15 Wines Under $15 Bucks!

Let’s be honest, it’s pretty easy to go out and spend $40 -$50 on a bottle of wine and  feel confident that you are getting something that should be pretty damn tasty. I say ‘should be’ because believe it or not, there are plenty of disappointing wines at that price point. But more often than not, a wine of that price should possess some sort of quality in terms of region, grape selection, production and aging. But what is much harder is to find those $10-15 bottles that taste like something 2-3X the price… but they are out there my friends. Sometimes you have to stomach through a bunch of swill to find those great values, but like anything in life it takes a bit of determination and hard work to discover those hidden gems.

graphic courtesy of foodandwineblog.com

Check out this list of 15 wines, in no particular order, which have a tremendous QPR (Quality Price Ratio) and will run under $15. I am not including vintages as these wines are consistently solid just about every year and possess similar flavor profiles regardless of vintage (for the most part)… Cheers!

White/Rosé

Belle Ambiance Pinot Grigio, CA – This is like the house white wine for my block. A PG with some body to match up to the acidity, with pretty floral notes surrounding the citrus fruit center.

Fox Run Dry Riesling, FLX – Keep it local with one of my favorite Finger Lakes value wines.  A little like Sprite on the palate (lemon/lime with just a quick hit of pettilance) with fresh grapefruit and searing acidity, a home run pairing for any kind of chilled shellfish.

 

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Louis Jadot Chardonnay Bourgogne Blanc – Classic Burgundy entry level Chardonnay with a concise balance of crisp apple and pear fruit, bright acidity and just a hint of that  buttery character.

 

NV House Wine Rosé Can – Good wine is coming in all shapes and sizes these days, so don’t let the can scare you! This is a great summer sipper, porch pounder…whatever you want to call it. Fresh and bright strawberry fruit with an appealing rose petal note.  

NV House Wine Rosé Can, 6Pk, 6 x 375 mL

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Vidal Fleury Cotes du RhoneOne of the biggest and most expressive CDRs at this price point. Concentrated red and black cherry fruit, peppery spice and mineral notes are all in balance as is the bright acidity and firm tannins. Easily could pass as a Gigondas for twice the price.

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Cantele Salice Salentino Riserva – Made from 100% Negroamaro, the dominant grape in this area of Puglia, this has a fairly intense nose featuring dried fruit such as raisin, prune and fig. But the candied blackberry and cherry notes come through on the palate and flow through the dry, pleasing finish. Big yet balanced…

 

Purple Malbec Cahors Chateau Lagrezette’s entry level red, this is simply a wonderful expression of Malbec from the motherland (France) with bright acidity, vibrant black fruits and just a dollop of black pepper.

 

Seaglass Pinot Noir, Santa Barbara – This is a perennial ‘best value’ Pinot for me as it stays light and lively on the palate but exudes true Pinot character, which most Pinots at this price point fail to do.

Underwood Pinot Noir, OR (Can) – Am I having this with a roasted duck? No… But for a light everyday wine this has enough fruit and depth to make it fully enjoyable. And do you know what doesn’t break and shatter all over the floor for your kids to step on and get little pieces of glass stuck in their feet?? Cans… that’s what.

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Slow Press Cabernet, CA – This has to be the best CA Cab for the Price on the market. All that Paso Robles fruit gives this full bodied wine an opulent core of black cherry, cassis and plum with just a kiss of sweetness. Plush and supple, but with enough depth to enjoy with a grilled steak.

 

Rosso di Ca’Momi, CA –  A fun blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Merlot and Petite Sirah. Medium to full bodied with a fairly intense nose of toasted vanilla, blackberry and clove.  Super value at around $10.

 

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Chateau Souverain Merlot, CASorry Miles, but I am drinking THIS f&%king Merlot! It has some real umph to it with big dark fruit flavors, toasty oak laced with clove and spice aromas. Probably the best wine of the bunch here…

 

Lines of Wine

Columbia Crest Grand Estates, WAWhile the Syrah is my favorite in the line, this value brand under Ste. Michelle Estates is continually awarded “Best Buy” accolades from top publications, and for good reason. Tough to find a bad one in the lineup.

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Handcraft Wines, CA – The Delicato family produces this line of wines which offer tremendous value and drinkability across the board. Taste the Dark Red Blend and the Petite Sirah and you will understand exactly what I mean.

