It's party time! Or at least it soon will be, early and often.
The celebration of holidays seems to start sooner than ever, and we're not talking about the Christmas songs and displays already assaulting us in some stores (please stop!). In recent years adults have started feting Halloween just as heartily as the younger set.
To help those hosting gatherings in the coming months, we offer up a dozen inexpensive crowd-pleasing wines worth buying by the case — plus a backup plan. For the record, we're not recommending any "orange" wines, a current cork-dork cult favorite, for Halloween.
Riondo Spago Nero Prosecco: Sparkling wines need not be saved for special occasions, especially when they're as tasty and tangy as this gem. It's clean and refreshing from start to finish, with citrus and green-apple notes. Bonus points for pairing well with most party foods, especially the salty ones. Double bonus points for being part and parcel of mimosas or bellinis at brunch gatherings. Backup: Mont Marçal Cava.
Yali Wetland Rapel Valley Sauvignon Blanc: In the world's skinniest nation (geographically), Chilean vintners have found and refined a dandy sauv blanc style smack dab in between New Zealand's sharpness and California's lushness. This invigorating white boasts seriously tasty fruit (some citrus, a touch of peach) and a long, energetic finish. Backup: Line 39 California Sauvignon Blanc.
Snoqualmie Columbia Valley Chardonnay: This winery used to include the word "Naked" on the label to connote a no-oak approach but has replaced it with "Eco" to fit the sourcing (100 percent organically grown grapes). It's still oak-free, as the beams of acidity attest. And with lush pear and golden apple flavors, it will please those who like big fruit in their chards and those who favor a more balanced wine. Backup: Estancia Pinnacles Ranches Chardonnay.
Domaine Reine Juliette Picpoul de Pinet: Many folks consider picpoul de pinet to be a summer-only quaffer, but its bracing style is great for livening up a cool-weather gathering, with flowery aromas and delicate structure. And the lower alcohol levels don't hurt. The Domaine Reine has more personality than most others and is a great choice for shrimp cocktail and other seafood. A more surprising match: milk chocolate. Backup: Hugues Beaulieu Picpoul de Pinet.
Dom de Pouy Côtes de Gascogne: With a clean and crisp nose and lip-smacking citrus and stone-fruit flavors, this is the ultimate crowd pleaser. (The 11.5 percent alcohol is a swell side benefit.) A blend of ugni blanc and colombard, this exuberant white pairs splendidly with most dips, from hummus to salsa, as well as cheeses and salumi, not to mention oysters on the half shell. Backup: Domaine Labbe Abymes Vin de Savoie.
Pine Ridge California Chenin Blanc + Viognier: Viognier can be a bit too much on its own, but it's a great blending grape. The folks at Pine Ridge have been nailing this combo for eons, as viognier's floral and mineral aromas portend a lush but crisp beauty with wet-stone texture, a juicy array of fruits and a splendidly clean finish. The sweet notes make it a great match for spicy foods and sushi. Backup: Robert Pepi California Chenin Blanc-Viognier.
Bogle California "Essential" Red: A blend of four big, bold grapes (zinfandel, petite sirah, cabernet sauvignon and syrah) usually doesn't turn out this smooth. It's jammy and spicy at the outset, with black-pepper notes and just enough tannins to keep it from getting flabby. The berry and caramel flavors are, of course, suited for certain Halloween treats, but this is also just a great stand-alone sipper. Backup: Pedroncelli "Friends" Red.
Punto Final Malbec: For my palate, the best malbecs are fruity and snappy, with minerally notes and few traces of oak-fueled vanilla. The Punto Final is a splendid exemplar of this style, with enough acidity to provide a fun interplay between sweet and tart. The flavors are many and varied, from red berries to plum to a bit of bittersweet chocolate. Backup: Lote 44 Mendoza Malbec.
La Vieille Ferme Ventoux: The vignerons in the Rhône valley have been crafting superb red blends for, oh, a century or three. Even their inexpensive offerings are stout, none more so than this wine that has been a Thanksgiving staple in the Ward household for a couple of decades. Another red that offers up plum and berry flavors, La Vieille Ferme starts flowery and supple and finishes hearty but sleek. Backup: Domaine D'Arton Cotes de Gascogne.
Zestos Garnacha: While the Rhône has tons of grenache-laced wines, the grape's purest incarnations emanate from Spain, where it is called garnacha. Produced from high-elevation vineyards planted north of Madrid in 1950, this zesty red is just fruit-forward enough, with surprising oomph on the midpalate and finish. It's among the most versatile food-pairing reds on the planet, starting with any preparation of chicken or turkey. Backup: Castillo de Monseran Garnacha Cariñena.
Marchione Nero d'Avola (if available): Sicily's foremost red grape (translation: "the dark fruit of Avola") has been making major inroads on these shores, and with good reason. The Marchione shows why: It's perfumey on the front end and velvety on the back end, with robust flavors and grippy tannins in between. It's just soft enough for those who like lighter reds and firm enough for those whose palates lean to the dark side. Backup: Arancio Nero d'Avola.
Montoya Monterey Pinot Noir: While slightly more expensive than the above offerings at around $14, this pinot delivers spectacular value. It's leathery and earthy for a California wine, but packs plenty of bright red fruit and a satiny texture on the midpalate and finish. The surprising complexity for such an expensive pinot can be attributed to a wide array of vineyard sites. Backup: Parducci Mendocino Small Lot Pinot Noir.
Follow Bill Ward on Twitter: @billward4