Because wine is best shared with others around the table --- even a picnic table --- let me give you some tips on how to include wine in any setting.
The two most important things you'll need to identify are what kind of meal it is and how many people will be served.
A sit-down dinner will require more planning and cost. Decisions include how many wines and courses to have, and what to serve that will match well and please the majority of folks.
A typical dinner involves a starter wine and appetizer, then moves toward the main course and feature wine, concluding with dessert and perhaps, a sweet wine. There is no right or wrong number of choices.
Generally, a sparkling wine is served with the appetizer. It shouldn't be anything too exotic.
Depending on your budget, some choices I like are Moet & Chandon White Star, Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs or Blanc De Noirs, or any of the Mumm Napa sparkling wines. Italian Prosecco works well here also, especially for keeping expenses down.
The rules for pairings have become much more laid back (thank goodness) and you can choose just about any combination of food and wine you are comfortable with. If serving a lighter meat with a fruity sauce, you really can't go wrong with a Viognier(Vee-yon-yay) or a Johannisberg Riesling.
Smoking Loon is a hip Viognier, as is RH. Philips EXP. Chateau St. Michelle or Kendall-Jackson Vintner's Reserve Johannisberg Riesling is easy to drink and easy on the budget.
Usually you'll choose a full-bodied red as your main wine, but it depends on the food. A light to medium red such as Pinot Noir, Valpolicella or Rioja might be a better fit. With heavier foods go with heavier wines and Cabernet Sauvignon, good Merlot or Syrah, Barberesco or even a Barolo might be the ticket, again depending on your guests and your budget.
There are far to many choices here for me to address, but some favorites are Markham Merlot (beef and mushroom type dishes), Elk Cove or King Estate Pinot Noir (goes very well with duck), Masi Valpolicella with tuna steaks, Cabernet with lamb, almost any Italian red with most Italian dishes, and Tormenta Cabernet Sauvignon or Catena Malbec with grilled meats. None of these has to be terribly expensive and should satisfy wine lovers and casual drinkers alike.
To finish the meal, you might or might not serve another wine. Be aware of your guests and how much they have had to drink.
With decent pours, you'll get 5-6 glasses of wine from each bottle. If you are serving several wines, use smaller pours.
Your guests will not feel cheated because they will experience different tastes and pairings. You might also have guests who can't or don't drink wine, so always have alternatives available.
If it's not a sit-down dinner, the wine requires less emphasis. You should choose a simple red and a white and maybe a sparkling wine (sweet or dry).
You can buy inexpensive, good-tasting wine and serve it from decanters and the guests won't even know what it is. As long as it tastes decent and matches the food and the atmosphere, it will be a success.
PICK OF THE WEEK
Most who have tried Malbec from Argentina have liked it, and its popularity has increased immensely.
Unfortunately, its price has gone up proportionally with its popularity.
While some inexpensive Malbec is still out there, it tends to be the lesser quality, not what made the stuff popular brands.
Most of the better Argentinian Malbec is still under $20, though, so you can afford to get on board if you're not already. A great place to start is with Catena.
Nicolas Catena is the man behind some of the best wines in Argentina, and his Malbec, priced in the upper teens, will convince you that so many people can't be wrong.
These wines are deep and dark but very drinkable and are a natural fit with grilled meat. They are a bit like Shiraz with their peppery spice and dark fruit, but there is an earthy quality that is entirely likeable, and it really sets Malbec apart.