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The Only Ten Wines You'll Ever Need

Nothing sadder at a party than empty glasses.
Nothing sadder at a party than empty glasses.

by Mike Supple
published: 09 Jul 2009
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Ok, so the title is somewhat of a misnomer. This is really a list of the 10 categories of wine that cover any occasion and any price range. Familiarize yourself with these categories and the wines within each, and boom: instant wine connoisseur.

Each category detailed below explains a situation and what type of wine is called for. If a favorite wine comes to mind while reading a description, then make that your go-to bottle for the category. Don't worry about getting overwhelmed - if nothing you've tried before stands out, there's a suggestion in each category to get you started.

  1. The Picnic Wine
    • A light-bodied wine that will fit the bill at just about any casual get together, be it a picnic or chilling with some friends while playing video games. This wine provides simple, light refreshment and doesn't require any serious reflection. Crisp white wines with citrus fruit flavors and lots of acidity work perfectly. Try Sauvignon Blanc, dry Riesling, Grüner Veltliner or un-oaked Chardonnay.
    • My choice: 2008 La Playa Sauvignon Blanc, Colchagua Valley, Chile. ~$8

  2. The Barbecue Wine
    • Barbecue season generally means a jump in consumption of spicy hot links, giant juicy burgers, smoky t-bone steaks and chicken or pork slathered in sweet and tangy sauces. All of these foods scream for a ripe, rich and full-bodied red wine with enough fruit to stand up to the spices and sauces, combined with just enough acidity and tannin to cut through all the fat. You have plenty of choices here: Malbec, Syrah, Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz all make perfect grilling accompaniments.
    • My choice: 2007 Doña Paula Estate Malbec, Mendoza, Argentina. ~$12

  3. The Dinner Party Wine
    • Usually a somewhat more formal gathering than a picnic or barbecue, and more likely to involve real wine glasses rather than plastic or paper cups. For this reason, you may want to step up the complexity of the wine so your guests have something to think about while they swirl and sniff their glasses. More complexity doesn't mean you have to break the bank, but you'll find many better choices in the $15-$20 range than the under $10 range. Try something with a specific vineyard or detailed region name on the wine label (like Valle de Uco, Mendoza, Argentina rather than just Argentina). Generally when a label gets more specific with the wine's origin it means the wine maker put a little something extra into the bottle.
    • My choice: 2006 Louis Martini Cabernet Sauvignon, Sonoma, California. ~$15

  4. The After Dinner Wine
    • When dinner wraps up many people begin to crave something sweet. Too often people put a heavy dessert and a thick sweet wine on the table together, which can lead to fighting flavors. While Port wine can go well with chocolate, and Sauternes or Tokajis can be divine with fruit or custard dishes, it's often best to do a sweet wine instead of dessert to really let the wine show. Dessert wines can be expensive, but a little sugar goes a long way - people rarely drink more than 3 to 4 ounces - and many come in half bottles, which will save you money.
    • My choice: Leacocks 10 year Bual Madeira, Madeira. ~$40

  5. The Drinking Party Wine
    • A bunch of friends hanging around, drinking some wine and shooting the breeze makes for a great evening. At an event like this, don't worry about matching the wine with food. If everybody brings a bottle, there will be tons of fun to go around. Bring something you have had before and really enjoyed. This way when somebody asks you about your choice you have more to say than, "The check-out guy said this was their best wine under $8." If your friends aren't jerks then this is not a party about one-upping each other. Bring something in your price range, and don't forget to try as many other wines as possible. This is one of the best ways to find new favorites!
    • My choice: 2007 Delas Freres Côtes du Rhone St-Esprit, Cotes du Rhone, France. ~$14

  6. The Impress Your Date Wine
    • Whether you are cooking a meal at home or buying dinner at a restaurant, nothing says "This is a special evening" like a bottle of bubbly. If you are one of those people who think they don't like sparkling wine, I beseech you to try again. Only this time try something that doesn't have a white star, a giant yellow label or a plastic cork. A lot of commercial and mass-market bottles of bubbly have too much sugar (and chemicals) that make drinking them an off-putting experience that can result in a powerful hangover. There are many high quality sparkling wines in all price ranges (from $10 to $500), so make your date's night and try one.
    • My choice: Allimant-Laugner Cremant d'Alsace Brut Rosé, Alsace, France. ~$20

  7. The Dinner With Your Boss Wine
    • If you were invited to dine with your boss it probably means you're not getting fired, so relax a little - you've obviously done something to make yourself shine. Seize this opportunity to build on that image. If you have the chance beforehand, be proactive. Ask your boss what kind of wine she likes to drink and then choose something based on her response. If you don't have that type of insight, it's generally a good option to go with something a little unique. Shop at an actual wine shop rather than your grocery store. Avoid things in a box or a jug. If you had something recently and loved it, bring that. And be ready to tell your boss, "I had this recently and was really impressed by it. I know it's something that you'll appreciate."
    • My choice: 2006 Fattoria di Felsina Chianti Classico, Tuscany, Italy. $22

  8. The Meeting The Parents Wine
    • This is one you're going to want to put a little effort into. Find out ahead of time what they like to drink and make sure it's on hand. Parents appreciate that kind of attention to detail. If the get-together is sprung on you last minute, it's good to go with a wine that shows classic style combined with modern flair. A wine like this will satisfy both casual drinkers and seasoned oenophiles. One of the best countries in the world for wines like this is Spain.
    • My choice: 2006 Guelbenzu Vierlas, Ribera del Queiles, Spain. $14

  9. The Gift For A Wine Lover Wine
    • A true wine lover appreciates a good quality wine no matter what grape makes it or what region it's from - and price is not important. This is your chance to shine and show your passion for wine (whether budding or long-term). Pick something you love and make sure you share that information in a card or in person when you hand the bottle over: "I had this when I was visiting Sonoma," or, "This is the best wine I've ever had with smoked salmon." Just please stay away from the bargain bin at your local grocery store. Wine lovers aren't snobs, but you wouldn't give a beer lover a 40oz of malt liquor, would you?
    • My choice: 2006 Argiano Non Confunditur Rosso Toscano, Tuscany, Italy. $23

  10. The Gift For A Snob Wine
    • These people often masquerade as wine lovers and like to spout out their limited (and often incorrect) knowledge of wine. For this person, wine is a status symbol - the more it tastes like burning Benjamins, the better it goes down with Kobe beef. If you're stuck giving a gift to this type of person, you need to forget about the bargain. Status symbols cost money. The label is everything; the wine a distant second.
    • My choice: Opus One. This is generally a good wine, but not nearly worth the $120+ it costs. A must for any Napa red wine collector. There's no link to a tasting note for this wine because I wanted to buy a case of sparkling wine for me instead of this one bottle.

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