 

Bota Box – Boxed wine is not how you may remember it. This is no Franzia or Almaden, so get over the stigma already. Bota is producing really solid juice from all over the world (although mostly CA). And at $20 a 3L box (or $5 a bottle) there is no better value on the market, particular for the whites like Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling.

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5 Summer Whites to Beat The Heat

It’s hot… It’s like Africa hot… Tarzan couldn’t take this kind of hot.  While the Biloxi Blues fans will get that reference, the rest of us can just agree that it is really starting to heat up around here. This is about the time where the shift to white wine from red starts to kick in.. But not just any white wine, as certain ones are far more thirst quenching and refreshing than others. Sure, I’ll still reach for a hearty Syrah or a spicy, juicy Zin when the grill is rocking with all kinds of meat. But for Summer sippin’ I tend to reach for those crisp, aromatic and tongue tickling whites…. like the ones listed below.

Chenin Blanc is one of the most versatile white grape varieties in the world, as it leads to a wide variety of styles of wine. In warmer climates, or if picked later in the season, it can lead to an off dry or even sweeter wine leading to aromas and flavors of honeysuckle, almond and ginger snap. But in cooler climates, and when fermented to the fullest, Chenin wines are crisp, dry and mouthwatering with fresh green, apple, pear and just hints of that honey note. The most expressive examples come from South Africa (where it is also called Steen) and the Loire Valley in France. In fact, in Vouvray (region in the Loire) many producers will craft a sparkling version such as Domaine Pichot which is always one of my favorite ways to commence  any Summer grillin’ session. If you’re not into the bubbles, their Domaine Le Peu de la Moriette is quite a stellar still wine.

 

Albarino is a white grape mostly grown in the Northwest of Spain and Portugal with some experimentation happening in California and other new world wine regions. Most of the Albarino labelled wine you find on the shelves at your favorite wine shop comes from the Riax Baixes DO in Galicia, prime real estate for Albarino. These wines tend to have a bit more Image result for botanicalsdepth than other citrus driven whites (like Sauvignon Blanc) with searing acidity, discerning botanical aromas as well as white flower and stone fruit flavors. This not only makes it an ideal white to enjoy on its own, but a wonderful food pairing wine particularly with all kinds of chilled shellfish. Martin Codax is a very popular producer, and makes a widely available and solid Albarino, however I prefer the Bodega Eidosela, Ethereo with its mineral and tangy character for about the same price.

Speaking of Albarino… Vinho Verde is a coastal wine region in Portugal just south of Rias Baixes where Alvarinho (same as the Albarino grape) also flourishes. While the literal translation is ‘green wine’, the more appropriate explanation of the name is  ‘young wine’ as these are typically light and fruity with a touch petillance. Reds and Image result for petillance wineroses are produced in the region as well, made mostly from indigenous varieties, but the majority of wine that comes from the area is the Alvarinho based white (with other indigenous grapes like Loureiro and Arinto possibly mixed in). They are typically light straw or yellow in color, fruity and floral on the nose with a clean, lean and mouthwatering feel on the palate. And because these wines are typically quite low in alcohol, feel free to enjoy that second glass virtually guilt free! Vinho Verde options tend to be rather affordable, such as the Casa Do Valle Grande Escolha Vinho Verde which you can find for under $15.

Gruner Veltliner may be one of the most misunderstood and underrated wines in the world, but that seems to be changing as some of the finest examples are receiving well Grüner Veltliner (Green Veltliner) (white) | Aromas of green apple, lemon, blossom, cantaloupe, herbs, black & white pepper, mint | Austria, Slovakia & Hungary (Zöld Veltelini)deserved high accolades and ratings. Making up about 1/3 of all Austrian grape plantings, this spicy and aromatic wine comes in a variety of styles. Even though the bottle may look like a Riesling, GV does not have much in common with the popular German variety aside from the high acidity and some similar citrus notes. These wines typically feature more stone fruit than green fruit with white pepper, a lime or lemon note and a cool white pepper (or herbaceous) component. Some of the richer GV wines will age wonderfully where honey, almonds and a creamy texture prevail… which can come with a higher price tag. But for around $15 there is an ample amount of light and zippy Gruners to choose from, including this Domane Wachau Federspiel Terrassen Gruner Veltliner… thankfully it is much easier to drink than it is to pronounce. And keep an eye out for some FLX Gruner out there as the experimentation is starting to come to fruition.

