Food & Wine Executive Wine Editor Ray Isle shares his formula for picking a perfect dozen bottles, and saving some cash while you're at it.
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illustration of a case of wine
Credit: Illustration by Raphaelle Macaron

Most of us buy wine off the cuff. We grab a bottle or two at the store when we're buying groceries or on the way home from work; maybe we visit a winery on a weekend and bring home a few bottles we particularly loved. Totally fine. But here's a different approach: Create a case of wine (12 bottles) that lives in your home, is restocked as needed, and can cover any wine contingency you might have—weekday dinners, special occasions, friends coming over, you name it. You'll never have to panic and rush out at the last minute because you forgot the wine (terrible fate!). Plus, at least initially, you'll benefit from the fact that most stores offer discounts on full cases, sometimes as much as 15%.

The following selection covers almost every base. Of course, if you hate sparkling wine and love rosé, just adjust the numbers up or down. And remember: When storing wine, temperature is key. The best place is a wine fridge or a cool cellar. After that, an inside closet. The worst places? Anywhere hot—like, for instance, your kitchen.

3 Bottles of Everyday Red

Randomly decide to make burgers? Hankering for a steak? Just want a good glass of red wine? You'll move through these bottles regularly, so keep several on hand. Follow your own taste—could be Cabernet, could be Chianti, could be an Aussie Shiraz. But if you like robust reds, the nonvintage Marietta Old Vine Red ($15) is a perennial steal.

3 Bottles of Everyday White

An everyday white is exactly that: a Wednesday night, work-wore-me-out bottle you can open without thinking. For some, that's a Pinot Grigio; for some, a Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc—your choice. But the crisp 2020 Rodney Strong Charlotte's Home Sauvignon Blanc ($18) is a strong contender.

1 Bottle of Everyday Sparkling

Bubbles just make life better (proven scientific fact), and having bubbles on hand that you can enjoy without worrying about the cost, even more so. Value for money, it's hard to beat Cava, the sparkling wine of Spain. The 2019 Naveran Cava Brut ($20) is a great choice.

1 Bottle of Special-Occasion White

Occasionally, you need to impress someone, even if it's just yourself. White Burgundies can be among the greatest white wines. (Plus, they age well, so no need to rush into popping the cork.) Look for the layered 2018 Joseph Drouhin Côte de Beaune Blanc ($60).

1 Bottle of Pricey Sparkling

When a special occasion does come along,Champagne— the real stuff—is the answer. Don't go to the store day-of; instead, keep at least one bottle of something sublime, like the nonvintage Bollinger Special Cuvée Brut ($79), in your stash.

1 Bottle of Dessert Wine

Once in a while, a glass of good sweet wine is the absolute right thing for the moment, and that almost never coincides with having any in the house. Fix this. Vin santo from Italy, like the 2007 Castello di Monsanto La Chimera ($50), is one to savor late into the night.

1 Bottle of Good Rosé

Have one on hand for the friend stopping by who just loves-loves-loves rosé. But not all rosé is created equal, so spend a little (not a lot) on a top producer from Provence. The 2020 Château Minuty M de Minuty ($23) won't disappoint.

1 Bottle of Special-Occasion Red

When the boss abruptly invites him- or herself over, or you left out the one crucial thing (wine) when shopping before a special dinner party, having a spare bottle of top-flight red on hand is a lifesaver. Why not a Bordeaux, like the luscious tobacco-scented 2018 Château Bourgneuf ($65) from Pomerol?