Memorial Day is not the time to overanalyze your wine. Save that for a first-growth tasting or the next natural wine seminar. Summer is finally here, so just relax and enjoy.
Two words come to mind when I think of Memorial Day wine: easy and familiar. By "easy," I mean user-friendly, a good quaff to share with friends and family that doesn't cost a lot. And "familiar" means an old favorite, a wine you can trust not to disappoint you … or your guests or host.
I can't help you with the "familiar"—to each his own—but I'll share a few of my own later. I'll start with "easy," because there is no shortage of good, tasty value wines on the market right now.
I like Chardonnay as much as anyone, but there are so many worthy whites from around the world to consider. For a fresh, crisp white look for Lawson's Dry Hills Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough 2012 (88 points, $16), which has peach, white flower and Meyer lemon notes.
The whites of Spain and Italy can be a crapshoot, but if you choose well they're ideal for a warm summer day. I'm a fan of good Spanish Albariño like the Terra de Asorei Albariño Rias Baixas 2011 (88, $15), a rich and savory wine worth seeking out. Pinot Grigio is one of the flavors of the day, but Italy is also an amazing source of undiscovered whites like Vermentino and Cortese. A good example is Argiolas Nuragus di Cagliari S'elegas 2011 (89, $16), which is a zesty white with melon and vanilla notes that hails from Sardinia.
For those who crave easygoing reds, Bogle Merlot California 2010 (88, $10) has appealing cherry and herb flavors, while Columbia Crest Cabernet Sauvignon Horse Heaven Hills H3 2010 (90, $15) has a polished core of fruit.
Few wines epitomize "good quaff" better than Beaujolais and Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais-Villages Flower Label 2011 (87, $11), with its creamy black raspberry and spice flavors, is just the thing for summer sipping. And not to be outdone, Bordeaux can produce sippable reds like Château St.-Antoine Bordeaux Supérieur Cuvée Léo 2010 (88, $10.)
When I want to ease into my wine comfort zone, there are certain wines I reach for. One of them is Zinfandel, especially when I'm grilling something hearty. Seghesio Zinfandel Sonoma County is one of those most-reliables and the 2011 ($24) is a knockout. When I open a bottle of Miraflores Zinfandel El Dorado, I know I'll never be disappointed, and the 2010 is no exception. (Look for my full reviews of both wines soon.)
I also reach for California Pinot Noir and reds from the Southern Rhône. I was drinking Châteauneuf-du-Pape in the late 1980s when they were still bargains, and it's a habit that's hard to break. A great example is Château La Nerthe Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2010 (91, $60), which is a blast of plum and toasted spice. One of the things I love about great California Pinot is the silky texture, and few reliably capture that better than Patz & Hall. The winery's Sonoma Coast 2010 (92, $45) is simply seductive.
Finally, when I'm socializing in the sun, I always think rosé. I prefer Rhone-style pinks like M. Chapoutier Côtes du Rhône Rosé Belleruche 2012 or from the California Central Coast, the Tablas Creek Rosé Patelin de Tablas Paso Robles 2012 (90, $20).
Those are my suggestions. What are your favorite "easy" and "familiar" wines for Memorial Day?