The order of the day is seasonal wine, and there are plenty of offerings in the $15-and-under range:
Firm, focused French whites: Burgundy’s chardonnays and the Loire’s chenin blancs are more for the shoulder season. Instead, opt for crystalline whites from a region that’s also a grape name. With heady florals on the nose and tasty fruit on the palate, Picpoul de Pinet is perhaps peerless as a pristine pick-me-up. As befits a wine that often boasts water’s clarity, these tend to be low in alcohol, but are so quaffable that caution is well advised. Look for Felines Jourdan, Font Mars, Basco La Dent, Montmassot and Domaine des Lauriers.
Or journey from Languedoc to another southern French region, Gascony. Cotes de Gascognes whites invariably fulfill the first job of a wine: They’re delicious, with surprising complexity for the price and super-refreshing finishes. Domaine du Pouy, Tariquet, Mont Gravet, Maison Legrand and Domaine de Menard are, frankly, all worth buying by the case.
Portuguese whites: In my early explorations of all things vinous, I thought “Vinho Verde” was Portuguese for “green wine.” But no, it’s a region known for zingy, zesty white blends that generally come in under $10. They’re simple pleasures with an emphasis on the latter word. Broadbent, Pavao and Gazela fit the bill. But for a few bucks more, layered whites such as Nortico Alvarinho, Portuga Vinho Branco and Samora Branco Tejo are still seriously swell values.
Domestic staples: Some West Coast whites are so consistently stellar that they are served annually on our deck. The latest addition to the recurring theme is a scrumptious blend from Cline Cellars called Farmhouse White. Tasting like the best fruit cocktail ever, this inexpensive white has joined our personal pantheon comprising Pine Ridge chenin blanc/Viognier, Pomelo Sauvignon Blanc, Dusted Valley “Boomtown” Pinot Gris and, edging closer to $20, the Airlie “7,” a blend named after its grape count.
A little effervescence, please: Most consumers now know that sparkling wines are not only for special occasions. They are also among the most versatile libations for food pairing. (Fried chicken for your picnic? Look no further.) Options abound: Prosecco (Baracco, Astoria 9.5 Brut, Cavicchioli 1928), cava (Mas Fi, Cristalino cava, Avinyo Penedes), domestic (Korbel Blancs de Noir, Barefoot Bubbly) or Lambrusco (Carpi “Piazza Grande” Spumante Rosato di Modena).
For a sweet(ish) splurge: Check out two $20-ish moscatos, Saracco from Italy and Botani from Spain, both of which will delight fans and surprise naysayers. Or spend half that on Cantine Elviro “Tintero” Bianco Secco (currently available only at South Lyndale).
Chilled reds: Not cold, just chilled (as in an hour in the fridge or a half-hour on ice). Lighter reds such as cabernet franc (Sauvion Chinon, Hello World!), gamay (Madone Le Perreon), pinot noir (Montoya, Parducci Small Lot) and even some Bordeaux (Chateau L’Orangerie Superieur) provide uncommon lift and energy when served at 60 to 65 degrees.
And the pink stuff: This is better enjoyed when the wine is at 50 degrees. As wildly popular as rosés have become in recent years, it’s a safe bet that most folks already have their favorites. But it’s still nice when something unexpected pops up, such as the Yes Way Rosé, which I was prepared to diss or at least dismiss because of the groaner brand name. Until I tasted it. Bubblelicious stuff, that.
Bill Ward writes at decant-this.com. Follow him on Twitter: @billward4.