Find The Best Wine Under $20

Wine Party Games - Find the Best Wine Under $20 via Chrystina Noel

It’s been two years since I had my last “find the best wine” party. The inspiration for this party was the suggestion to add a chalkboard to my living room that could be utilized during parties. It seemed like the perfect time to take a second stab at finding the best wine under $20. (Last time it was under $10, but now we’ve grown up a bit.)

A word for the wise. (Just going to lay this out there right off the bat.) There’s something I forgot about this type of party. In order to get the absolute most out of it, you should definitely specify which type of wine you’re trying to find the best of – whether that’s find the best merlot under $20, find the best sweet wine under $20, or find the best wine to pair with my favorite gouda under $20. That would definitely bring more structure to the party and result with an actual outcome. When you have 10 different bottles of wine, you’re essentially voting on your favorite type of wine. I guess we’re just going to have to do it again. (Rough life, I know.)

That said. Please note that for the 22 oz. beer party I had where the purpose was to just try as many beers as possible, I think it was totally acceptable to have all different varieties. It made it more interesting for the pallet – and there was something there for everyone.

Now, onto the party.

Wine Party Games - Find the Best Wine Under $20 via Chrystina Noel

I was very proud of myself. After a few weeks of parties where I had way too much food, I think I got it right for this one.

Wine Party Menu

  • Baked Ziti, Ricotta, and Mozzarella – it’s super easy to make ahead of time, feeds a lot of people, and is great reheated if you have leftovers
  • Cheese – this is definitely the most expensive part of the lineup, we went with gorgonzola, midnight moon, truffle tremor, and gouda, the gorgonzola definitely didn’t go as fast as the others, I would probably leave it out next time unless there was something special to pair it with
  • Spinach Dip – I don’t know why I took this out of my circuit of usuals, it’s so easy to make and it’s delicious. It also gives you an excuse to put more healthy things on the able to dunk in it.
  • Philly Pretzel Factory Pretzels – I still ordered too many, I really need to work on this (1 per person is too many)
  • Sweet Snacks – Cookies, brownies, and chocolates
  • Savory Snacks – Bread, crackers, carrots, and popcorn

Wine Party Games - Find the Best Wine Under $20 via Chrystina Noel

Wine Party Games - Find the Best Wine Under $20 via Chrystina Noel

The Party Setup

This is actually a pretty easy party to setup for, and the activity takes care of itself. There are only a few things you need ahead of time:

  • A rating system – we decided to rank each wine 1-10 (worst to best), I found this to be much easier than needing to put all of the wines in order of worst to best. This does, however, mean that you could rank every bottle of wine the score of an 8.
  • A way for people to record their wine ratings – this is how you find the best wine under $20, last time we did this we used score cards that everyone carried around with them and I typed the numbers into an excel spreadsheet at the end of the night. This time we used the chalkboard wall.
  • Bags to cover the bottles – this is so that you can’t judge a book by its cover (or wine by its bottle), we also labeled them so we knew which bottle was which
  • A way to tell your glasses apart – I have a stash of “wine charms” that everybody got to choose from
  • A great icebreaker question icebreaker games are my favorite (in case you’re new around here), we went around in the circle and everyone told the story of the first drink they ever had

One of the fun parts of this party is that everybody actually brought two bottles of wine with them. We tasted one of them and the other one went into a prize pile. So with 11 bottles of wine, there were also 11 prize bottles of wine available for the winners.

Wine Party Games - Find the Best Wine Under $20 via Chrystina Noel

Wine Party Games - Find the Best Wine Under $20 via Chrystina Noel
Wine Party Games - Find the Best Wine Under $20 via Chrystina Noel
Wine Party Games - Find the Best Wine Under $20 via Chrystina Noel
Wine Party Games - Find the Best Wine Under $20 via Chrystina Noel

Drinking Responsibly

There are a few things you can do to make sure that your guests stay put together. Also, you can tell that we’re growing up, because I don’t think I did most of these last time we had the party.

  • Serve food – between the baked ziti and pretzels I felt like there were enough options to keep people full throughout the night
  • Make sure there’s water nearby – don’t make it so people have to ask for it, keep it right in front of them and always full
  • Provide a dump bucket – you’re not going to like every type of wine you pour, it’s okay to dump some of it out at the end of your glass (that said, we suggest you only pour a few ounces to not be wasteful until you know you like it)

Wine Party Games - Find the Best Wine Under $20 via Chrystina Noel

Tallying the Score

At the end of the party, you unveil all of the wine bottles, total the score, and find out who won. The persons who won took home 5 bottles, second place took 3, and third place took 3. (I think? It’s a little hazy.)

