What Makes a Great Party Wine?
It should be inexpensive, widely available and versatile—delicious with a wide range of foods and appropriate for a wide range of occasions. In general, plan on serving half a bottle of wine per person at a cocktail party, and a bottle per person at a lengthier dinner party.
Many top wineries produce "second label" wines, which can provide great quality for a moderate price. Also, look for wonderful values from up-and-coming areas like Mendoza in Argentina.
Toques et Clochers Crémant de Limoux NV ($16) Locals claim sparkling wines have been made in the Loire since 1531—even longer than in Champagne. The best, like this one, combine biscuity aromas with long-lasting lemon-apple flavors.
2004 Wild Bunch California White ($10) Winemaker Chris Leamy's kitchen-sink approach to blending is unorthodox, but it works. This mix of Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, Muscat and Sauvignon Blanc is light on oak, making it rich but refreshing.
2004 Caldora Trebbiano d'Abruzzo ($13) A group of Abruzzese growers formed the collective Caldora in 2002 with the aim of producing terrific wines from local varieties like Pecorino, Montepulciano d'Abruzzo and Trebbiano d'Abruzzo. This crisp, minerally white testifies to its success.
2005 Pecan Stream Chenin Blanc ($13) South African winemaking star Kevin Arnold of Waterford Estate sources the grapes for his Pecan Stream wines from local growers rather than from his estate vineyards. This vibrant, slightly honeyed Chenin is a great all-season aperitif.
2004 Dr. Bürklin-Wolf Riesling Estate White Label ($13) Germany's 2004 vintage led to lively, tart Rieslings, such as this bottling from one of the oldest estates in the Pfalz region (founded in the late 1500s). It's dry and flinty, with palate-whetting stone-fruit flavors.
2003 Finca Antigua Tempranillo ($10) Renowned Rioja producer Martínez Bujanda bought this enormous estate in 1999, but the vines were already producing superb grapes. This black, smoky Tempranillo is proof of their quality.
2003 Budini Malbec ($11) Importers Nick Ramkowsky and Ed Lehrman of Vine Connections enlisted top Argentine winemaker Susana Balbo to create this stunning Malbec, full of black cherry fruit and earthy tannins. But why did they name it after the wild Argentine pampas cat Oncifelis colocolo budini?
2003 Porcupine Ridge Syrah ($11) Winemaker Marc Kent of South Africa's Boekenhoutskloof winery is known as a Syrah master. For his second label, Porcupine Ridge, Kent made this superb example: Peppery and intense, it recalls a St-Joseph from France—at a third of the price.
2003 Banrock Station Cabernet Sauvignon ($16 for 3 liters) This exuberant, curranty Australian Cabernet, from a winery that donates a portion of its profits to environmental programs around Australia, comes in an economical three-liter box (it's also available in bottles).
2003 Lavradores de Feitoria Três Bagos ($17) An innovative co-op of 15 young growers in Portugal's Douro Valley (mentored by guru Dirk Niepoort), Lavradores de Feitoria produces high-end single-vineyard wines as well as this impressive, velvety red blend.