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Thursday, May 21, 2009

Bargain Wines for a Holiday Gathering: A Blind Trip to the Wine Store

Here's a common situation. You need wine for a medium-size holiday gathering—like Memorial Day—and you stop by the wine store on your way home from the supermarket. No list, no ideas, except that it's summer and you want some white wine to keep everybody happy through the hors d'oeuvres.

You can't afford to serve a dozen people $30 wine, but you need something that's drinkable in the hours before you sit down to dinner. And you can't just pick up any $10 bottle, because you don't want to serve your guests grassy, acidy migraine wine. 

We went to a local store yesterday and looked through the selection of under-$10 whites. We saw lots that we wouldn't buy, but selected three to see if they would pass the happy-wallet, happy-guest test.
  • Pine & Post 2006 Chardonnay (Washington State) $7.99.
  • Thierry & Guy Fat Bastard 2007 Chardonnay (France) $9.99.
  • Alamos 2007 Chardonnay (Argentina) $10.99.
Yes, we broke our under-$10 rule with the Alamos, for two reasons. We figured, somewhat lamely, that the three bottles cost less than $30. Also, we knew that a bottle that sells for $11 in the store can be found online for $10, so we bent the rules—just a bit.

The bottom line is that all three pass the holiday gathering test. Unless you've invited a passel of wine snobs, we doubt they'll complain about any of these:

Pine & Post 2006 Chardonnay. This Washington State wine has some flavor of green apple and a hint of citrus. Its clean finish and lightness reminded us of Sauvignon Blanc. Indeed, it's mostly Chardonnay, but 17% Sauvignon Blanc grapes. Well worth the low price.
Fat Bastard 2007 Chardonnay. This wine from the obscure Languedoc-Rousillon in southwestern Fran
ce uses grapes from a wide geographical area so that the winemakers can blend a balanced wine.
French Chardonnays are not oaky, as California Chards are, so this one also leans toward the Sauvignon Blanc end of the white richness spectrum. Fat Bastard wines are getting good notices, and this one is toasty, fruity, citrusy, and flavorful—perfect for a party. (The winery says there are notes of acacia flower in this Chard, but we'll have to take its word for that.)

Alamos 2007 Chardonnay. This wine from Mendoza in Argentina was the pick of the batch for us, though given its richness, we'd probably save it for the meal portion of the holiday festivities. Much rounder than the other two, it's also clean, crisp, and balanced. You'll smell grapefruit and maybe vanilla, and you'll taste some pear and spice.

We've already reviewed the Rials, the Bogle Chardonnay, and the Estancia Chardonnay, each of which would make a good summer party wine. And if you're willing to spend $13, the Clos du Bois 2007 Russian River Chardonnay is well worth the extra $3! It happens to be our favorite of the season.

As it happens, 2007 was a great year in the Russian River Valley in Sonoma County, California. If you see one of these wines in your price range, pick it up. 


  1. Alamos makes a pretty decent Malbec too!

  2. Yes, we agree, and the Malbec might be even better than the Chardonnay. Alamos is getting to be one of those reliable bargain brands, similar to Sebastiani, Beaulieu, Bogle in the U.S.

  3. We just found a French chardonnay/viognier blend under $10 that is quite decent from Laurent Miquel.