In a perfect world, everyone would have the time to stop in at their local wine shop to pick up an eclectic bottle or two for dinner. But the reality is, sometimes all that's possible is to grab a bottle of red or white from a supermarket or big box store.
Here's what I found at Target last week. Their selection isn't huge, but it's still possible to come home with something that won't embarrass you. These may not be the most exciting wines on the block, and I wouldn't necessarily serve them to wine-geek friends, but they're decent drinking and widely available.
2012 Hess Select Chardonnay "Monterey County" ($9.99)
The Hess Collection has always paid as much attention to the wines at the lower end of their line as to the top wines. The grapes for Hess Select Chardonnay come from their Shirtail Creek vineyard in Monterey County. The wine is crisp and aromatic, with zesty citrus and tropical notes. It even spent some time in French oak, not a given at this price.
2011 Clos du Bois Chardonnay "North Coast" ($9.99)
Target is selling this Clos du Bois Chardonnay from the North Coast appellation at a good price. If you like your Chardonnay creamy and oaky, then this is the one that won't break the bank. A respectable everyday Chardonnay.
2012 Chateau Ste. Michelle Riesling "Columbia Valley" ($7.49)
The entry-level Riesling from Washington's respected Chateau Ste. Michelle is sourced from Columbia Valley. Crisp and refreshing with accents of lime and mineral, it is off-dry, which is important to know before you buy. But before you put that bottle down, consider that it's just the wine for Thai dishes and other Asian cuisines.
2011 Louis Jadot Beaujolais-Villages ($10.99)
The most basic of Beaujolais from well-known producer Louis Jadot. It has some character, a bit of earthiness, but not the lush fruit or complexity of a Beaujolais cru. Still, for just more than $10, it's a great pairing for grilled sausages, a burger or BBQ take-out.
2012 Castello di Gabbiano Chianti ($7.99)
An enjoyable Chianti from Castello di Gabbiano at a very good price. Easy drinking, this is the red for a pizza or spaghetti night at home, and at this price, you don't have to worry whether someone is pouring themselves wine at a pace far faster than everybody else. The very definition of quaffable wine.
2011 Sterling Vintners Collection Cabernet Sauvignon "Central Coast" ($11.99)
Okay, so this is a big step down from the behemoths Robert Parker anoints with the big scores. But it's Cabernet Sauvignon and it's well under $20. Think of it as aspiring to be great with that Cab spiciness, and yes, the requisite notes of dark fruit and tobacco. It's got tannin, too. Just pair it with a juicy steak or some pork chops and it will do fine.
2011 Francis Coppola Diamond Collection Claret ($15.99)
With its dressy black label and gold netting, Francis Coppola's Diamond Collection Claret (even the name is old-school) is a convincing package — and the most expensive wine on this list. Even so, it's less than $20 and looks like something pricier. A Bordeaux-style blend of Cabernet with small amounts of Petit Verdot, Merlot and Cabernet Franc, it's smooth and easy drinking, if a bit too tame.
2011 Clos du Bois Merlot "North Coast" ($10.99)
A blend of Merlot with tiny amounts of Syrah and Petit Verdot, this is a Merlot for drinkers who enjoy a soft, velvety wine with sweet fruit flavors and supple tannins. A gentle red, in other words, which would make nice with a roast chicken or grilled lamb chop.
2012 Robert Mondavi Private Selection Pinot Noir "California" ($10.99)
The best-known name in California wine, Robert Mondavi makes wines all over the map and price points. The Private Selection label is one of his least expensive lines, but implies some sort of exclusivity and panache for what is a very basic red wine from a historic Napa Valley producer. Just the thing for a burger or some ribs.
2011 Ravenswood Vintners Blend Old Vine Zinfandel "California" ($10.49)
From the Zinfandel pioneer Ravenswood, this is a bottle to grab for that barbecue you're planning. Ripe, intense and peppery, this feisty Zin has more personality than you'd expect at this price point. The grapes are sourced from vineyards all over California, and in this case old vine Zinfandel is blended with 16% Petite Sirah, 6% Syrah and 3% other dark grapes.