13 Bottles of wine under $20 to bring or serve at holiday parties

Nov 26, 2014 at 1:46 p.m. ET

Whether you're hosting or gifting a hostess, choosing the best bottles of wine can be a daunting task. Sparkling to start? Maybe a rich red for the cold winter night? Or a crowd pleaser like white or rose? (And yes, you can drink rose in the winter). See how to pick your best wines below.

Hosting a party

Being the host is all about delegating tasks and pleasing your guests. It also means you need to have variety, but not too much. When hosting a party I like to offer two options: a red and a white. If the occasion feels festive I usually start with a sparkling wine, but it's not necessary.

By choosing only one white and one red, the goal is making sure those wines are easy to drink, span across culinary courses and appeal to all palates. Here are my picks.


2012 Wild Horse, Pinot Noir, $15

Pinot Noir is a temperamental grape for winemakers and a food-friendly wine for the drinkers. Which leads to two things: popularity and price. So when you find one that's good, and affordable, you enjoy it. This Central Coast gem is filled with aromas of cranberry and pomegranate with a rich, smooth finish that is perfect to pair with meat and cheese at the beginning of a meal and subtle enough to handle with turkey.

Robert Mondavi Private Selection, Heritage Red, Central Coast 2013, $10

Style meets fashion with Mondavi's Heritage Red. Mondavi partners with Crawford Denim, an up-and-coming small batch California denim brand to create the Vintner Shirt, crafted from 100 percent cotton with pops of color, dyed with the Heritage Blend wine. Cool, right? The wine, a blend of Syrah, Merlot, Zinfandel and Petite Sirah is fresh, light and smooth. But the best thing about red "blends" is that they are drinkable and have mass appeal. For under $10 you couldn't find a better bottle.

Nero d'Avola, Maravigna, 2012, $10

Sicily is all about tradition and loyalty, which goes hand-in-hand with the holidays. Loyalty is what you'll feel towards Nero d'Avola after one taste. With a medium body and a hint of spiciness the focus here is on fruit. A bit more rustic than a smooth-drinking red, this wine is best eaten with pizza, cheeses and cured meats. Think fireside evenings with friends, standing around in a kitchen and enjoying good company.


J. Lohr Gesture Viognier, $19

A bit of a splurge bottle for everyday drinking that's perfect for busting out during holiday time. Viognier is often called a red-lover's white wine because of its body, complexity and cult following. Bright pale straw color with aromas of peach, lychee and orange blossom, this wine is crisp and acidic, not sweet! It pairs great with salads, starters and even dessert/cheese at the end of a meal.

Wild Horse Chardonnay, $15

Chardonnay can be a dividing line for white wine lovers but winter weather and food demands a heartier white wine. That doesn't mean your chardonnay has to be heavily oaked or buttery. This wine is fresh, light and crisp with body yet acidity to pair well with a variety of food.

Chateau Ste Michelle Riesling, Washington, $10

Riesling is a wine most people misunderstand. It is not always sweet! Most often, it's dry and acidic, which makes it perfect for food, holidays and everyday drinking. This wine begins sweet and trails into a balanced acidity and medium body.

Gifting your hostess

Now, this is a bit like Russian roulette, sometimes you win(e) and sometimes, well, you don't.

Choosing a wine for your hostess is about thinking what they would enjoy, not what you would enjoy to drink. Never expect the hostess to open a bottle upon gifting; it's generally rude to ask, so don't. It is, after all, a gift. But, you can have some fun with it.


Sparkling is a go-to bottle gift bottle. Everyone has occasions to celebrate and it's often not a bottle people buy unless there's a reason. You're giving them the reason, or at least the bottle to have on had when there is a reason.

Mionetto Brut Prosecco di Treviso, $10

Prosecco is a sparkling wine from Italy. Ranging from dry to sweet it's often inexpensive, very easy to drink and perfect to start a meal or celebrate an everyday occasion. This Prosecco is intensely fruity and very dry; pair with meats and cheeses.

Gruet Blanc de Noir, $17

Hands down one of my favorite sparkling wines. And even better, it's from New Mexico. Elegant and focused it's a perfectly creamy sparkling wine that scores points way above its New Mexico status and price point.

Iron Horse Ocean Reserve Blanc de Blanc, $45

This is a splurge bottle, but it's a splurge bottle with a giveback. And since it's the holidays, feel good while drinking well. This bottle gives $4 back to National Geographic's Ocean Initiative, establishing Marine Protected Areas and supporting sustainable fishing. It also scores big points taste wise.

For your adventurous wine hostess

Lambrusco Amabile, Cantina di Sorbara, $12

It's got a bad rap, but Lambrusco is coming back in a big way. If you like the bubbles (and who doesn't?) think of this wine as a celebratory red. Vibrant and food-friendly, drink slightly chilled and drink with anything you would a red (sausage pizza or mushroom risotto). Think of it as the wild child of sparkling wines.

For the jetsetter hostess

2012 Red Blend "Zoe," $12

Have a friend that loves traveling and experiencing life through food and wine? Go Greek! Greek wine doesn't usually get recognition but it has a serious cult following in the wine world. It's also a steal. This blend of Agiorgitiko (it's easier to pronounce the more you drink) and Cabernet Sauvignon is fresh, fruity and bouncy while giving a serious structure with Cabernet. Perfect for cheese, spinach salads and hearty fish.

For the girly hostess

Miraval Rose, $24

This wine is the collaboration between Famille Perrin and Brangelina (that’s Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie). Refreshing and herbal with floral notes and flavors of strawberry. But even better, it's light pink and comes in a gorgeous bottle.

For the red lover

Ravenswood Zinfandel Old Vine Vintners Blend, 2012, $10

With the taste of a much more expensive bottle, this blend is sultry, smooth and sexy with flavors of blackberry, blueberry and cherry. Pair with the Ravenswood Sriracha (yes!) that has Zinfandel in the sauce for nights of takeout, girl talk and red wine.

Photo credit: Jon Sullivan