 Soave (pronounced like  the iconic 80’s tune ‘Rico… Suave’) may be my favorite summer white wine of all. I’m not referring to the Bolla version (although for under $10 it’s a pretty good value play), but more so the wines from the Classico region of Soave. These tasty, undervalued wines that have the Classico designation are from the best soils in the area and are composed of at least 70% Gargenega with Trebbiano di Soave and Chardonnay possibly rounding out the blend. These light bodied, dry and refreshing wines commonly possess peach, orange zest and honeydew melon flavors with some almond notes in the better versions. If you are looking for something to pair with these wines think hearty seafood such as shrimp, scallops and even lobster as the acidity and fresh fruit balance perfectly with those meaty seafood dishes. Pieropan consistently makes a stellar Classico for around $20 and their Calvarino (produced from some of the best soil in the region) is well worth the extra $8-10, as it will age and improve over time.
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My Favorite Napa/Sonoma Wineries to Visit

There are those that say Vegas is like Disneyland for adults. While I love Vegas as much as the next guy, for my money the Napa/Sonoma area of California wine country is more deserving of that distinguished title. With its stunningly beautiful scenery, perfect weather conditions, phenomenal restaurant and foodie scene and of course an overload of the very best wineries in the US… it offers everything the wine loving adult could possibly desire.

Upon my last visit I found some new spots that I really enjoyed, but still have my all time favorites from past trips that will always hold a special place in my heart. So while trying to narrow it down to a handful of the very best wineries to check out for a tour/tasting ain’t easy,  here are my top picks in each region that are not to be missed on your next wine country excursion.

Sonoma

Sbragia Family Vineyards

What was once the old Lake Sonoma Winery is now one of the best destination spots in all of Sonoma. Gaze over the Dry Creek Valley while enjoying some of the finest wines produced in the region. Iconic Napa wine making pioneer Ed Sbragia was producing wine for Beringer as far back as the 1970s and is one of the original winemakers responsible for putting Napa on the map. Now he’s crafting a stellar lineup of Sonoma juice with his son Adam, alongside a super friendly and knowledgeable staff. Ed has successfully created his own family legacy with his impressive portfolio of Sbragia wines. Ed and Adam make quite a number red and white varietal wines you can sample via their various tasting options, and if you catch him on the right day Ed may even taste you through his lineup… which is comparable to playing a pickup one on one game with Michael Jordan.

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Zichichi Vineyards

Steve Zichichi was a physician in New Orleans before his second career as a serious winemaker. For years he was just selling grapes from their Dry Creek vineyard, but after Katrina hit his family hard, he and his wife Kristin packed up and went all in with their Dry Creek winery. Since then he has been producing some amazingly powerful, yet elegant, Zins and a Petite Sirah. Some years back he added a Cab to his arsenal, and all of his juice is truly well crafted and ageable. This winery is worth the visit as much for the wine as it is for the southern hospitality and picturesque views. Steve has also been known to grab the wine thief and get into the barrels, which if given the opportunity I highly recommend joining him.

Moshin Vineyards

If you like  extracted, refined and downright tasty Russian River Pinot hand crafted by a mad wine scientist then get yourself to Moshin… fast. Just down the hill from Gary Farrell, Rick Moshin has been producing small lot, high quality Pinot for decades since he retired from his college math teaching career. Having had a hand in producing Pinots for top producers in the region, he eventually purchased his own vineyards and set up shop in the RRV. His line of limited production, single vineyard Pinots are certainly the highlight of the tasting. However he produces a variety of whites, reds, blends and dessert wines… and on the right day he may taste you through every single one (as he did on this particular day from the pic above). And if you can get back there for a barrel tasting with Rick, it’s a treat to see how all those puppies are aging at various stages of their lives. While in the area, it is certainly worth heading up the hill to Gary Farrell as well for their simply gorgeous views and of course stunning Pinot and Chard offerings.

Chateau St. Jean

I visited here on my first trip to Sonoma some10 years ago… and the memories it provided have not faded one bit. With its flower filled European style garden, the estate itself is worth the price of admission. My wife and I were lucky enough to enjoy our portfolio tasting out on the deck, which is all inclusive of the ridiculous views of the Sonoma Valley as well as some top notch charcuterie. CSJ produces all kinds of varietal wines such as Chard, Fume Blanc, Pinot Gris, Riesling, Cab, Merlot, Syrah, Pinot, Malbec and of course their show stopping high end red blends like Cinq Cepages. The undeniable charm of the estate and those that provide these memorable tastings make CSJ a must visit.

