Top Thanksgiving Wines Under $15!

It’s completely ludicrous to think that Thanksgiving is just a little over a week away…but ready or not here it comes. Seems like there is always so much to do before this holiday: figuring out who is hosting, planning menus, ironing out the guest list and of course deciding which wines will make it to the table.

Wine lovers will often inquire about what wine makes the best paring for a Thanksgiving meal. The simplest answer is Riesling or Chardonnay for the whites and Zinfandel, Pinot Noir and Rhones for the reds as the peppery spice in all of those reds match up well with the traditionally prepared Thanksgiving bird. I have tasted some value/inexpensive options over the past month that clearly distinguished themselves as wines that would only enhance this food driven holiday…so I thought I would share.

If you plan on serving white wine with the meal you want to check out the 2012 Wilim Alsace Riesling and the 2012 Chateau Ste. Michelle Columbia Valley Chardonnay. The Wilim Riesling is made in typical Alsace fashion with bright citrus and apple fruit, lovely balance (not a very sweet wine) and a dry, minerally finish. The CSM Chard is such a food friendly wine offering supple pear, apple and melon flavors with just the right amount of that oaky and buttery character rounding out the palate. Both are steals that can be found for under $15 retail.

When it comes to Pinot, there are two clear standouts in this value price range…the 2012 Santa Rita Pinot Noir 120 Central Valley and the Seaglass 2012 Santa Barbara Pinot. You will be SHOCKED when you taste that Santa Rita 120 and realize it is from Chile. No dirty, muddy undertones that most inexpensive Chilean reds carry. Just pure, clean and expressive Pinot character with loads of vibrant berry fruit, black pepper and spice…and at under $10 it is a no brainer! The Seaglass is a perennial favorite of mine as it is delicate in nature but well structured with a lingering finish. Easily mistaken for a sub appellation Santa Barbara Pinot twice the price.

For all the ZinHeads out there, my under $15 choice for Turkey Day this year has to be the 2011 Joel Gott California Zinfandel. My family has spent many Thanksgivings with Mr. Gott (well, his wines anyway) and he never disappoints. All that blueberry and blackberry fruit layered over baking and peppery spices make for a wonderful accompaniment to a well stuffed bird and all the trimmins. And at right around $15 it is a serious value as well.

Cotes du Rhones are usually not my favorite, as I tend to find them overly tart and on the light side (yes, I am completely overgeneralizing). However the 2011 Selection Laurence Feraud CDR brought about that WOW feeling which these wines rarely elicit. Considering the wine was produced by the famed CDP Domaine du Pegau winemaker I shouldn’t have been so surprised. It is super approachable with vibrant berry and red cherry fruit surrounded by hints of dark chocolate and spice. The tannins are mellow and the mouthfeel is soft and lush. You’d be hard pressed to find a better CDR at this price point as well as one that will enhance your Turkey like this beauty.

Here’s wishing all of you and yours a very healthy and Happy Thanksgiving filled with family, friends, good food and better juice ;)

Cheers!

Xaviars in Piermont Doesn’t Suck…

Obviously that is putting it mildly as Xaviars is one of the premier restaurants in not only Westchester/Rockland, but all of New York. I had the pleasure of dining there recently with my wife and friends to help celebrate my 40th (which sort of does suck), so I thought I would share the highlights.

First off, this place is tiny. With a mere 40 person capacity, I’ve hosted Thanksgiving dinners for more people than this dining room can hold. Of course that’s what adds to the undeniable charm and character of Peter Kelly’s flagship restaurant. The service is excellent as you would expect, that is unless you want to know exactly what is on the tasting menu for that particular evening…that took a bit of prying. However after some interrogating I was able to finally break down our waiter and get the scoop.

http://www.xaviars.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/Xaviars_front.jpg

The main menu consists of 6 appetizers and 6 entrees, with no two dishes alike. The 5 course pairing is the nightly call of the chef to select a shellfish, seafood, poultry, beef and dessert dish from their menu and pair each of them with an appropriate wine. An extremely cool way to sample the entire menu, however not a great option if someone in your group may not enjoy some of the riskier menu items. So instead we just went a la carte and tasted each other’s dishes which worked out wonderfully.

While everything that came out of that kitchen was excellent, the appetizer highlights for me were the Aji Amarillo Chili Crusted Yellow Fin Tuna Crudo and the Chittarra with Jumbo Lump Crabmeat (could have been a half portion of pasta as the main meal too). As for the entrees, I thought the Hummingbird Ranch Honey Glazed Belle Farms Duck Breast was the clear standout while the Duet of Berkshire Pork and Coriander Crusted Wild Salmon were not far behind.  If there was one small flaw it had to be with the Herbs de Provence Roast Rack of American Lamb as the portion could have been heartier and the lamb chops swayed a little too far towards the fatty side. But of course I am nitpicking as it was still quite delicious.

