Drink Responsibly (ie 0-2 drinks/day). Prices are formatted 750ML/1.5L (regular bottle vs a Magnum).
Old wine is not necessarily better – vast amount of wines are meant to be consumed within 1-2 years after bottling. Also, while I enjoy great wine/champagne, can’t bring myself to splurge on them (ie much over $20/bottle). Experts all fail blind taste tests between expensive and mid-range wines/champagnes. I only cover cheap to mid-range wines, however, but go explore yourself other mid-ranges or possibly high-ends. Too many possibilities.
Note: White wine isn’t as dry, so better for fish. Red is good for chick or beef.
Budget Wines ~$5-10/bottle
Best Budget Red Wine (~$5/bottle)
Whole Foods wine: One of the best values in red wine is Don Simon Tempranillo $4 found at Whole Foods (better than the Shiraz). Better than the cheaper Whole Foods wine (Three Wishes $3) and Trader Joe’s Charles Shaw aka Two Buck Chuck (which is lately $3 Three Buck Chuck).
Other Good Values:
Citra Sangiovese $7/1.5L
Columbia Crest Merlot/Cab $9/1.5L
Ruffino Chianti (Sangiovese) $7
Meridian Cab Sauvignon or Merlot $6
Just Okay: Yellow Tail Cabernet Sauvignon (light and lively) and Yellow Tail Shiraz (more full-bodied), Jacob’s Creek Shiraz $8, Barefoot Cabernet Sauvignon, Trader Joe’s Moon Wine (different lines, $6), Carlo Rossi Burgundy $15/4L (Very sweet but cheap)
Not Good: Three Wishes, Trader Joe’s Charles Shaw aka Two Buck Chuck, Blackstone Pinot Noir, Alamos Malbec, Barefoot (Shiraz, Merlot, Zinfandel, Pinot Noir, Red Moscato, Sweet Red), Yellow Tail (Malbec, Pinot Noir, Pinot-Shiraz Blend, Merlot), Arbor Mist
Best Budget White Wine
Whole Foods wine: One of the best values in white wine is Don Simon Chardonnay $4 found at Whole Foods. Better than the cheaper Whole Foods wine (Three Wishes $3) and Trader Joe’s Charles Shaw Two Buck Chuck (which is lately $3 Three Buck Chuck).
Other Good Values:
Vinho Verde $7 (Portugal, varied brands)
Barefoot Pinot Grigio
Yellow Tail Moscato (very sweet) and Yellow Tail Sauvignon Blanc (light and crisp) and Riesling (fuller-bodied)
Just Okay: Barefoot Sauvignon Blanc, Trader Joe’s Moon Wine (different lines, $6)
Not Good: Barefoot (Riesling, Chardonnay, White Zinfandel, Moscato, all too sweet), Arbor Mist
Best Fine Wines ~$20/bottle
Value Red Wines
For the best flavor (fruity / full bodied / AND great bitterness), ask the guy in the wine store for a good Ripasso. Ripasso is the best mid value point between a Valpolicella (Italian) and the more expensive Amarone. Italy is known to be the best out of wines such that people can most easily tell from smelling/tasting it that it is from Italy.
Simi Cabernet Sauvignon $17
Pinot Noir (more of a bitter dark fruit taste) – Jadot or Hobnob
Secondary: Saint-Émilion (French) – is good and smooth but not special
Value White Wines
***Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc $15
Gewurztraminer (German) for pairing with food (specifically Spicy Food and Turkey for thanksgiving)
Ferrari-Carano Siena $20
Hard to find / Expensive: Patz & Hall (Pinot Noir) $60, Longboard (Pinot Noir) $36, Pichi
Best Value Champagne or Sparkling Wine
Note: Champagne’s sweetness is varied by the amount of sugar added after the second fermentation, this determines how sweet a Champagne will be. The label indicates the level of sweetness: Extra-Burt/Brut-Naturale (0-6g sugar/liter – unsweetened/driest), Brut (<12g, typical champagne with no sweetness), Extra-Dry (12-20g, still dry but slightly sweet), Sec (17-35g, medium-sweet), Demi-Sec (33-35g, sweet), Doux (>55, sweetest, dessert wine)
Extra Dry (slightly sweeter) is recommended for straight drinking, Brut (dry) is better for mixing (ie in a mimosa the Orange Juice will be the only source of sweetness), while Spumante (very sweet) is generally not recommended for partying except for dessert, as it is super sweet and probably hangover-inducing.
