Wanna host a tasting party on a budget? We got you!

Last month Gabe and I decided to host some friends for a little wine and cheese tasting. Our low-cost approach invited guests to bring their preferred $10-$15 wine from a big box store (think Costco, BevMo, Cost Plus, Target etc.) or a grocery store. The idea was that you could find yourself in various areas of the country, with limited access to boutique wine shops and the like, and still procure a quality bottle of vin. We wanted to see what other people found appealing and share some of our own selections. As the hosts, we were sure to have plenty of bottles on hand for this event. It was fun to shop based on our own, very specific criteria, and even more fun to taste from Italy, France, Spain and the U.S.!

The endive spears with chevre & pumkin seeds are in the bottom right. The lentil dip is right above it. 

The endive spears with chevre & pumkin seeds are in the bottom right. The lentil dip is right above it. 

The Food: Catering by TJ's

If you aren't sure what TJ's is, allow me to break it down: Trader Joe's. They are rather wallet friendly and offer some delectable noshes. Did you also know that they have many recipes on their website which give the consumer a myriad of creative options for combining their products. Brills, right? I got plugged into this over the holidays when a friend was visiting and promised if we stopped by TJ's, she could produce a one-minute lentil & goat cheese dip for us. Of course I drove right there to get the goods and said dip was fantastic. She subs goat cheese for the feta in their recipe. We tried it with feta for the party. We also adapted this recipe, subbing their jalapeno & honey chevre and toasted pumpkin seeds on Belgian endive, in place of the cranberry chevre and the sliced almonds respectively. Word to the wise: the heat in that jalapeno & honey chevre will get you. 

Cheese please.

In addition to various ready to eat veggies, fruits, crackers, olives, pepper jelly and sliced baguette, we had cheese. Mais, oui. We really went for it. Since we weren't sure exactly what we would be tasting for wine, we got an eclectic assortment: manchego, caramelized onion white cheddar, port salut, camembert, pesto gouda and white stilton with apricots. Our thought was that at minimum one of the cheeses would resonate with each wine and guest, if not several or all. We also had some chocolate truffles for the sweet toothed among us. Our guests enjoyed all of the options and pleasantly nibbled throughout our evening together. Per usual, we had way to much, but that is my preference when hosting.

Checking out The Wine Folly book...

Checking out The Wine Folly book...

How did this go?

Basically, we just drank wine. We had a few options for tasting sheets out and our various wine books (Wine Folly, The Wine Bible) to look stuff up. We also scanned some stuff on the Vivino app to get more information about the wines. Another great tool is Wine-Searcher, and they also have a downloadable app. They collect information on any wine that can be ordered on-line. They have become a "go-to" for me. Especially recently when my beautiful wine rack betrayed me and a bottle of 2009 Kingston Family Vineyards Alazan Pinot Noir, that we purchased when we went to Chile, fell to the ground and broke. I looked it up on Kingston's website and of course they have none for sale. I did cry. More like sob.  BUT, Wine-Searcher to the rescue! I found a few places that have it in the U.S. and I can order it. I haven't yet, but somehow just knowing I could was comforting. Back to the tasting: people were not committed to the tasting sheets. To do it over again, I would pre-select the wines and have tasting sheets corresponding to each wine, with all of the details: grapes, region, producer, retail cost, ABV (alcohol by volume) and maybe a few tasting notes, sort of how the tasting rooms have it set up. Our group was just enjoying each other's company and chatting away, while tasting. 

Here we go!


2013 Castello Banfi Centine Toscana IGT

A red blend from Tuscany, Sangiovese (60%)  dominant with Cabernet Sauvignon (20%)  and Merlot (20%)  

Retails from $9-$12  Online options. 

Tasting notes: The nose is fragrant with fruit and floral undertones. The taste is medium body with black cherry and plum flavors, chased by a hint of spice. Low tannin. Would complement red sauce dishes. Very drinkable!

This wine also comes in large format bottles. 



2014 Delas Cote-du-Rhone Saint-Esprit

A red blend from the Rhone in France, specifically a small village in the Ardèche region.  Syrah dominant with 60% and Grenache for the remaining 40%.

Retails for $7-$12   Online options.

ABV: 13.5%

Tasting notes: The nose conjures black berries, violet and licorice, and some subtle leather. It is gentle on the palate, emanating figs dusted in cocoa powder, with softer tannins. Definitely food friendly. Would pair with a smoky eggplant dish or barbecue. Easy drinking.


Château Planeres 2014 Chantail, Côtes du Roussillon

A southern french red which is primarily Grenache, as is common in that AOC (Appellation d'origins contrôlée) with some Syrah and Mourvedre, making it a GSM: Grenache-Syrah-Mourvedre. 

Retails for $9-$12

ABV: 13% 

Tasting notes: The nose is blueberry crumble with flakes of coconut. The taste is a strawberry and red beet medley, both fruity and of the earth. Very easy to drink. Would pair with an aged cheese or a simple red meat dish, such as a hamburger. 


Bogle 2013 Petite Sirah, California

Grapes are sourced from Clarksburg and Lodi vineyards, to make a balanced and 100% Petite Sirah, or the french, "Durif", named for Francois Durif. In the 1860's Durif crossed Syrah with Peloursin to create a variety resistant to powdery mildew. 

Retails for $10-$13  Online options.

ABV: 13.5%

Tasting notes: Brambly berries nestled in juniper is the nose. A texture of leather with black raspberry on the mouth. The finish is a palate cleanser, ready to take on a high protein meal. Delicious!


Drumroll please....for the surprise hit of the evening...I bring you a Rosé Cava from Spain!

Segura Viudas Rosé Cava

This crowd-pleaser is made mostly from the Trepat, a red skin grape, native to Spain, but sparsely planted. This Cava is finished off with a bit of Garnacha, which contributes to the suave finish. Seguras Viudas is very well known for their Cava: sparkling wine from The Penedès region of Spain, made in the méthode champenoise.

Retails for $8-$12    

ABV: 12%

Tasting notes: The nose offers aromas of red currant and pomegranate. On the palate is a dried cherry mouse. Creamy and tart all at once. The finish is clean. It is refreshing and festive, easy to drink and pair. The favorite!

We can't wait to host another one!





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