Instead of trying to pair each course with a wine by the glass, we decided to order a bottle we all would enjoy. The wine list is fairly approachable both in size and cost. We found a 2010 Neyers Del Barba Vineyard Zin from Contra Costa County for $50 which is less than double the retail cost making it a great deal. Dare I say it was Zintastic with lots of black fruit, peppery spice and balance deeming it an extremely food friendly option.

The by the glass selection was slightly limited but every wine offered was certainly a quality option and with a fair price tag boding well for those that selected the tasting menu. It was also nice to see a NY State Finger Lakes Ice Wine Riesling from Wagner on the dessert menu… solid local juice and a wonderful way to end the meal.

So you have to figure you’re gonna get banged over the head for a meal like this, right? Not the case! With apps ranging from $15-20 and entrees from $30-39 it is not all that outrageous. Plus, if you book it through Groupon Reserve you can get another 15% off the total bill…including wine! To pay that kind of price for a true culinary experience like this is a pleasure. So I would highly recommend the next time you have the right occasion to venture across the TZ (yeah that part sucks), head to Xaviars in Piermont as it is really a worthwhile dining experience.

Cheers!

Some BBQ Wine Tips For The Grillin’ Season!

Now that we are in the thick of summer grilling season, you’ve probably overheard conversations about a wine being a “good BBQ wine”. But what makes a wine better than others for a BBQ? After all, it’s not like you’re tossing the bottle on the grill! For me, there are 3 characteristics that a wine has to possess in order for it to qualify as BBQ-worthy.

1) For a white wine, it needs to have crisp acidity and lots of citrus and/or tropical fruit flavors. With the heat we’ve had this summer, I’m not looking for a white that will weigh me down like some of the big, oaky Chardonnays tend to do. I want something light on its feet and refreshing to help cool down on these hot summer days. So typically I will reach for a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, Sancerre, Vouvray or even a dry Riesling (not all Rieslings are sweet people). Plus, these wines typically make great pairings for chilled shellfish and seafood salads which always seem to find their way to the appetizer course before the grillin’ starts.

2) For a red wine, it’s gotta have enough structure to hold up to those typical grilled meat dishes (steaks, ribs, burgers, etc.) as well as enough tannins and spice to stand up to various BBQ sauces. Lighter wines like Pinot are good for openers, but they will get overpowered by most BBQ menus. So for me, BBQ reds are all about big fruit, gripping tannins and zesty spice that you will find in California Zinfandel and Petite Sirah, Rhone Reds (CDP, Gigonadas, Cotes du Rhone), Priorat and Mendoza Malbecs. Sure I’ll grab a Napa Cab here and there, but only if I know that nice piece of NY Strip or Ribeye is coming off the grill.

3) It needs to be affordable! There are very few BBQs that offer a fine dining experience. Meaning you are typically drinking out of plastic cups on a hot summer day and probably even mixing in some beer, sangria or those fruity summer cocktails. So BBQ wines are all about having fun and hopefully finding an enjoyable pairing somewhere in the mix. Plus these BBQs can sometimes carry some big crowds, and there’s nothing worse than cracking open something really nice and finding an empty bottle when you go to get your first taste of it!

The last “X” factor in selecting a BBQ wine is this… make sure its a wine that suits your palate. If you are going to have family and friends ransacking your home while you slave over a hot grill all day for them, the least you can do is drink some juice that you like! Pairings don’t mean a thing if the wines don’t mesh with your palate. Below are some of my favorite selections for the BBQ season, use in good health!

Whites  (all under $20)

Brancott Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, NZ

Sancerre La Reine Blanche, Dom. Jean Reverdy et Fils

Eroica Riesling, Columbia Valley, WA Chateau Ste. Michelle & Dr. Loosen

Vouvray Sauvion

Conundrum (Caymus) White, CA

Reds (all under $20)

Terra D’oro Zinfandel Amador, CA

Cotes du Rhone Villages Cuvee Centenaire, Domaine La Grand Ribe

McMannis Petite Sirah, CA

Vall Llach “Embruix” Priorat

Bodega Norton  Malbec Reserva, Mendoza

Premium Selections (over $50)

Napanook (2nd Label Dominus) Cabernet Blend, Napa Valley, CA

Zaca Mesa Black Bear Block Syrah Santa Ynez Valley, CA

Some Helpful Wine and…Tantrum Pairings??

