The word "bargain" is always consumer relative, but perhaps rarely more so when the subject is wine. Even without getting price involved merely the word "Chardonnay" can start a (polite, of course) wine bar fight. And we've all learned the hard way that at the lower end of the wine price spectrum, even paying just a few dollars more for that bottle can make a substantial difference in quality.
That said, we consider a great $8 bottle a repeat-purchase must, nor would we scoff at finding a truly great Hollywood Bowl picnic wine for $16. Here are a few well-priced wines that we're keen on at the moment, and do add your suggested sips below. Maybe it's the often wacky labels, but there's something more fun about summer-friendly wine that makes it ripe for sharing. Turn the page for our 5 Picnic Friendly Summer Wine Deals.
5. Graffigna Centenario, 2010 Reserve Pinot Grigio, Argentina:
We were already a fan of this Graffigna Pinot Grigio, as it is a good value (about $12) for anyone after a dry, citrusy picnic-ready palate. Then we read the label's suggested "food matching" and liked it even more (anything that can make us laugh, sans air conditioning, in 90+ degree heat). On the label we are told that "risotto with clams in dill and tarragon honey" would be a lovely pairing with this wine. We're still not sure where the commas in that phrase were intended to be, but we can pretty much guarantee that clam risotto with dill and tarragon honey would be a darn good summer party conversation starter.
About $12, available online and at well-stocked local wine shops.
4. Sokol Blosser, Evolution, White Blend, Dundee, Oregon:
As the bottle touts, this wine from Sokol Blosser is somewhat of a "random" white wine blend. It's made from nine varietals, including Pinot Gris, Muller-Thurgau and Semillon, in an area known for its Pinot Noir. The result is a bright but full-flavored wine, a tropics-meets-the-renegade-Oregon-outdoors sort of flavor. We're not quite sure what that means, either, but suffice it to say that it is among our favorite whites for summer. Even better, it clocks in at a refreshingly low 12% ABV, so often a rarity with American wines.
3. Colores del Sol, 2010 Malbec, Mendoza:
A relatively new Argentinean winery with a 2009 launch date, this 100% Malbec from the Mendoza region is a pretty bold and spicy berry-infused glass. Translation: It's begging for a grilled burger, even more so if that burger is dressed in a great local condiment.
About $12, the 2010 was recently released, look for it soon at wine shops that carry the 2009 such as Woodland Hills Wine Co.
2. Charles Krug, 2010 Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley:
By now we've heard it before: 2010 was a rough growing year in California. And so while some folks will be approaching those high-priced bottles from cult Napa wineries cautiously (at $100 a pop, every sip needs to be memorable), we'll be sticking to more affordable everyday sips like this crisp fruit-forward and easy drinking Sauvignon Blanc from Charles Krug -- think mineral-y with a bit of apricot hiding in there. Besides, the bottle comes with an ever-present excuse to pop it open and offer a toast, as Charles Krug is celebrating its 150-year anniversary this year (congrats, by the way).
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About $18 online, often less if you spy it in a well-stocked grocery store or wine shop.
1. Archeo Nero D'Avola, 2008 Ruggero di Tasso, Sicily:
Trader Joe's has carried this Sicilian wine for a few years. We've found all of the recent Nero d'Avola grape-based vintages to be solid Sunday night sippers, or at least in that bold, peppery, everyday dark fruit-and-oak finish kind of way. This is the sort of casual, noncommittal wine you open while you're barbecuing a messy sauce-slopped brisket that requires constant "tasting" (you know, to make sure the meat is cooking up just right), then move on to a more complex, heavier hitting wine.
About $5, available at most Trader Joe's stores.