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ISO affordable wine as gift.

Hey all,

My fiancee and I have been invited to a dinner party being hosted by older, married friends of mine. In Asian cultures, it's customary to bring a guest gift when visiting another person's house. Since I know the husband is fond of red wine, I'd like to bring him a bottle of something tasty.

We're a young couple currently in the midst of house purchasing, so our budget for this gift is <=$20. In my area, the stores with the most varied wine selections are Trader Joe's, Costco, Cost Plus, and Beverages & More. The dinner will be Chinese cuisine. Whether or not the wine will be served is at the discretion of our host, but my guess is that it won't be, since that's not standard in Chinese tradition. However, it would be nice if the wine was able to pair well with a variety of flavors, just in case he decides to break it out.

Recommendations would be greatly appreciated. I'm not very knowledgable about wine, so I'm worried about paying too much for something that isn't very good.

- Chubbypanda


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  1. It's impossible to list all the $20 red wines you might find that are good candidiates, so I would suggest asking the guys at Trader Joe's or BevMo for a recommendation. They are unlikely to steer you to a wine that is not worth the price, and the prices are great at these places.

    They will be helped if you can give them some idea of what the host likes, but if you don't know, ask for an interesting Spanish wine--there are lots of really good ones in that price range and your host may be less familiar with Spanish wine and therefore appreciate the opportunity to try something new.

    1. I fthis person is a wine afficionado, you might want to consider something else. Perhaps a bottle of olive oil or chocolates.

      1. PLEASE see if you can find a Mark West Pinot Noir anywhere...it is SO good for only $10 to $13 at most places here in Florida, not sure if it is available in your area. My son and I have noticed that many local area restaurants sell the Mark West PN bottle for $40 or $50. It really is a beautiful thing! Mark West is not a mass-market label, so you might need to call a few wine shops, that's how I found out about it.

        3 Replies
        1. re: Val

          That's so funny. I just had this at a restaurant in Chapel Hill and I really liked it! Didn't have it at the one local place I check. BTW the restaurant (Crooks Corner) only charged ~$30.

          1. re: Val

            I've read positive reviews and testimonials about Mark West Pinot Noir, but note that Mark West makes more than one type. BevMo is selling the "Mark West Pinot Noir California '05" for $13 ($11 with ClubBev card). Chubbypanda appears to be from the Irvine/Los Angeles area and Bevmo's Irvine store has it in stock (inventory can be checked at bevmo.com).

            Wine Spectator's "Daily Wine Pick $15-$30" gave 89 points to the "Mark West Pinot Noir Russian River Valley 2003" ($20 retail). This might be the wine sold at nice restaurants. Here's the link: http://www.winespectator.com/Wine/Dai...

            Another good Pinot that should be available in Irvine is the 2005 Babcock Tri-Counties Cuvee ($17 at The Wineroom in Irvine - http://www.wineroom.com/winelist.htm#...). I've never bought from The Wineroom (I found it on Google Maps), so Chubbypanda should call ahead. Here's that wine's page at the winery's site: http://www.babcockwinery.com/Merchant...

            1. re: HungryMojo

              Whole Foods was sampling a Mark West Pinot last week. I believe it was the inexpensive one. It didn't really thrill me, but I remember saying to the WF wine person "this would probably be better w/ food".

          2. I would suggest a bottle of Eiswein (Ice Wine). The half-bottle looks special, it's something outside of the usual red, and you also don't run the risk of bringing a bottle of red that they don't like/don't think highly of. There are quite a few on the market within your budget, too.
            Unfortunately you probably don't have time to order the bottle online, where you'd find the widest selection at that price. But stop in to a smaller wine shop and I'm sure they'll have something!

            1. Chinese you say? Break out the XO! hehe, j/k. BevMo's 5-cent sale ends this Monday, and they still have quite a big selection of on-sale wines.

              Given that traditional Chinese meals aren't that heavy (and Chinese themselves tend to be not very experienced wine drinkers) - I would suggest white/sparkly that goes down easily - possibly a riesling or gewurzteminer (sp?)


              1. How about a French or American Euro-style rose? Or a sparkling rose or pinot noir? Reds, but not trying to secondguess in his bailiwick. And palatable to nonlovers of red wine.

                1. 1) I agree w/ the Mark West Pinot Noir ... quite good ... I think I can get that here for <$14

                  2) Just opened a bottle of Pepperwood Grove Pinot Noir 2005 & it's remarkably smoothe (though not as complex as the Mark West). It cost me about $10-11 at the local grocery.

                  3) Everybody likes chocolate, right? Pineto ... Brachetto D'Acqui by Marenco from Strevi, IT ... $19 here ... was recommended to me to go with anything chocolate. It's a marvelous, slightly sparkling moderately sweet dark red wine. (Heck, bring a flourless chocolate torte to go with it!)

                  4) For the winos on your gift list ... a friend recommended the VacuVin ... it takes the air out of a bottle of wine so it doesn't go bad as quickly. BUT he also taught me that if you open a new bottle ... put on the VacuVin for 5 min to "air" the bottle ... it sucks out all the CO2 that makes the wine harsh at first. And it does a great job. (Obviously, NOT for sparkling wines!) Coincidentally, I wandered thru Tuesday Morning today & there was a stack of VacuVin's for $8 each (normally 2-3x that much).

