Whether you're planning an al fresco dinner party, backyard barbecue or pique-nique pour deux, warm weather gatherings beg for vibrant sparklers, crisp whites and vivid reds with supple tannins. Let's listen in as world-renowned wine educator and master sommelier Tim Gaiser shares his picks and pairing notes for the five best and most affordable summer party wines:
2013 Cantina Terlano Pinot Grigio, Alto Adige $17
Not all Italian Pinot Grigios are equal; most are mass-produced plonk. The best wines come from Alto Adige in the country's alpine north. Cantina Terlano is one of the top producers and their 2013 offers vivid citrus and pear fruit with delicate floral notes and sharply etched lemon acidity on the finish. Try it with Thai shrimp spring rolls or pan-seared sesame-encrusted tuna steaks.
2012 Ridge Zinfandel "Three Valleys," Sonoma County $22
For a backyard barbecue, I love a good Zinfandel. It's the essence of American wine and no one does it better than Ridge. Their "Three Valleys" is a blend taken from seven top vineyard sources in Sonoma County. Its rich, spicy fruit, tart acidity and firm tannins make it perfect for grilled foods.. Enjoy it with Gorgonzola-stuffed burgers or grilled pork tenderloin.
NVSorelle Bronca "Particella 68″ Prosecco DOCG $21
It's easy to write off Prosecco as inexpensive and insipid bubbly. This is completely different. Winemaker Elisa Piazza crafts small quantities of "Particella 68" from a tiny family-owned vineyard that's as steep as parts of the middle Mosel in Germany. The result is an ebullient summer bubbly that pairs deliciously with crab cakes with a chipotle-lime sauce or stir-fried shrimp with scallions, eggplant and cashews.
Domaine de Fontsainte "Gris de Gris," Corbières Rosé $14
A beach party cries out for a dry Rosé that's imminently quaffable yet versatile with a wide range of simple fare. The Domaine Fontsainte fits the bill perfectly; it's a Rhône-style blend of Grenache, Mourvèdre, Carignan and Cinsault that offers juicy, vibrant strawberry and tart cherry fruit with savory herbal notes and mouthwatering acidity. It's delicious with everything from simple barbecued wings to a couscous salad with zucchini and almonds.
Juan Gil Monastrell, Jumilla Spain $16
The only thing you need to know about Juan Gil's Monastrell (a.k.a. Mourvèdre) from Jumilla in southern Spain is that it's one of the world's greatest red wine values. The 2012 is deeply flavored, lush and a very complex wine. And what a delicious value! Pair it with Moroccan lamb prepared on the barbecue or grilled duck breast with sausage and lentils.
For more summer party ideas, visit The Salonniere, the premier dossier of expert entertaining tips.