Having the perfect wine for a particular guest or occasion can seem like carefully calculated art, but having that bottle on hand is one of the most satisfying experiences for any wine lover. This is your wine survival guide, the wines that will make you ready to take on any party invitation, entertain any guest, and serve as ideal pairings for any meal. From food-friendly champions to vibrant crowd-pleasers, these are the bottles that you should always have ready to go.
You never know when you’re going to have a cause for celebration, whether it’s a big promotion, a friend in town, or simply the end of the workweek. And nothing shouts celebration like some bubbly. “For me, there’s nothing more joyous than popping the cork on a sparkling wine,” says Master of Wine Vanessa Conlin. “You always want to have one on hand for celebratory moments.”
You might pour that bubbly by itself for a toast, but don’t hesitate to open a bottle during a meal too. “It’s a great palate cleanser and keeps you coming back for more, particularly with salty or fatty foods,” Conlin says. “It’s really refreshing for the end of a meal too. Sometimes, I don’t want more heaviness after dinner, I just want something fresh and vibrant.”
Grilled meats, this is your best friend. Nebbiolo is a must-have for any last-minute barbeque invitation, or when the craving for pan-seared steak or oven-roasted chicken strikes at home. It’s got powerful tannins and acid, plus a tantalizing savory component that works in perfect harmony with just about any meat you can find. “Meat can strip away the plush fruit flavors in a wine,” says Master Sommelier Sur Lucero. “But Nebbiolo’s structure, savory notes, body, and acidity make it an enjoyable pairing,”
“It’s all about making the wine as enjoyable as possible next to a particular food,” he says. And you’d be hard-pressed to find a better grill companion. Sur often reaches for Aldo Conterno’s 2017 Il Favot, a Nebbiolo from Langhe. It’s “elegant and refined in style, a must-have value that’s often stocked in my cellar,” he says.
For those friends that insist they’ll only drink whisky, have some dry Sherry ready. Your wine-savvy friends will love it too. Many people associate Sherry with sweetness, but it’s a diverse style that can be bone-dry, savory, citrusy, nutty, or briney too. If you see Fino or Manzanilla, you’ve got a dry sherry on your hands. “Something clicked for me when a colleague described Sherry as a scotch drinker’s white wine,” says VP of Wine Robert Emery. Since some popular whiskies are aged in Sherry barrels, your whisky-loving friends will recognize some of the aromas and flavors. And your wine-loving friends will find plenty to enjoy in its complexity, fruit notes, and range of styles.
You can sip a weightier bottle while contemplating life by the fireplace, or drink a crisper, fresher rendition with charcuterie. “I keep it in my fridge at all times during the summer,” says Robert. And he recommends the NV Bodegas Hidalgo La Gitana, a dry and savory bottle, because “it’s the perfect aperitif to lift one’s mood, light enough for hot days by the pool, and great with any grilled fish or tapas-style dish.”
It doesn’t matter if you’re whipping up restaurant-quality dishes in a pristine kitchen or reheating takeout in the oven, it’s hard to beat Pinot Noir’s food-pairing versatility. From the elegant renditions of Burgundy, to bold, structured Pinots from California and Oregon, there’s a bottle for just about any dish. Keep Pinots from a few different regions and styles on hand, and you’ll be ready to impress your friends with your pairing know-how.
“The refreshing acidity and medium body make it great with vegetables, meat, fish, pasta, and beyond,” says Wine Access Personal Concierge Laura Koffer. “And it’s always fun to pull a bottle that is not only delicious but somewhat unexpected.” For her, that’s the 2018 Domaine Nico Soeur et Frères Grand Mere, a bottle whose high-elevation red fruit and spice make it perfect alongside a variety of dishes.
Sometimes, you just have to mix things up. When the urge strikes to sip something other than wine, but with similar refreshing complexity, reach for sake. The right sake “makes for an excellent centerpiece while entertaining,” says VP of Wine Eduardo Dingler. Like wine, sake has a wide variety of flavor profiles, and the best bottles are exceptionally nuanced and satisfying. Dingler says sake’s “versatility makes it ideal with an array of hors d’oeuvres to start any dinner party.”
Crisp, minerally bottles, like the Tamura Shuzo Ginginga Junmai Ginjo can “interchange with Italian white wine,” for “endless food pairings.” Plus, with its crisp texture and aromatics, it’s an easy-drinking instant favorite, whether or not your friends have ever tried sake before. “It wows everyone I’ve ever given it to,” Eduardo says.
Sancerre is the ultimate crowd-pleaser. Fresh and zippy with fruit purity and minerality, it’s hard to put down, no matter what your typical wine preferences are. When guests come over and they’re unsure what they want, Sancerre is sure to satisfy. Plus, its vibrant acidity makes it profound alongside seafood- and vegetable-driven dishes.
“I’ve never met a person that didn’t love it,” says Wine Access CEO Joe Fisch, whose go-to bottle is the 2019 Dominique Roger Domaine du Carrou. It’s incredibly easy to drink—pop the cork with friends and your bottle will be drained before you know it. So it’s a good idea to have a few ready. “I always buy by the case, just so I have it on hand when the craving strikes,” Joe says.