I think anyone with young children would agree that sometimes the best way to regain your post-tantrum sanity is with a glass (or even a bottle) of wine. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing that I love more in life than my children…but with a 3 and a 1 year old, I have found that tantrums can come in various forms. There are those which are somewhat mild and subdued and others that have you screaming “serenity now!” ala Frank Costanza by the time they’re done.  Just as certain wines can enhance the enjoyment of particular foods, I like to pair different wines with these various types of tantrums to help make them a bit more bearable.

The Subdued Meltdown: These tantrums can start off as normal requests from your kids such as asking to watch a certain show or possibly making a case to eat a cookie for breakfast. You start off with the rational reasons why this simply can’t happen, and while most times they would accept the refusal and move on…sometimes they just don’t want to let it go. These tantrums can usually be resolved, however they tend to be drawn out and pretty exhausting. I like to pair these tantrums up with either a Pinot Noir or possibly even a white wine option like Chardonnay or a Sauvignon Blanc. These breakdowns stay on the lighter side, so staying with a lighter style wine just makes sense. Plus, the spicy side of Pinot Noir tends to remind me of the spiciness that most kids inherently have in their personality. If it’s a little warmer out I may lean towards a white as even though these are the most mild of tantrums, you can still work up a sweat by the time they come to a halt.

The Shock and Awe: This is one of the most confusing and deceptive forms of tantrums as it has many different moving parts. During a Shock and Awe, you may not realize you are even in the middle of a tantrum until a bowl of cereal goes flying across the room, or there is a rebellious move such as the emptying of a bladder somewhere other than the toilet. I find these require a bit of a bigger wine to come down from…so I usually reach for a Cabernet Sauvginon or Zinfandel after these debacles. All that fruit, oak and spice (especially in Zin) seems to settle the nerves nicely and the higher alcohol levels are quite conducive as well.

The Game-Ender: For those who are in the midst of, or recall experiencing, the terrible twos…this tantrum needs no explanation. From start to finish this is just a complete unraveling of your child where there is no consoling except to let it run its course. These can either end with a well placed time out allowing it to  finish in a somewhat calm manner, or with a complete redirect which is very difficult to pull off. Forget the wine and hit the Booze after one of these bad boys as they are both emotionally and physically draining. And since these Game-Enders tend to go down during the nighttime witching hours, there’s nothing wrong with knocking back a cocktail or two to end the day.

Just remember, these pairings are for after the tantrum has run its course…as trying to enjoy a glass of wine while one of these is going down can only make things worse.

Cheers!

A Different Take on Halloween Wines…

Halloween wine… what does that even mean? It’s not like Thanksgiving or Easter where you are pairing the wine with a specific meal. Although with all the candy the best Halloween wine is probably a really sweet dessert wine like a Sauternes or Port.  In the past I have pointed out some Halloween themed wines (like the PoiZin or the Vampire), but this year I have a different thought process. Allow me to share…

I am thinking about what Halloween will entail this year, which is walking around the block with the kids and our neighbors trick or treating. I figure since we will be hauling a wagon around to hold the goodies and some of the kid’s extra gear, why not put a small cooler bag on there as well and fill it with some adult goodies. So the Halloween wines must be appropriate for walking around on a cool, fall night while possibly indulging in a mini Snickers or two (and by that I mean 10).

The first thing that comes to mind is Zinfandel. The brambly berry, blueberry pie, residual sugar and high alcohol content screams Halloween! These are wines that can warm you up as it goes down and keep you light on your feet with its lofty alcohol levels. They also tend to have a little sweetness to them  making them a lovely pairing with your child’s Kit Kat or Twix. Some of my favorites right now are the 2009 Terra d’Oro, Amador ($14-18) 2009 Brazin, Lodi ($15-20) and for the big spenders the 2008 Rosenblum Monte Rosso Zin is one of the best around, and not terribly expensive at around $30 a bottle.

There are two big areas of Spain producing new world wines with big fruit, dry tannins, high alc and lots of spice… Ribera del Duero and Priorat. Both use the traditional Tempranillo and Garnacha grapes of Spain, but the Priorats add in some of the international grape varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah. So while the Ribera del Duero wines are more like a new world version of Rioja, the Priorat wines can be a little more aggressive in terms of concentrated fruit, tannins and alc. Both are perfect for keeping warm while strolling around your block and harassing your neighbors for candy. A couple of my favorites right now are the 2009 Torres Celeste Crianza ($16-20) and the 2005 Roureda Llicorella Priorat from Cellers Unio ($20-25).

