Sure, plucked ice-cold from the ice chest, that "two-buck" bottle may suffice at the barbecue on a hot summer afternoon. Price, after all, is a valid consideration. But what about the party-goer or reception host who wants to add a little local flavor to the equation?
In search of a sure-fire, cheap-and-cheerful crowd-pleaser, we rounded up some locally produced Sauvignon Blancs and Chardonnays priced under $20, and instructed a squirrelly group of Bohemian staffers to visualize being somewhere fun in the sun.
As the fog slowly lifted, so did our spirits. The following were blind-tasted and rated on a scale of 1 to 5.
Ferrari-Carano 2009 Sonoma County Fumé Blanc ($15) The clear favorite of the tasting was found to have bright, floral aromas with gooseberry, lemongrass, elder flower and citrus blossom. Partly fermented in older barrels, this balanced and refreshing Fumé remains light, lively and crisp. A can't-go-wrong standby. Rating: 4.
Geyser Peak 2008 California Sauvignon Blanc ($13) Lime, pomelo, Eureka lemon: clearly we're getting citrus here, with a tart, sourgrass finish that sizzled like sparkling wine. Rating: 3.5.
Rodney Strong 2009 Northern Sonoma Estate Sauvignon Blanc, Charlotte's Home ($13.50) An initial charcoal aroma did not dissuade generally favorable impressions, which ranged from "fine for a barbecue, minerally, marine, grapefruit and apple" to "fruit, honey, lavender, grass and American Spirit smokes." Rating: 3.25.
Buena Vista 2007 Carneros Chardonnay ($19) Comfortably familiar for many guests, Chardonnay can be unappealingly rich when the heat is close. Opinion split between fans and detractors: "Tropical, summer fruit, creamy finish" vs. "burnt wood, nacho popcorn." A "porch-swing sipper" in any case. Rating: 3.2.
Angeline 2009 Russian River Valley Sauvignon Blanc ($14) Strong floral aromas, hibiscus, pine resin, pineapple and cat pee head up this New Zealand–style Blanc. Rating: 3.1.
Robert Mondavi 2008 Napa Valley Fume Blanc ($20) It's sulfurous aroma was not promising, but the inoffensive, balanced palate made for a "safety check" or "everyday, easy festival wine." Rating: 2.8.
Courtney Benham 2009 Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc ($16) "Refreshing, clean and approachable, uncomplicated," with grassy, feline-influencers and honeydew melon, this indifferently received Blanc might do best where food is involved. Rating: 2.6.
Quivira 2009 Dry Creek Valley Sauvignon Blanc, Fig Tree Vineyard ($18) Perhaps suffering from subtlety, its perfume of fog, earth and cashew nut just did not stand out from the crowd. Eminently balanced, light in aroma and flavor, but a notch down from the enticing '08. Rating: 2.5.
Pedroncelli 2009 Dry Creek Valley Sauvignon Blanc, East Side Vineyards ($12) Lean and crisp, with generic varietal character, nothing bad was said; one taster's enigmatic note of "Legos" flavor leaves much to the imagination. Rating: 2.5.
Gloria Ferrer 2007 Carneros Estate Chardonnay ($18) Burnt toast, Meyer lemon with a little baked apple. One poetic taster half-praised it as "fruity, but like a Thomas Kinkade without the light." Rating: 2.4.