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* * Other top notch wineries to visit include Jordan, Bella, St. Francis, Landmark,                                 J Vineyards & Rodney Strong (right next door to each other)

Napa

Pride Mountain Vineyards

This is hands down my favorite winery to visit…anywhere! The drive to get there is a tad treacherous, but if you make it to the winery atop of Spring Mountain you can buy a shirt that says “I survived the ride to Pride”.  Aside from the unbelievable real estate, where half of the winery sits in Napa and the half in Sonoma, Tim Bouchet and the entire winery staff are about the friendliest folks you can imagine. A gorgeous interior tasting room/bar leads out to a patio that overlooks their estate vineyards and lake. As for the wines, it is hard to find any winery that has a more stellar portfolio from top to bottom.  The Cab Sauv and Merlot are renown for being produced from both Napa and Sonoma fruit, but their Cab Franc may be the show stopper of the lineup. Their cave tour includes barrel tasting of certain single lot Cabs that go into the Reserve Cab, which is as good as any cult wine out there at a ‘value’ price of $140. I’ve been there 3 times now and every time I leave I cannot wait for my next return visit.

Vineyard 29

Situated high up in St. Helena off Route 29 you will find one of the most impressive winery entrances in all of Napa. Massive steel front doors gain entrance to an extremely impressive gravity flow winery equipped with a gorgeous rooftop patio that features striking views of the valley.  While up there you can sip on some of their CRU selections to warm up your palate before getting into their big dog Estate wines. Director of Hospitality Austin Gallion provides not only an educational and fun tasting experience, but if lucky enough to join in one of his wine and food pairings in the cellar, you are in for something special. As a CIA trained chef who spent much time in France and the celebrated La Toque restaurant in Napa, he is the real deal on all levels. The Estate Cab Sauv and Cab Franc are incredibly well made and are meant for the cellar, while the Aida Estate Series Cab and particularly the Zin are opulent and complex but can be enjoyed in their younger years. As you can see, the view is not too shabby…

White Rock Vineyards

Off the beaten path in the southern foothills of the Stag’s Leap District is where you will find one of the most underrated, yet extremely impressive, producers in Napa. These guys are quietly crafting some of the best Chard, Syrah and Cab in the region, and doing so at fairly reasonable price points (relatively speaking of course). They have implemented an innovative aging system where the wine stays in bottle for years before release. Their caves have arches carved out in the walls where up to 6,000 bottles are stored in each nook, which is quite impressive to see up close. On a nice day, you can taste with the warm and knowledgeable peeps that work there while sitting at a tree covered, traditional style picnic table over looking their estate vineyards. Needless to say, there are worse ways to spend an afternoon.

Domaine Carneros

When it comes to winery visits, the experience can be as important as the juice itself… which Domaine Carneros fully understands. The Chateau is dramatically grand and impressive in every way possible.  From the giant stairways leading to the entrance to the gorgeous outdoor terrace complete with hillside vineyard views that go on for miles, this is a true Napa spectacle. And since it is in Carneros, you get that refreshingly cool afternoon breeze coming in from the San Pablo Bay. As for the wine, sparkling is the name of the game here. Founded by the Taittinger family, DC produces a number of various sparkling wines all in the traditional Champagne method… and they are solid to fantastic across the board. They also produce still Chardonnay, Pinot and a couple of other varietal wines for those not into the sparkling craze. There are few experiences as enjoyable as sipping some tasty bubbles while looking over the rolling hillside vineyards with friends and family on a warm summer day on the DC terrace.

** Other beauties are Staglin, Alpha Omega, Miner, Quintessa, Realm, Matthiasson,                      Del Dotto  & Joseph Phelps (their Insignia blending experience is way cool!)

 

A Few Wine Tasting Notes…

Just thought I would share some tasting notes on a few wines I have recently enjoyed ranging from good values to simply RIDICULOUS juice!

CAM COLLECTION 2013 MONTEREY PINOT NOIR $18 (found it for $10!)

