Planning a dinner party is no easy feat, but choosing the perfect wine doesn’t have to be a big part of the challenge. You can pick a stellar wine that will not only complement the meal but which will impress the socks off your guest too.
There are plenty of reasonably priced bottles on the market to help you achieve this without having to spend your life’s savings. Below you’ll find the bottles to wow your guests. A few are under $20, and they all come in under $45.
7 dinner party-worthy wines to try:
It’s hot and you need a cool, unfussy wine to serve to guests at your casual cookout. Break out the Folonari Pinot Grigio, a wine produced in Italy’s Veneto region, that has been known for its ease and enjoyability since the winery was first founded by Francesco Folonari in 1825. “It’s a pretty simple wine and not a complicated one to pair with many different foods,” says Jazmín Martínez, a Mexico City-based food writer and W Radio Mexico correspondent. “In my opinion, whites are better for informal parties because they tend to be perceived as more relaxed and less structured wines than reds,” Martinez says.
This 100% Gamay organic wine comes from vines in the Beaujolais region of France that were planted more than 45 years ago. The wine undergoes whole-cluster fermentation — meaning, the whole grape cluster is picked from the vine then crushed and fermented with stems and leaves — before it spends five months aging in cement vats. While this bottle could make a perfect aperitif at a dinner party, it’s an easy pairing for a variety of different foods too. “Everyone’s go-to, easy, fun grape is Gamay,” says New York sommelier Marquis Williams, who runs the wine club Highly Recommended. “This one is super juicy, fresh with ripe red fruits, a touch of earth, and funk. Very approachable with a familiar palate everyone can understand and enjoy and goes perfect with all kinds of foods.”
If you’re looking to serve something with pure elegance at your next dinner party, Williams says you can’t go wrong with a sparkling by Sanfeletto. “This is the perfect aperitif wine to start any dinner party that surely will have people wanting more and more,” says Williams. The Glera grapes used for this Prosecco are grown some 900 feet above sea level in the Valdobbiadene region of Italy, and the wine displays tons of stone fruits balanced with acidity. The best part, according to Williams, is the small tiny bubbles that remain constant in the glass from the first sip to the last. “This is not those massive, bright, in-your-face bubbles we’re so used to in the U.S.,” Williams notes.
From a small estate in the Graves area of Bordeaux comes this blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon created by late Professor Denis Dubourdieu, known globally as the pope of white Bordeaux for his contribution to the modernization of Bordeaux’s white wines. It’s an all-arounder white wine that is “fruity enough to enjoy on its own as a refreshing apéro, but textural and structured to pair with a wide array of dishes — not just fish or white meats but it’s also great with grilled lamb chops or sweet Italian sausage,” says Mary Gorman-McAdams MW, the Director of the International Wine Center. “It has aromatics, fruity flavors, texture, and depth. Barrel fermented, it has the added subtle complexity of oak, and of course being from a top vineyard site, it has precision, tension, and length. An added bonus is that this wine is delicious to enjoy when young but also great for cellaring, so don’t drink every bottle during your dinner party,” Gorman-McAdams adds.
Don’t be fooled by all the collector hype surrounding Bordeaux. While there are highly sought-after investment-grade wines produced in the French region, there are just as many wines that hit the mark for quality without the hefty price tag. This Cabernet Sauvignon-dominated red blend produced by Château Paloumey is one such wine, according to Gorman-McAdams. “This is a great wine to start navigating the Left Bank wines of Bordeaux. A wine with both authority and accessibility — the fruit is compelling, dark, ripe, layered, and persistent. Tannins are fine-grained and supple, providing a good structure. The 2016 was a fantastic vintage, combining ripeness with freshness,” she says, adding that hosts should “open and allow to air at least two hours in advance to enjoy at its best.”
“Nothing says special dinner party like Champagne,” says Gorman-McAdams. From a small Champagne house in Aÿ, a commune in the Marne department of northern France, comes this blend of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Meunier. The wine spends more than two years on the lees before disgorgement, resulting in an energetic, refreshing cuvée with lively and persistent tiny bubbles. It’s Champagne that’s guaranteed to put you and your guests in good humor, Gorman-McAdams says. “Very flavorful, it can be enjoyed as an aperitif or throughout the meal if one so prefers — especially with fish, seafood, or vegetarian dishes,” she notes.
More than 15 years ago, Berene Sauls was just starting out her career in the vineyards within the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, an area in the Western Cape of South Africa with a reputation for producing excellent Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Now Sauls is producing her own vino under her Tesselaarsdal label in the same area with a focus specifically on Pinot Noir — a wine that’s a great choice for anyone looking to impress dinner guests with an elegant red wine bursting with savory and mineral characters, according to Adam Knoerzer, a Pittsburgh-based wine consultant who runs the online wine education program Burghundy. “Berene Sauls is doing the right things with her label, and she’s one of the most delightful people you’ll meet, too,” he says.