My friend Steve Drace wrote to ask me what I'd recommend in the way of wines for an event being hosted by his son, who is 27 and unfamiliar with wines. My response could be helpful as a starting point for the youths in your family who are just starting out!
Fortunately, wines for 27-year-olds are easy to find and tend to be inexpensive, especially if we're talking about untrained palates, who will prefer flavorful wines low in tannins (and lower in alcohol too).
There are several strategies here. Pick one.
Strategy 1: The best selling and least expensive wines in the supermarket or BevMo tend to be easy to drink, which is why they are so popular. You can just buy bottles with very familiar names, especially ones you've always heard are for unsophisticated palates. They actually taste good and tend to be low in tannins. Their biggest sin is most likely to be bland taste, but only for some of them.
Examples: Toasted Head, Kendal Jackson, J. Lohr, Beringer, Bogle, Acacia, Ch. St Jean, Edna Valley. Look for Merlots and Pinots, and fewer Cabs because Cabs can be too big for new palates (or, done badly, too awful). Also of course lots of whites.
You could pick up six or eight bottles of plonk and have a mini-tasting at home with the hosts, motor through the bottles, pick the ones they liked best, and buy enough bottles of that subset to do the job. (This also works especialliy well for Two-Buck Chuck--that is, Charles Shaw, at Trader Joe's -- which offers three or four wine styles at any given moment.)
Strategy 2: Drop by your nearest BevMo and tell the clerk what you're doing: Buying inexpensive and inoffensive BUT TASTY wines for inexperienced drinkers in their late 20s. Many BevMos have clerks who actually know what they're talking about. Not all, though, so don't invest heavily without testing.
Strategy 3: Target has wine, as you may know. They currently have a shelf labeled "12 wines for under 12 bucks." Happily, each bin of wine has a callout that says how much tannin and oak they have. Pick the ones that are lower in tannin, lower in oak, and higher in flavor.
Mac's Favs: Trader Joe's Nero d'Avolo I love. I like Rosemount Shiraz's and Yellow Tail's many wines (Trader Joe's and BevMo, about ten bucks). Bonny Doons can be fun, especially their whites. Try some Italians: Chianti is easy to drink, and some of their whites are tasty, and Valpolicella is hard to pass up. Coppola is highly variable depending on the exact label: His "Rosso" blend was terrific and under $10. Beaujolais are nice if you can get them cheap (at TJ's for example). I like Folie a Deux's Menage a Trois blend, around ten bucks. J. Lohr once made something they called Wildflower, cheap; delicious! Haven't seen it in a while. I liked Trader Joe's French Classic Cab (not the merlot) that I got a few years ago for $3; surprisingly tasty. J.W. Morris, a Trader Joe brand, makes delicious Chenin Blanc (white) and Gewurztraminer and Reisling, for $3.99 (Four-Buck Chuck?). You should be getting some of them for yourself, the heck with the kid! Ca'Na at BevMo for three bucks is unbelievable at any price, let alone that one, but I understand they sold that out. Keep an eye out anyway, just in case.
I have lots of others on my list but they start to get real pricey from here out, so we'll skip that.
And if you're attending, get one bottle of something really good for yourself, and nurse it. An R&B Cab, one of the Rosenblum black-label Zins, a JC Cellars Syrah, a Rock Wall anything.
Hope any of this helps!
Good luck! Keep track of what you end up doing and how it turns out and let me know -- I'd like to post your experience to our SavvyTaste web site, since this is exactly the situation a lot of people face from time to time, and every guide is a good guide.
Of course, he didn't! Sigh!