                  I'm at a loss as to what type of wine might go best w/ Chinese food ... spicy chinese would support a complex red ... whereas more delicate but aromatically spiced foods might allow a complex white. We don't have a Trader Joe's here ... but any good wine shop should have someone knowledgable who might give you good advice in your price range.

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: EdLagniappe

                    Think twice about the VacuVin. Some like it, some think it's useless. Why take a 50/50 chance of having the host think you're "uninformed"?

                    1. re: EdLagniappe

                      What Steve K said.

                      As your nose will tell you, VacuVin pumps out aromatics along with the air. It also leaves quite a bit of air in the headspace, so the wine continues to oxidize, albeit more slowly. And the seal isn't airtight, meaning what benefits there are are lost after 24 or 48 hours (this can readily be demonstrated: seal a bottle with a VacuVin stopper and pump out as much air as possible; set the bottle aside for 24 hours, then pump again; you'll be able to pump nearly as much the second time as the first).

                      Some friends and I conducted an informal test of wine preserving systems a few years ago. Inert gas was the winner. Vacuum pumps were hardly better than just sticking the cork in the bottle. See www.chowhound.com/topics/show/303282#...

                      1. re: carswell

                        I appreciate the feedback from both of you on the VacuVin. It makes sense that it will also pull out some of the aromatics ... and either I've been getting so-so wines recently ... OR ... possibly I've pumped out some of the aromatic complexity! Rats!

                        It surprises me, OTOH, that they are in use (or a competing brand) in virtually every winery & wine bar I've been to recently.

                        As to them losing vacuum ... I haven't found that to be a problem for me. But I've also discovered they have 2 models ... 1 w/ no moving parts ... and a 2nd w/ a pump that "clicks" when it hits it's vacuum limit. The all-rubber model has a larger diameter, but I'm not sure how well it seals. OTOH, the one w/ a clicking pump holds vacuums well for me.

                        Serendipitously (or by design) ... my wines don't sit around for very long.


                    2. Thanks for your suggestions, everyone. Taking a cue from OliveBelle, who suggested Ice Wine, I ended up selecting a well-aged port from my local BevMo, which went over very well. The Chinese tend to prefer red wine over all others. I had calculated that the other guests would bring red wine, which they did, so I brought a sweeter red dessert wine for afters.

                      I also ended up splurging and selecting several of the other wines suggested for my own personal stock. (^_^)

                      As a side note, the friend who hosted the party is a Professor of History. One of his specialities is food history. Since he recently concluded a tour of Napa, where he ate at Bella, Bouchant, and the French Laundry, the group at the dinner last night was *very* knowledgeable about wine. So, AquaW's suggestion would probably not have flown. (^o^)

                      Thanks again everyone!

                      - Chubbypanda


                      1 Reply
                      1. re: Chubbypanda

                        Hah! different crowd of Chinese I s'pose - the ones I know would quash down the most awful stuff and still go "delicious!" Well, my suggestions are more safe-bets than anything else -- and the less-well-known whites are delightful to try and are a bargain since people aren't that familiar with them (I stocked up on a few viogniers & gewurz at BevMo.)

                        But glad all went well --- oh god, the French Laundry -- my budget would have a coronary thinking about that.


                      2. The best wine "dollar for dollar" under $20, IMO is German riesling... and it's great right out of the bottle and matches as wide a range of food as any other varietal I know of.

                        For $20 you can get PRIMO Mosel rieslings whereas you're going to have to pay a bit more than that to get the better grades of most other varietals. Go to a trusted wine shop and get the best bottle they recommend for your price range.

                        1. Chubbypanda - I'm surprised you didn't think it worth mentioning the trip to Napa in your first post.

                          There are two types of wine people in America, the ones that like new world and the ones that like old world styles. Some overlap, but not much. A trip to Napa is a reasonable indication of where your professor friend's taste lies.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: Chris Weber

                            Lol. At the time, I hadn't known he'd been to Napa recently. We get together once every few months to catch up, schedules permitting.

                            - Chubbypanda


                          2. For Chinese cuisine, in fact most asian cuisines, the two best wine matches are Riesling and Gewurztraminer...

                            For $20 you can get an incredible German Riesling, and the quality is fairly consistent. Not so with an Alsace Gewurztraminer... go with the Riesling. Sorry it's not a red wine but your friend won't mind when he's sipping that incredible flavor combination. Especially recommended with "spicy" and "firey" asian dishes.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: Chicago Mike

                              I whole-heartedly agree. I just tried a 2004 Dr. Lisson German Riesling that was out of this world. The 2004 goes for around $30-$40, so I'm going to see if I can get a few bottles of more recent vintage and age them myself.

                              - Chubbypanda


                            2. I realize the event is already over, but in case someone is still following this, I'll throw my two cents in.
                              Trying to chase down specific bottles, unless they are from the big guys and well distributed, is often futile. I suggest
                              you visit a local wine shop (or Costco--they are the biggest wine seller in the country now and have a good selection) and choose most any Spanish Tamparillo (Rioja); a Malbec or one from the Cahors' region in the under $20 range---great values for great wine in those categories. I'd hand the wine to your host and say it's for later, so he won't feel obliged to open it that evening (if the food is Chinese, beer usually goes better than red wine).

                              1. I just posted about this in another thread, but it's such a good deal I thought I should mention it here as well: this online shop has a few cases left of a real ice wine that costs only $18.99. Here's the link: http://www.winemonger.com/catalog/pro...