A few months back I was on a date with a sommelier and was giddy at the prospect of learning underground information about the best wines. After my date ordered a bottle, I asked why he chose it and expected a lengthy response involving the specific vineyard and the 65-year-old winemaker "Alfredo," who had learned how to produce the wine from his grandfather when he was no more than four feet, five inches tall. But instead of telling a colorful tale about Alfredo, in an all-too-charming manner, my date smiled at me and declared, "Wine is only as good as the company, and tonight the wine is exceptional." (Disclaimer: this statement was most likely uttered in the hope that I would be charmed into agreeing to extend the date beyond the wine bar.) Regardless of the sincerity of the statement, he did have a point: How enjoyable a bottle of wine is reflects the people you are sharing it with.
Needless to say, I did not leave the date knowing the best mom-and-pop vineyard whose terribly undervalued wine bottle you can pick up at a specialty store in San Francisco for the $5.89. And thus, I regret to inform you that I am not providing you with a secret list of the five most undervalued bottles of wine in the world. So the question arises, can one find a superb bottle of wine for under $7? Many blogs, such as Jason's Wine Blog, include great recommendations for affordable wine. There are a handful of hidden gems out there, but they are few and far between and I would encourage you not to spend weeks searching every wine store in New York for some obscure bottle. Instead, spend that time sipping vino with your friends--you are in college!
Still, here are a few bottles of wine that I like to enjoy with my friends. Whether as a study break, for a birthday party, or in a limo on the way downtown, each of these bottles brings back a splendid memory. College is the best time in our lives not because of some hip bottle of wine we are drinking, but because of the friends that will laugh with us when we have one too many cups of Andre and end up dancing on the pole in the local college bar.
--Alex Milling of Small Kitchen College
Pepperwood Grove Pinot Noir 2008, $5.95: A Chilean Pinot Noir that is dark and easy-going with a well-balanced blend of spicy cherry and earthy flavors. Enjoyed with Kate while procrastinating studying and contemplating the confusing nature of males.
Rex Goliath Cabernet Sauvignon NV, $4.97: From the Central Coast of California this Cabernet is very smooth with a cedar and oak start and a deep fruity finish. Enjoyed with Lucia while watching 'Love and Other Drugs.'
Andre Brut NV, $4.99: A California sparkling wine composed of a refreshing mix of white varietals. Enjoyed on countless occasions, particularly excellent when pre-gaming nights out in Chicago with Eileen, during sorority formals, and celebrating Mardi Gras in New Orleans.
Barefoot Pinot Gris NV, $6.99: A bright California Pinot Gris that is bright, light-bodied, and offers crisp apple and citrus flavors. Enjoyed with Margaret during breakfast, lunch, dinner, or anything in between.
Trader Joe's Coastal Sauvignon Blanc 2009, $4.99: Another favorite from the Central Coast of California that is simple with subtle notes of peach and citrus. Enjoyed on a spring break road trip in northern California.
Alex Milling writes about booze for Small Kitchen College. She's a senior at Northwestern, where she loves the dining hall's Hot Cookie Bar.