Summer entertaining is at its peak. If you’re not the one playing host, you’re inevitably sitting around someone else’s patio table for dinner or maybe even away at their vacation house for a weekend, which means you’re often with wine in tow. At this point, you might as well buy a case to have at the ready when you need a host gift.
Patrick Watson, the owner of two New York City wine shops, Brooklyn’s Smith & Vine and Manhattan’s Back Label Wine Merchants, is used to helping frantic customers pick out bottles for such occasions, especially this time of year. He tends to take these moments as opportunities to not only share wines that are super delicious but also thoughtful, distinct and something your host has maybe never had before—everything from local sparkling wine to txakoli to an obscure Italian grape grown in Napa.
Below are his picks for nine wines (most under $25) that will make any host happy in the summer heat.
“This wine [$16] has super mandarin, blood orange, very red citrus kinds of tones but with that gritty backbone that I love from a good dolcetto. It’s also organically farmed, and they’re working with a biodynamic approach—and it’s only 11 percent alcohol, which is crazy. This isn’t that oaky, charred style of dolcetto; it’s a lot more finessed than that. I think it’s a good gift, because people are always in the mood for a great dolcetto, but it’s something they forget about. So why not go back to some of the basics? Order in a pizza and crack a nice dolcetto.”
“Ahhh, Heitz. Grignolino is indigenous to the Monferrat region of Italy, a subzone of Piedmont. But what I love about this one [$22] that’s actually grown in Napa is that it’s almost the weight of a pinot noir but has all of these gorgeous aromatics like lavender and blueberries; it’s really unique. And when you give someone something that aromatic, people’s eyes just light up. It’s sort of an epiphany wine. I stumbled upon this maybe four vintages ago and was pretty blown away. We’ve been selling it ever since.”
“This is from a relatively unknown vineyard out in [Long Island’s] North Fork that’s been around eight or 10 years, and it’s making exceptional, exceptional wine. I don’t think you can beat the price point [$44] for what it is: méthode champenoise [made in the Champagne method], of course, and it’s 100 percent chardonnay and it’s vintage. It mimics, let alone competes with, great grower Champagne. There’s a little barrel fermentation, so it has those round notes on the palate and on the nose, and I just think it’s a fantastic sparkling wine that people need to drink more of. Everybody loves bubbles, so for a gift, it’s just a perfect local sparkling wine.”
“This wine [$21] is just a perfectly satiating pinot noir, and it’s a very classic expression of a red Burgundy. I love the Irancy appellation, because you’re further north, so you have higher acid and almost cranberry, bing cherry tart fruit, with all of that voluptuous texture behind it too. Everyone loves pinot, but a gift should be more than that. You could take a bottle of Willamette Valley or even a Gevrey-Chambertin, but when you can talk about the uniqueness of the region, it comes across as a much more thoughtful gift.”
“I should say first off that this wine [$15] comes in a full liter, so that’s a perfect gift. Give them that extra glass of wine! Austrian grüner veltliner is a little salty, and there’s definitely that limestone chalkiness that comes with the region. It’s just a perfect grüner. It’s refreshing, dry, super clean and makes a great seasonal toast.”
“This wine [$16] is somewhere in between the really sparkling txakoli and the no-sparkles txakoli. It has natural CO2, only 11 percent alcohol, and it’s like drinking Pellegrino with a twist of lime—so refreshing. It can accompany so many kinds of foods and cheeses, which makes it a great a gift. And it’s fun to introduce your host to a part of [Spain’s] Basque country that nobody is familiar with. As an aperitif, it puts things like Lillet to shame. Why have Lillet when you can drink txakoli? We do the Txakoli Pepsi challenge every year—I’m not kidding. This is hands down one of our favorites.”
“After 15 vintages of enjoying this rosé [$21], it’s still the leader of my refrigerator. The Commanderie is [the winery’s] second label. So if you’re not looking to spend a crazy amount of money but want the quality of something that should be twice as expensive, there’s no better value than this rosé. And it comes in magnums. There are Commanderie magnums, and there’s the Chateau, its flagship rosé, but they’re pretty much all gone for the season already. We even had three three-liters that just walked out of here; there was nothing we could do about that. The regular bottling will be around for a while.”
“This wine [$23] is another great bubbly gift. There aren’t enough crémant rosés imported, as far as I’m concerned. There are maybe three to five? Here, you’re getting really great quality fruit, made from 100 percent pinot noir, also made in the méthode champenoise, so you just end up with very lively, festive bubbles. It’s really refreshing but has that great viscosity that you associate with pinot noir. It’s a great thing during the summer, because now this whole country is rosé crazy, so it’s a perfect gift any time. It actually works really well in the fall, too.”
“Sancerre is known for making your salivary glands go wild with that super tart acid, but this wine [$17], which is also from the Loire, doesn’t have that; it’s just beautiful. If you looked up ‘pretty wine’ in the dictionary, it would be a picture of this label. Most sancerre you drink is like talking to a 10-year-old—they’re flamboyant, they’re abrasive, they’re fun—but this is like talking very quietly with someone who’s your age. It’s very sophisticated, and it’s one of my favorite expressions of sauvignon blanc in the world.”