malbec boasts robust tannins, ripe fruit flavors and smoky hints of leather and tobacco.
Standout Pick: 2013 Alamos Malbec ($10)
Why: This well-balanced, wallet-friendly winner from Argentina impresses with its dark purple color, medium body and vibrant notes of plum, blackberry, cedar and vanilla. With this textbook example, it’s easy to see why South America got its reputation for superb value.
Her Birthday: Rosé
Light, refreshing and just fun, rosé will put her in the mood to celebrate. Also known as rosado (Spain) or rosato (Italy), food-friendly rosé is typically a dry wine with a crisp, fruity flavor.
Standout Pick: 2013 Francis Ford Coppola Sofia Rosé ($19)
Why: Named after the famed director’s daughter, the Sofia is a bright, balanced drink that bursts with a bouquet of fresh strawberry, cherry and raspberry notes. This delightful, approachable rosé comes in a shapely — dare we say, girly — bottle that makes a lovely gift for the birthday gal.
His Birthday: Ruby Port Wine
This is the kind of thing he’ll enjoy after dinner, perhaps holding court by a crackling fire. Made exclusively in Portugal, ruby port is a sweet wine that’s often served in a narrow wine glass with dessert or cheeses.
Standout Pick: Warre’s Warrior Port ($17)
Why: Affordable and luscious, this full-bodied ruby port is a special treat with intense aromas of plum, cherry and spices and a lingering finish. Bring dark chocolate too for a classic pairing; with luck, he’ll offer you some of each.