Over the last few weeks, finding myself with some "free time" for the first time in a long time, I got the chance to help out my dear friends Morgan & Tyler, founders of Second Glass , a wine marketing company and mobile app, and hosts of Wine Riot , a wine tasting event tour aimed at educating people about wine without any of the pretense of traditional wine festivals. (I wrote about them before in my Secret Sources for Cool Sh*t to Do. )
Morgan & Tyler were two of the first people I met when I joined the Boston Young Entrepreneurs  back in 2008, and their friendship and support have meant the world to me over the years, especially with both Shoestring  and The Swapaholics.  So when we shared an Airbnb  house at SXSW in March and they told me that they really needed a writer to review 250 wines in 2 weeks before Wine Riot's 2012 US tour,  for their mobile app — which helps you to track, rate & review each wine as you taste it, then remember and filter the ones you liked later on in the wine store — of course I was up to the challenge.
You can see the Top 10 Wine Riot Boston Wines , as rated by 2,500 attendees, on the Second Glass blog — along with more photos of "Salmanazar," a 9-liter bottle of Veuve Clicquot  (pictured below) that we got to share with the Wine Riot team at Eastern Standard for the Wine Riot Boston wrap brunch. It was an entire case of bubbly in one bottle.
Needless to say, that weekend was pretty awesome, and the Wine Riot train has just left the station!
Tell your friends — here's where they stop next:
And, for wine drinkers everywhere, here's my hand-picked selection of the best summer sippers, almost all of them under $20 and worth every cent, including the reviews I wrote for the Second Glass mobile app :
I've said it a million times, but boxed wine has come a long way and today means the same great wines more sustainably and with smaller price tags, so it's a no-brainer when trying to save.
2011 Yellow+Blue Torrontes ($12)
Organic, biodynamic wine doesn't have to be expensive, and this easy-drinking, dry summer white from Yellow+Blue is the whole package — literally, it even comes in sustainable Tetra-Paks.
Champagne taste doesn't have to empty your savings account, especially with these cool summer sparklers and more bubbly that won't break the bank. 
NV Freixenet Cordon Negro ($8.99)
Don't discount Freixenet just because it's probably the most ubiquitous affordable bubbly on the market — there's a seriously tasty & versatile Spanish cava hiding behind that signature black & gold bottle.
NV Gloria Ferrer Sonoma Brut ($20)
One of the first and arguably the best California sparkling wines, Gloria Ferrer's light, dry brut packs a lot of bang for the buck and pairs nicely with every course.
2006 Westport Rivers Brut "RJR" ($35)
The wine that made a winery, the RJR brut from Westport Rivers in Massachusetts is a light, dry, award-winning sparkling wine to rival French Champagne.
These ain't your mamas White Zinfandels — pink wine has made a serious comeback, in part thanks to curious, bargain-hunting buyers like yourself. (See our full story on La Vie en Rose .)
NV 90+ Cellars Lot 49 Sparkling Rose ($11.99)
A top-tier party wine without the jaw-dropping price tag, this sparkling Italian rose is made of famous Prosecco wines from Veneto, but because their names remain a secret the savings are all yours!
2011 Mulderbosch Cabernet Sauvignon Rose ($12.99)
Ring in the spring with this super buy: an award-winning dry Rose from a small producer in South Africa that also has a super-cute, Pinterest-worthy label.
2008 Peachy Canyon Incredible Red ($11.99)
Peachy Canyon's Incredible Red is an unfussy table wine that lives up to the name in both taste and value. Pop a few bottles at your next party and pour liberally into paper cups.
2009 Mouton Noir Wines Other People's Pinot ($19.99)
Get the party started with instant 90s nostalgia when you pop Other People's Pinot from Mouton Noir, a fantastic red from Oregon's famed Willamette Valley at a fantastic price.
2010 Giorgio & Gianni Sweet Red Lambrusco ($7.99)
The perfect summer party wine, this sweet red Lambrusco from Italy is meant to be drank cold and is slightly fizzy, or "frizzante" in Italian. Voted a Wine Riot favorite!
2009 Steele Wines Writer's Block Grenache ($14.99)
Feeling intellectual? Get inspired to host a modern day salon with this spicy Writer's Block red wine, made in small batches in Santa Barbara's lakes region & reppin' Bill Shakespeare himself on the bottle.
2009 Glenora Wine Cellars Cabernet Franc ($17)
Put on some smooth jazz and pop open a bottle of this satiny Cabernet Franc from New York's unsung Finger Lakes region, a summer red with a stunning design.
Nothing quite says summer like an ice cold bottle of white wine, beaded with condensation, and a plate of oysters or cherrystones on the half shell. By celebrating some local and unsung wine regions, like New York's Finger Lakes wine country , you can get some truly stellar bargains.
2011 Travessia Vidal Blanc ($15)
Pack some lobster rolls and head to the water for a sunset sail or harborside picnic with this unique summer white from Travessia, made from hardy winter grapes and pressed in New England's storied whaling capital.
2010 Vesevo Beneventano Falanghina ($15.99)
Switch up your seafood wine pairing staples with this Falanghina, a light, dry, and unique Italian white wine from Campania in Italy priced for everyday sipping.
2008 Domaine du Vieux Lazaret Chateauneuf du Pape White
Impress for less & get crowned the patron saint of wine tasting when you show up with this rare French white — the lesser-known, fair-skinned sister to France's cherished Chateaunef du Pape, named in honor of the Pope.
2011 Ravines Wine Cellars Dry Riesling ($17)
Made in small, limited-edition batches in New York's up-and-coming Finger Lakes region, this medium, off-dry white wine from Ravines perfectly pairs with summer seafood.
2011 Jam Jar Moscato ($12.99)
As sweet as pie but with a tiny bit of fizziness, this moscato from Jam Jar is a medium-bodied and dry white wine ideal to break out with dessert & easily found in most wine shops.
2010 Shoofly Wines Buzz Cut ($14)
Put some tealights in the mason jars and crack open a bottle of this crisp, zippy Australian white wine for backyard drinking, celebrating all things summer like shooeing flies and Buzz Cuts.
2009 Santorini Winery Assyrtiko ($20)
Like a view from Santorini's sun-drenched seaside vines, this light, dry unique Greek white wine shares the best of Mediterranean wine and goes perfectly with fish or fresh salads.
WINE COCKTAILS & WINE ALTERNATIVES
Mixing cocktails using fortified wines and dessert wines is a huge trend this year, and I had the pleasure of tasting some of the best from local, independent, small producers, like these:
NV Andrew Quady Vya Extra Dry ($24)
Wow your guests with your mixology mastery when you swap the award-winning Vya Extra Dry from Andrew Quady for vermouth in your next batch of Manhattans or martinis.
2010 Andrew Quady Electra ($11.99)
Celebrate everything seasonally summer with this delectable dessert wine from Andrew Quady, a sticky sweet sipper perfect with summer fruits, sorbets, poured over ice cream, or mixed with vodka for a berry martini.
NV Maine Mead Works HoneyMaker Blueberry Mead
Find cocktails from this recently founded Portland, Maine winery, like for the NOR'Easter and Wild Maine Blueberry Sangria , on their website.
Farnum Hill Extra Dry Cider
This super dry French-style hard cider from Farnum Hill in New Hampshire is made in limited edition, small batches and makes the perfect wine alternative for pizza night.
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Story: Copyright 2012, Shoestring LLC & Second Glass, Inc.
Photos: AdamTowner.com  & Melissa Massello