Budget American Sparkling
Best Value: Andre Extra Dry is actually better tasting than other affordable sparkling American “Champagnes” $6/750ml
Cook’s Extra Dry (sweeter than brut) $7/750ml – if you’d rather not be judged for bringing college-level Andre (but less flavorful than Andre)
Freixenet (good but this brand tends to run drier)
Yellow Tail Bubbles Sparkling White (better than the Rosé, sweeter than standard brut Prosecco or Cava)
Mid-Level American Sparkling:
Anything from Schramsberg
Mumm Napa (Cuvee M) which is fantastic and affordable (peaches n cream style, but not too sweet or dry)
Gloria Ferrer (Blanc De Noirs)
Ballatore Gran Spumante
Champagne: Unsure if real Champagne ($20+) is worth the money!
Don’t get: the mass produced low quality/value (Moet & Chandon and Veuve Cliquot), Costco Kirkland Champagne (not complex for $20), J. Roget and Korbel are both nasty
Proseccos: La Marca $13 > Kirkland > Mionetta > Ruffino > Lunetta
For how to Store, Serve, and Drink Wine, and Wine Accessories, see “Professional and Consumer Barware”
Value Beer: To graduate from the Miller Light or Bud Light (or even the dreaded Natural Light, Coors Light, and Milwaukee’s Best/Beast), spend a little extra for the smoother Yuengling, Samuel Adams. Hwoever, to start drinking real beer, a Good Beginner “Beer-Drinker” beer (~$10/6pack) is the Sierra Nevada Pale Ale (IPA – Indian Pale Ale Style)
Best Seasonal Beers: Troeg’s Nugget Nectar (in Spring, February, but only in Northeast America), Great Divide’s Fresh Hop Pale Ale (variation in freshness, my favorite, buy when first available, Oct-Dec), Sierra Nevada Celebration (in Winter), Corsendonk’s Christmas Ale (Winter, not a 6-pack it’s a wine bottle), Stone Brewing’s Vertical Epic (chili ale, great mix of sweet/smokey, good if you like sweet)
Best Year-Round Beers (~$14/6pack): Dogfish Head’s 90 Minute IPA, Ballast Point Sculpin IPA, Bell’s Hopslam. If you can’t find those three, try: Stone Brewing’s Arrogant Bastard, 21st Amendment IPA, Founder’s IPA
Best Hoppiest Beer: Moylan’s Hopsicle Triple IPA (this is a facemelter)
Best Stout Bar-none: Founder’s Breakfast Stout
Note: Americans tend to drink beer at their refrigerator temp of 37 degrees (cold) or even ice cold (ie chilled) due to the proliferation of the concept that colder is better. However, the colder a beer gets the less you actually taste it. This has been clever indoctrination by bigger breweries to pass off less flavorful beers. In Europe, especially Britain, beers can be served cool or cold, more like 50 degrees, and warm up to lukewarm or room temperature, and there’s nothing wrong with it. However, Lager beers (light beers) and Guinness are always served cold, while ales are recommended to be served cool.
Best Hard Cider
Best Hard Cider but expensive/hard-to-find: Strongbow, Crispin
Best Value Popular Hard Cider: Angry Orchard (better than the sweeter Woodchuck)
For traditional mead (non-fruity), get B. Nektar Bourbon Barrel or B. Nektar Vanilla Cinnamon
(better than Chaucer (honey+spice added to wine so not real), Bunratty (honey+spice added to wine so not real), Redstone, Lurgashall, or Carroll’s