CAM Collection 2013 Pinot Noir

This is quite forward on the nose with ripe, bright cherry and raspberry fruit aromas , showing hints of black pepper and cocoa. It’s fairly big for an entry level Pinot with the same fruit carrying over to the palate enhanced by notes of clove, smoked bacon and espresso. A lengthy, dry and overall pleasing finish caps off this true value Pinot.  GOOD

 

 

Cune Rioja Imperial Reserva 2011   $35

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This wine offers alluring aromas of black cherry/currant with dark chocolate and smoky oak. It’s a big wine, no doubt… but has good acidity playing nicely with the dense fruit and firm tannins. Opulent and rich, but exhibits some of that old world Rioja feel with the tobacco and mineral character. Will age well over the next decade.  SOLID

 

 

Alta 2013 Quatreaux Red Blend, Napa Valley $60 Retail (available for under $40)

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Quatreaux refers to four of the five Bordeaux grape varieites used in this blend including Cab Sauv, Merlot, Cab Franc and Petit Verdot (no Malbec). It exudes new world Napa fruit including dark berry and cassis with an old world undertone of smoke, earth and roasted nuts. Tremendous balance of acidity, weight and tannins with a long finish that leaves just a hint of baker’s chocolate… I love that!  SOLID! 

 

 

Element Winery 2013 Lemberger, Finger Lakes  $42

If you have not heard of Element Winery yet, let me be the first to put it on your radar.  Chris Bates MS and his team are producing some of the best juice in the Northeast. I wasn’t expecting much from a Finger Lakes Lemberger, but this had a lot going on! Certainly intense with bright cherry, rose petals and spice on the nose leading to a vibrant palate driven by acidity and ripe red fruit. But it wasn’t a pushover, enough body and weight to stand up to some lighter poultry dishes for sure.  GOOD!

Now, for the RIDICULOUS wines…

2008 Léoville-Barton, St-Julien $80

Still bright ruby in color, this is drinking beautifully now but has lots of time left on the clock. Black currant, cocoa powder, espresso beans and graphite aromas on the nose are quite intense and sultry. Its supple and soft on the palate, as the tannins are mellowing with the acidity balancing out the dense fruit. Showing off that classic Left Bank terroir, loads of chalk and minerality on the palate with the dark fruit and cocoa hanging on through the finish. SOLID!

 

2001 Beaulieu Vineyard “Georges de Latour Private Reserve” Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon  $90

2001 Beaulieu Vineyard "Georges de Latour Private Reserve" Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

From a great vintage like 2001, I was expecting this to still be fairly big and brash. But as a very pleasant surprise this was not the case. Super complex with layers of well developed dark fruit, cassis, oak, roasted almonds and subtle anise notes on the nose and palate. Supple, soft and silky with polished tannins and a long, memorable finish.  I am thrilled I opened it when I did, as I do not see this one improving much further. KILLER

Abacus, ZD Wines, Napa Valley (NV) $500

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This is one of the cooler and more interesting wines made in Napa. ZD basically uses a solera style aging and bottling process including all of their Reserve Cabs from 1992-2015 to make a non-vintage Reserve Cab blend. The result is a wine that has oodles of big, bomby Napa fruit and oak, but has the structure, finesse and elegance of a wine that has seen about 6-8 years of bottle age, so it is fairly ready to drink right away. It could still use another handful of years in the cellar, but it is one of the more impressive cult Napa wines out there. KILLER!

Quilceda Creek Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Columbia Valley, WA  $250

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This is not only the best wine I’ve tasted this year, but possibly one of my Top 3 wines of all time! This stunner is intense on all levels with dense and focused black cherry, plum and black currant fruit on the nose. Beyond the lovely fruit core there are layers and layers of sweet and exotic spices, smoke, sandalwood, lavender, anise, cocoa and vanilla. When you taste this wine, you will understand what all of those fancy wine terms mean. It has harmonious balance, incredible structure, elegance and finesse. It will certainly continue to age and improve over the next decade +, but what a treat to enjoy this wine with good friends over a perfectly cooked steak. FANTASTIC!

 

 

** My rating system is listed below as I prefer to use ranges than exact numbers.

WWG Rating Scale     
100 Points                    =     Perfect
97-99 Points                =     Fantastic
94-96 Points                =     Killer
90-93 Points                =     Solid
85-89 Points                =     Good
80-84 Points                =     OK
79 Points or below     =     No Comment

What Wines to Pair with Your Feast of the Seven Fishes for Christmas Eve 2016

This is my favorite time of the Christmas season. The shopping frenzy has settled down and the focus directs back to the most important parts of the holiday… family, food and wine! My family goes all in on the Feast of the Seven Fishes dinner, and as of late we use a lot of different seafood styles throughout the meal. One year there was even a crab cake app that made the cut. But that is the beauty of this fish feast, there are no steadfast rules of what you HAVE to cook which gives the chef a true sense of freedom and creativity.

