As the weather finally starts to warm up, invitations to springtime parties are sure to arrive in your mailbox (or inbox, as it were). A thoughtful guest will always inquire as to what they might bring as a thank-you for being invited; a lovely bottle of wine is a no-fail option. If you're the one pulling host duty, your mission is to find delicious yet inexpensive wines to offer your guests that you'll still want to drink if you end up with leftovers. Precisely which wine to choose is the essential consideration; when making your choice, look at the wine as though it were the liquid equivalent of the event itself.
Here are five of my favorites:
1. Best All-Occasion Wine. Festive and upbeat events, from housewarming parties to bridal showers, call for a wine that's equal to the revelatory mood -- a perfect rosé bubbly. After all, the only thing in life that's more delicious than bubbly is pink bubbly. You might be tempted to stick to a classic blanc de blanc, but for maximum party pleasing panache, go for the rosé. Sparkling wines are naturally versatile, pairing well with everything from deviled eggs to fried chicken, but the added depth and complexity found in rosé sparklers really extends their ability to play well with others. Nowadays you can find all sorts of interesting red grapes produced in a sparkling style: Check out the uniquely delish Tokay-based Moletto Rosé Prosecco ($13) or the stellar Schramsberg Mirabelle Brut Rosé NV ($24).
2. The Graduate. The month of May sees graduation season in full bloom. To celebrate all the bright young things this year, pick a similarly bright and refreshing wine. Full of zippy, racy citrus and grassy flavors that positively burst in your mouth, New Zealand sauvignon blancs are just the ticket. These wines are meant to be enjoyed young, and with a ton of producers to choose from, you'll have no trouble finding several within your price range. The fact that these down-under sippers are perfectly delish to drink by themselves makes them all the more party-friendly. I'm a big fan of the Allan Scott Sauvignon Blanc 2009 ($14) and the Huia Sauvignon Blanc 2008 ($18).
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3. Perfect Picnic Pourer. Somehow food and wine just seems to taste better outside. Is there anything more pleasurable than packing a picnic basket full of goodies, heading to the park and enjoying a bounty of treats al fresco? The fun thing about picnic fare is that anything goes...hence the need to proffer a wine that's just as flexible. A super-easy drinking wine that literally captures sunshine and fresh breezes in a bottle in a major way is vinho verde. Even though you might not have heard of these yummy Portuguese wines, they're a perfect foil for everything on your picnic blanket. The best vinho verdes -- literally translated as 'green wine' -- are light, bone-dry and just a little spritzig (aka bubbly). Pair them with an assortment of cheeses, some grilled linguiça sausage and a loaf of fresh country bread and call it a day. Give the Casal Garcia Vinho Verde 2009. At around $8 a bottle, this one's case-worthy.
4. The Backyard BBQ. There are many perspectives on what makes a great barbecue wine: Some folks look to the spice component, while others focus on trying to complement the smoke or saucy components. However you slice it, a hearty, fruity syrah is a match made in barbecue heaven. I'm going with syrah here for a number of reasons: It's adaptable enough to work with everything on your grill from pork to poultry. Most will have some amount of spice, but typically not so much as to fight with a particularly piquant sauce. Finally, the time most syrahs spend in oak should help them to harmonize with the smoke-infused meat. You can go with either California or Australia here, since both are bound to be winners. Check out the Taz Goat Rock Syrah 2007 ($20).
5. The Dinner Party Pleaser. Argentinean malbec all the way. This is a bit of a risky choice, because it's big, can be tannic and may not always be as universally cheap and delicious as some of my previous picks. However, when you pick the right malbec, pretty much anyone who tastes it is gonna end up liking it. Malbec is definitely the wine most likely to be hoarded by the host instead of poured out to all the revelers, but look at the bright side: You're likely to be invited to their next gathering, and the next. You'd do well with the Colores del Sol Malbec 2008 ($12); the Durigutti Malbec 2007 ($14) is also fab.