There is a classic Seinfeld scene in which Elaine, en route to a dinner party, enlightens an incredulous George Costanza: “You can’t bring Pepsi… because we’re adults.” This is the situation many of us face as we — eventually — age into adulthood’s customs, recognizing that most social invitations entail picking out and bringing a bottle of wine, either to open and share that evening or to give to your host as a gift.

Walking up and down the aisles of the LCBO, the sheer variety of choices can be overwhelming. Red or white? Sparkling or still? Old World or New World? And then there’s the price — how much do you really need to spend to impress your hosts without breaking the bank? 

Although it may be initially overwhelming, the art of picking the perfect wine can be mastered with a little insider knowledge. Whether it’s for a multi-course dinner party or a laid-back charcuterie night, the following tips will guide you to a bottle that perfectly complements the occasion.

The pre-drink

Heading to a concert or gearing up for a big party tonight with pre-drinks at a friend’s place? If you’re going to pre-game, it’s never a bad idea to ‘bring your own bottle.’ While some might reach for hard seltzers or line-up shots, if you’re interested in a bottle of wine, this kind of occasion calls for something simple and light. Though a bottle of your favourite bold and fruit-forward Cabernet may be tempting, red grape skins, which give red wines their colour, also contain melatonin — which runs the risk of rendering you asleep on the couch before you’ve even gone out. Opt for delicious non-red wines that will keep you in the party spirit. 

There’s no better starting point than the Vinho Verde of northern Portugal. Renowned for delivering some of the best value wines you can find — the LCBO stocks great options like Aveleda Loureiro for $15 — the region specializes in blending a variety of indigenous grapes, including Alvarinho. The result is a captivating white wine, often effervescent and always vibrant, with hints of citrus and green apple.

If instead you’re looking to kick off the evening with something celebratory, bubbly is the perennial favourite. Though options are plentiful, Prosecco Superiore offers the best balance of budget-consciousness and quality. Perched atop the picturesque hills of Valdobbiadene, the heartland of Prosecco, the vines benefit from a perfect combination of sunny days, cool nights, and misty mornings — a trifecta that imbues the grapes with elegant floral and fruit aromas, which can include apple, pear, citrus, and white peach.

The LCBO’s sparkling section teems with other great options, like this Val d’Oca Prosecco DOCG for $19.

The charcuterie night

A charcuterie night is essentially Frasier Crane’s idea of a frat party: an evening gathering among friends to socialize and drink. In place of a beer pong table is a walnut board, generously adorned with an assortment of cheeses, gherkins, crackers, salamis, and a medley of other delectable finger foods.

Meanwhile, the beer keg is jettisoned in favour of wine. As a guest, you’re often expected to contribute a bottle, which will likely be opened during the evening to complement the host’s spread of flavours. The wine pairing possibilities are nearly endless, given the wide range on a typical charcuterie board.

A cardinal rule when pairing wine with food — especially sweeter foods — is that the wine should match or exceed the sweetness of the food. If not, the wine risks tasting tart and leaving a bitter aftertaste. Here are a few reliable picks at various price points.

Home of the Gamay grape, Beaujolais sits at the southern tip of the Burgundy region in France. The resulting medium-bodied wines are effusive with aromas of pomegranate, violet, and fresh berries. Their vibrant profile is matched by a delicate acidity, ideal for slicing through the richness of fatty meats and cheeses, making these wines excellent for pairing with a wide array of foods. The Beaujolais-Villages from Louis Jadot, at $25, is a readily available LCBO essential that’s sure to be a crowd-pleaser.

Beloved by sommeliers for its versatility and food-friendly nature, Riesling is a fragrant and expressive white wine that artfully balances sugar, acidity, and minerality. Its affinity for cooler climates makes Ontario a natural home for the grape and a source of great value. The region’s Rieslings, with their bright acidity and fruit-forward notes, rival their German counterparts at a fraction of the cost. The Cave Spring Estate Riesling punches high above its price tag at just around twenty dollars, easily contending with offerings costing nearly twice as much.

The dinner party

Heading to a dinner party? Unless you’re having a potluck or your host has requested a specific wine for the meal, it’s usually safe to assume they have meticulously curated wines to pair with each course. In this context, the wine you bring is a gift to the host rather than a contribution to the evening’s menu. It’s at the host’s discretion whether to cellar the wine for a future occasion or to uncork it in the coming days.

The amount you decide to spend can vary, depending on your relationship with the host and your budget. To get you started, here are a few age-worthy options spanning a range of price points, which hopefully won’t become relegated to paltry cooking wines or sauces.

In the $20–$30 range, you may not come across prestigious Châteaus, but you can discover hidden gems that deliver exceptional value.

Despite its growing popularity, Spain’s Rioja region still offers some of the best values in the wine world. Famous for its Tempranillo grape, Rioja reds captivate with aromas of red cherries, plums, leather, and a touch of vanilla. It’s the combination of age-old vines and the grape’s thick skin that provides Rioja with the structure and tannins needed for further aging in the bottle. A prime example is the Montecillo Gran Reserva, priced at $30 at the LCBO. Complex but balanced, it’s imbued with a litany of flavours that linger on your palate. 

Stepping up in price to the $30–$50 range opens doors to an array of venerable wine regions and styles, including the Napa Valley in California and Chablis or Sancerre in France. However, the Southern Rhône’s Châteauneuf-du-Pape is unrivalled as a universally recognized and esteemed choice by wine lovers.

Châteauneuf-du-Pape is synonymous with quality and history. These wines are known for their complex layers of red and dark fruit, spices, and herbs, with a balance and structure that can age beautifully. A bottle like Châteauneuf-du-Pape Les Sinards Famille Perrin, for $42, not only presents an exceptional wine experience but also embodies the region’s rich history. This history dates back to the fourteenth century when the Papal residence temporarily relocated to the Southern Rhône — giving rise to the name, which translates to “The Pope’s New Castle.” 

As you’re first venturing into the vast world of wine, choosing a bottle for yourself can seem daunting, let alone choosing one to bring to a party to be judged for your taste and discretion.  While this list is not exhaustive, I’ve chosen the wines recommended in this article for their wide appeal, and they are among my favourites.