Posted BY JENNY JAMES ON February 25th, 2013

It’s easy to walk into a grocery store and become overwhelmed by choices. You were invited to a dinner party and want to bring something along. You don’t want to look like an ass and hand over something terrible, but you also don’t have $50 to drop on a bottle of wine for your drunk friends. Never fear! Here are a few simple guidelines for picking great and interesting choices every time, all that cost under $20. I am showing specific examples from New Seasons Market, but in each subcategory I will explain the key points of the wine so you can look for it at any well-stocked grocery or wine shop.

WHITE WINE: I am the wine buyer for a restaurant in town that serves TONS of white wine. We love it, and it goes well with more foods than people often think. That being said, it is so easy to end up with boring water-wine (if this happens, don’t worry about it- just put it on the rocks with a lemon twist. The problem is solved). The key point of this wine is that it is Txakoli (pronounced cha-ko-li).  It is from the Basque region of Spain. If you ask for it at a store, they will guide you to a delicious bottle of crisp, slightly spritzy, slightly salty, smells-like-the-ocean wine. Txakoli always comes in a tall narrow bottle, and also comes as a rose. The rose is just as beautiful but sometimes a little more expensive. This bottle cost $18 and is absolutely worth it.

SPARKLERS: Cava is the Spanish variety. Prosecco comes from Italy.  Champagne comes from France. Sparkling wine is the best!  True Champagne always costs more than $30, so we aren’t talking about that here (today).  But just because we can’t drink Champagne everyday doesn’t mean we can’t drink sparkling wine everyday. The problem is, there are a lot of terrible, no-good, headache inducing sparkling wines out there. You don’t have to have a Cooks hangover ever again- it’s time to try out some Vin de Savoie! Straight from the foothills of the Alps, this cold climate region produces mineral driven, herbaceous wine. This one is lean (not sweet) and has a nutty nose. It would be so good with anything cheesy. At the store, ask for a sparkling Savoie wine. The still wines from here are good and inexpensive too!

GAMAY: Beaujolais is such a treat. “Beaujolais” refers to the region that this wine is made in, and Gamay is the grape that makes up the wine itself. You can call it by either name, and you’re just being specific in different ways. “I love Gamay” or “I love Beaujolias”- either way I agree with you, and if you say either at the store they will know what you mean. When buying wine from Beaujolias, you can expect to get a light bodied, food friendly red that has many times been described as bloody strawberries. It tastes like stones and iron and the earth- but also soft red fruit and juice. Y-u-m.

CABERNET FRANC: I have noticed at my wine-job that certain wines come in and out of style. Cab Franc is in right now and I am happy about it. Cab Franc is darker than Gamay, much dirtier and often kind of mushroomy. It smells like violets. It has good structure, and would be great with meat. It is not anything like Cabernet Sauvignon, so don’t be alarmed. The two shown above are from the Saumur region, which is a sub-region of the Loire Valley. Cab Franc grows in a lot of places, but this is special stuff. Though a few other grapes grow here (Pinot Noir and Gamay), if you just ask for red wine from the Loire valley, you’ll probably love what you get.

THE BRUISER: When selecting wines for this post, I wanted to make sure to pick categories that would be pretty easy to find but also a little less common than the offerings of the market isle-caps. For example, there are a lot of great Cotes-du-Rhone wines, but there are SO many and SO many boring ones. By getting a little more regionally selective, you weed out a lot of crap. I introduce to you, Corbieres, a sub-region of the Languedoc in Southern France. If you like big, full bodied wines, see what this one does for you. It’s lush and full, but it has enough character that you think about every sip you take. It tastes like the forest. Cedar and leather and wine! The grapes in here are Syrah, Grenache and Cinsault, which you can find all over the place. If you see this specific bottle, try it.

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