Not a fan of reds? Then you need a big, oaky, buttery white to keep you moving on a cold and windy evening in late October. You guessed it, California Chardonnay. These wines are full of all that fall goodness and have the backbone to stand up to those nutty, chocolatey treats. I’m really digging the 2009 Kunde Chardonnay, Sonoma Valley right now…especially for $10-15.  A couple of other favorites are the 2010 Cambria Katherine’s Vineyard, Santa Maria Valley and the 2009 Kendall Jackson Grand Reserve, Central Coast (both around $20-25).

So pack up your cooler with some good juice and load it on to the wagon. Sure you may get a few disapproving nods from your more conservative neighbors. But it’s probably just because they’re  jealous of your wine wagon, so be sure to offer them a glass too!

What to pair with your Easter Dinner

As Good Friday has arrived, it’s time to start thinking about a lot of things for Easter Weekend….. where to hide the Easter eggs, which masses to hit (preferably the ones that aren’t like 3 hours) and what wines to buy that will complement the Easter feast you have planned. Not to fear…WWG has a few easy recommendations to help make your meal a hit! I should mention that even though I am Westchester based, I am always happy to have new followers that live in other areas too (yes, even out in Massapequa, LI… you know who you are!)

The two most popular meats that people cook on Easter are ham and lamb. So let’s start with a ham pairing. As far as meats go, ham is a little light and usually has some form of a sweet glaze on it. Even though I almost always prefer a red, a hearty Riesling or Gewürztraminer will really enhance the flavors of the ham.  Chateau St. Michelle in Washington has the best value for either (around $7-8) and Dr. Loosen has an entry level Riesling called Dr. L which runs about $10. Very well made wine from the best area in Germany for Riesling, the Mosel region.

If white is not your bag, you may want to try a Pinot Noir. Castle Rock makes a wonderful Pinot Noir from Mendocino County for under $10, and one of the least expensive Pinots that I have found and enjoy with meals is from Pepperwood Grove. It usually is under $8! As far as California goes, any Pinot from the Russian River Valley, Sonoma Coast, Carneros or Anderson Valley will be solid. If you are willing to move up to the $20-25 range, Cambria Julia’s Vineyard from the Santa Maria Valley is a no brainer…. It received the #1 Wine of the Year from Wine Enthusiast!

Oregon Pinots have been all the hype the last few years, and with pretty good reason. They are putting out some of the best Pinots around every year. The problem is they tend to be a bit pricey so there are not a whole lot of “deals” out there. However, one that I enjoy is the Cloudline Pinot from the Willamette Valley. Almost every Pinot from that area is going to be delicious, but will typically run over $20. Cloudline runs around $13-16 and drinks as well as some of the more expensive ones. But if you are spending the bucks, grab any Pinot from Domaine Serene…. They will all knock your socks off!

Let’s move onto the lamb. Wines from the Bordeaux region are really made to drink with this type of meat. The earthy and subtle fruit components in your typical Bordeaux bring out all the juicy and mildly gamey flavors of the lamb. And if you use the green mint jelly, as we do in my family, the herbal, almost eucalyptus characteristic that some Bordeaux wines have will provide a very pleasant experience.

 Chateau Greysac from the Medoc region in Bordeaux is probably they best value on the market. You can find it as low as $10 on sale at some places, but it usually runs between $12-15. Chateau Arnauton from the Fronsac area will be a little more expensive, but still under $20 and is a very well crafted wine that will be delicious with the lamb. Of course if you are spending over $30 a bottle, anything from the Margaux or Pauilliac region, especially from the 2005 vintage, will be an excellent match.

I know there are some, like my brother, who don’t want to bother with the old world style of Bordeaux and want the “fruit bombs” with their meat! Understood…. And if that is so I would probably go Zin or Merlot. You can certainly go Cab with any type of meat dish, but with the lamb it may be a bit overpowering. There are just too many good options to mention, but on the value side I have been enjoying all of the Merlots from the Columbia Valley in Washington lately. Pretty tough to find a bad one and they are very reasonable.  As for the Zins, as I have mentioned before, the Dry Creek and Lodi regions produce the best ones year in and year out. Anything from Ravenswood, Rosenblum or Rancho Zabaco will fit the bill.

Lastly, I would just like to wish you and yours a very Happy Easter filled with family, friends, love and of course good eatin’ and drinkin’! Cheers.