Wine Party Games - Find the Best Wine Under $20 via Chrystina Noel

Wine Party Games - Find the Best Wine Under $20 via Chrystina Noel

And then what happens is you leave a bunch of tipsy engineers alone with the numbers too long and they try to find the standard deviations to see if the scoring was really fair. Admittedly, some people scored bottles over a range of 6 numbers and some scored over a range of 3 numbers. There’s probably a way to even the playing field a little bit in the future. Maybe you rate 1-7 instead of 1-10. Also, I think if the wines were more similar it would be easier to compare them. I’m not sure that our top three bottles are actually the best bottles because of the aforementioned reasons, but here were the winners:

  1. Bottle 6: 19 Crimes, The Banished, $8.99
  2. Bottle 8: Joel Gott Zinfandel, $14.79
  3. Bottle 5: Apothic Red, $7.49

Wine Party Games - Find the Best Wine Under $20 via Chrystina Noel

Wine Party Games - Find the Best Wine Under $20 via Chrystina Noel

At the end of the day, a great time was had at all. I recommend getting through the tasting in somewhere between an hour and 90 minutes so that the rest of the wine is available for drinking the rest of the night. We closed out the night with board games – and I made a cup of tea because that’s what happens when you get older.

Have you ever had a party like this? How would you have you tried to keep the scoring fair? I’d love to hear more about it in the comments below.

A Beer and Cheese Party

This party was sponsored by Minted & DiBruno Brothers. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

Last weekend I hosted a beer & cheese party. I’ve been talking about this party for over a year, but finally got the chance to make it happen – autumn beer style. What does that mean? Pumpkin ales, ciders, and Oktoberfest beers all around!

Hosting an Autumn Beer & Cheese Party via Chrystina Noel

Originally the plan was to rate the best autumn beer, but I quickly realized that there was no way to rate a pumpkin ale vs. a cider vs. an Oktoberfest beer. We did, however, rank the cheeses by the end of the night. Hang on, I’m getting ahead of myself.

A month before the party I showed up at DiBruno Brothers to ask a nice man named Joe what kind of cheeses I should buy for an autumn beer party with the caveat that whatever we chose still needed to be available in a month for purchase. We ended up deciding that the best cheeses for a beer party would be the hard cheeses because they would best compliment the flavors in the beer. We decided on 5 cheeses:

  1. Le Cret 1655 Gruyere: Wholesome flavors of toasted seeds and natural linen. Dense and serious with a matte finish. The good-natured mountain king. (Switzerland, Cow)
  2. L’Amuse Gouda: Sweet caramel layered within toasted nuttiness. Firm-but-creamy paste spotted with casein crunch. (Holland, Cow)
  3. Brabander Goat Gouda: This spectacular cave-aged gouda has flavors of butter and caramel and will lull your taste buds into a lifelong love affair. (Holland, Goat)
  4. 1605 Manchego: A full-flavored and sweet manchego. A rustic natural rind protects this farmstead. (Spain, Sheep)
  5. L’Etivaz: This raw milk cheese has notes of hazelnut and tropical fruit. It is made in traditional copper kettles and aged on pine shelves. (Switzerland, Cow)

Why did I go a month ahead of time? I decided to fancy things up a little bit for this party and print a cheese menu for all of the guests ahead of time from Minted. This way when we started eating them we knew exactly what we were getting into. I designed the menus below using the Quite Simply design. (Oh, and they made great party favors too!)

Hosting an Autumn Beer & Cheese Party via Chrystina Noel

The week of the party I went to buy all the cheeses (and got one of the last pieces of the L’Etivaz) as well as additional snacks and decorations. I decided to set up one table full of food and decorations for people to gather around. And the results turned out pretty well if I do say so myself –

Hosting an Autumn Beer & Cheese Party via Chrystina Noel

How to set up a beer & cheese spread

Setting up a beer and cheese spread is a lot like setting up a wine and cheese spread (see: how to host a wine and cheese party for 4 under $80, how to host a wine and cheese party). There are two objectives. (1) Find a good balance of sweet and savory. (2) Have enough food to absorb the alcohol. The discussion below relates to a party for 10 people.


  • Cheese
  • Bread
  • Crackers/Chips/Mini Toasts
  • Prezels – I also got a tub of cheese whiz and cinnamon dip (which was DELICIOUS with the apples).
  • Pepperoni
  • Cashews


  • Maple Cookies from Trader Joe’s
  • Chocolate
  • Apples


  • Honey (Almond & Orange Blossom)
  • Quince Paste

Hosting an Autumn Beer & Cheese Party via Chrystina Noel Hosting an Autumn Beer & Cheese Party via Chrystina Noel Hosting an Autumn Beer & Cheese Party via Chrystina Noel

Our favorite cheeses

As I mentioned before – although we didn’t vote on favorite beers, we did end up voting on our favorite cheeses. Also, let me tell you, it was super useful to have the cheese menus nearby while eating. We must have referenced each description a dozen times – it helped us remember what they liked and didn’t like. Here are the two cheeses you must try:

Brabander Goat Gouda

Le Cret 1655 Gruyere

They are both absolutely delicious. The cheese that created the most discussion was the L’Etivaz, but turned out to be too farmy for our group.

