There are few things in this world more satisfying than finding yourself in the wonderful circumstance of discovering wine that is inexpensive, but perceived expensive. This happy valley includes a broad swathe of bubbly, especially the various non-Champagne sparklers in the Crémant category, which manages the trifecta of looking expensive, tasting delicious, and calming the wallet. See my suggestions for the best of this serendipity and just how to spot them.
Roederer Estate Brut, Gruet Brut from new Mexico (but owned by French expatriates), and Segura Viudas Aria Brut (with its silvery metal crest) are three key picks in the sparkling category.
Other wines that drink and dress above their price include Muscadet, the oyster-worshipping white from France’s Loire Valley, which often carries an old-fashioned, aristocratic-looking label.
Beaujolais cru is another winner in both respects, its packaging prominently displaying a Beaujolais cru village – such as the chichi-sounding Morgon and Brouilly – rather than emphasizing the overall region of Beaujolais, which often gets confused with much-maligned Beaujolais-Nouveau.
Moderately priced Bordeaux such as Chateau Talbot, Château Greysac, and Château Gloria also offer cachet for less, with elegant labels featuring noble chateaus and coats of arms.
Another dependable deal, Rioja from Spain, can have impressively gothic labels and sometimes a wrapping of gold fishnet mesh, which was historically a feature to prevent counterfeiting but now adds a dose of gilded glamour.
Another way to lend illustriousness to your bottle is to deliver it in a wooden box, available at finer wine merchants and homeware stores; a gift wine encased this way is like adding a beautiful frame to otherwise humble artwork.
Finally, consider personally labeling gift bottles with a tag that suggests food pairings or a cheeky “drink-by” date; a little bit of handwritten effort glows brightly in the digital era.