Hosting an Autumn Beer & Cheese Party via Chrystina Noel Hosting an Autumn Beer & Cheese Party via Chrystina Noel

The beer

Everybody brought 3 bottles of an autumn beer with them. Everybody got a cup when they arrived and we opened one type of beer at a type and tried them all. I decided it was better to have three different types of autumn beers as opposed to one type of autumn beer so that nobody got too sick of any one of them. (Think about it, any more than one or two pumpkin beers would have been far too many.)

Hosting an Autumn Beer & Cheese Party via Chrystina Noel

What I would do differently next time

I would tell everybody to bring 3 bottles of beer with them – I would not, however, tell people to bring extra beer for drinking. I think 26 is around the age that people are no longer looking to ruin their entire weekend over a party Friday night. There was no need for extra beer and now my fridge is full of beer that I probably won’t end up drinking.

I would not have bought any crackers, mini toasts, or chips. It’s not worth buying crackers without soft cheese options, a hard cracker with hard cheese is too much hard.

Philly Pretzel Factory has a deal called “The Crowd Pleaser” where you get 25 pretzels and a bottle of mustard for $13. However, you only need one pretzel per person if there’s also bread.

I got the cashews and pepperoni to break up the monotony of eating carbohydrates and cheese, but neither one was really touched. I don’t think I’d waste the money on it again.

Overall, the party cost me around $140, but done correctly, I think it could be done for about $90 for 10 people (so long as you’re not the one buying the beer). I would buy .15-.20 pounds of cheese per person, 1 baguette, 10 pretzels, 1 box of cookies, 2 bars of chocolate, and 2 apples + accoutrements. Alright, now it’s your turn. Aren’t you glad I did the dirty work for you?

Hosting an Autumn Beer & Cheese Party via Chrystina Noel

WITCH numbers: C55, W2

Themed Party Ideas Cover


6 Cheese Accoutrements

6 cheese accoutrements cover

I have written a lot of posts about wine in the past few years of blogging. It has quickly become one of my favorite topics to learn about. I have been attending wine tastings, I have hosted wine-themed parties, and at the end of a long day my drink of choice is a glass of wine. I’m 95% sure this love of wine came from Tria.

I discovered Tria a few years into my Philadelphia adventure. They have wine, beer, cheese, food, and dessert. What else could a girl need? I have discovered some of my favorite cheeses at Tria, most notably the Delice de Bourgogne. Their menu also have exquisite descriptions for every item so that you feel like you’re living in luxury as your selecting your dinner.

One thing I didn’t know I was going to learn more about was how to serve cheese. Each plate of cheese they serve has wonderful accoutrements on it that really enhance the cheese experience. (Yes, I just said that.) So I wanted to share a few with you today so that you can make sure to try them during your cheese adventure as well.

6 cheese accoutrements

If you haven’t been to Tria yet (and you’ve been to Philadelphia) you’re missing out. But lucky for you Tria has donated a $50 giftcard to give away to one of my wonderful readers in honor of my 4th Blog Birthday. That’s right $50. Do you know how much deliciousness you can get with that? So much. Especially if you go during Sunday School. (One wine, one beer, and one cheese are marked down in price on Sunday evenings and you can get one of each of them per person.)

This giveaway closes Thursday, August 20.
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Wine by Body

I got the chance to go to yet another wine tasting event in Philadelphia two weeks ago. Vicki, from Vinocity, a Philadelphia wine education and tasting experience company, focused on pairing summer wines.

When pairing wines, my usual method is to choose red or white based on the food I’m eating and then to choose whatever type of wine I like best. Don’t get me wrong, that absolutely works, but the first thing Vicki did when she began to set the stage for the rules of pairing summer wines was throw the “white with fish, red with meat” rule out the window. Her first rule of pairing summer wines was match the body. If you’re eating a food that is light and simple, pair it with a light wine. If you’re eating a food that is full and rich, pair it with something heavier.

This makes so much sense. You don’t want to completely overpower your food with your wine, or overpower your wine with your food. I very quickly realized I wasn’t sure which wines are light and which are heavy. Vicki talked through some of them and I came home and did some additional research. Using Wine Country Getaway’s handy wine body chart I was able to make the infographic below.

Remember that the lightest light is ligher than the lighest red and the heaviest red is heavier than the heaviest white, but other than that, have fun pairing.

wines by body

This chart is definitely going to help me reconsider pairing wines (I will probably google my own blog post next time I hit the wine store). What do you think, will this change the way you pair wines?