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So to give an exact wine pairing for the feast is difficult, as there are literally dozens to hundreds of different ways to prepare each of type of seafood. It is more about the consistency and texture of the fish and the sauces. For example, an appetizer of raw oysters and clams will covet a far different wine than clams casino or fried oysters. Below are some easy and general wine pairings for various styles of seafood that you may serve for your seven fishes feast, along with some specific wine recommendations.

RAW/CHILLED SEAFOOD:

The general rule of thumb is the lighter the dish, the lighter the wine. Pinot GriImage result for durand reservegio is probably the most popular light white wine for this part of the meal, but quite frankly unless it is REALLY good, it’s a little too neutral. But if PG is your go to, try and grab one from the Collio region…Fiegl always makes a solid offering. But I prefer Sancerre for this paring. The flinty minerality in these high acid, citrus fruit based wines seem to bring out all the lively flavors and freshness in any chilled seafood dish. Durand’s Reserve is a wonderful expression of Loire Sauvignon Blanc and at around $20-25 a good deal. The Pascal Jolivet is also a solid option and is usually under $20 a bottle.

 

BAKED/FRIED SEAFOOD:

For dishes like baked cod or seared scallops, you still want to keep it light but with a bit more body than your typical PG or SB. Albarino can work quite well as these wines still exude that crisp acidity but have a bit more body and structure. Chablis is a solid option too, as these typically unoaked wines made from Chardonnay have all the endearing qualities we love about Chard, but without the oak influence. Simmonet-Febvre is always tasty and usually can be found for around $20 a bottle.

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If your fish is getting fried, you’re gonna have to step up to some bigger whites like those Burgundies or California Chards, and here is when you can start getting into the reds. The thicker and heavier the batter, the bolder you cRelated imagean go on the wine. Lighter Chianti Classicos and Pinot can work for a delicate sautéed dish, but if you are going with the deep fryer don’t be afraid to pull out a Zin or Syrah, especially if you are cooking up something with a little spice in it. The Mullineux Syrah from Swartland, S.A. is a fantastic option, not just for this meal but for ANY meal! It’s around $30 a bottle which may not be cheap, but drinks like something twice the price.

 

SEAFOOD WITH PASTA:

For openers, make sure you use the same color wine as you do for the sauce. For white sauce dishes, like linguine with white clam sauce, you can still use the same PG or SB as you served for the raw/chilled seafood. But I like to step up the Italian white game for these dishes and go with a quality Soave (made from the Gargenega grape) or even a Fiano d’Avellino. Pieropan makes a phenomenal Soave and even at $30 it is a screaming value, while Feudi di San Gregorio produces a lovely Fiano for under $20.

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Red sauce = red wine… preferably something  a little high on the acid scale. Tomato sauce is high in acid so you want a wine that can match up to it allowing the food and wine choice to complement one another. My mom makes a mean shrimp and calamari fra diavolo which is always a Christmas tradition for our feast. I love to pair this up with a quality Chianti Classico Riserva or Barolo… both of which can cost a pretty penny. Monsanto CCR for around $20-25 is pretty tough to beat, but the Marchese Antinori CCR for  $40-50 may be my all-time favorite… particularly the 2007 vintage.

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HEARTY SEAFOOD:

This is also a sauce driven pairing in terms white or red wine, but because this type of seafood can be quite meaty and weighted you can go red for both sauce options. Personally, I prefer an oaky, buttery Chard with a broiled fish and white wine or butter based sauce. But it can’t be over the top in terms of oak aging (as many of the Cali Chards are) as I like the acidity and fruit to stay in balance. Fox Run in the Finger Lakes makes a stellar Reserve Chard for under $20, and I simply love the Domaine Ferret Pouilly Fuisse. It may carry a somewhat hefty $40 price tag, but is flat out tasty juice.

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If your seafood finds itself swimming in a sea of marina sauce, you can stick with the same red options from the pasta course. However, here is where you can get into some of the bigger reds as lobster and king crab can hold up to the weight of those dishes. A Super Tuscan or Brunello would be the traditional big red pairings, but if you have been dying to break open one of your aged Bordeaux or Napa Cab gems… this is the time to do it!

The best paring advice I can give is to pair up a special wine with those family members that will truly enjoy it. One of the greatest qualities of wine is its ability to play a part in creating wonderful, long lasting memories. So what better holiday than Christmas Eve to pop the cork on something special you have been saving and share it with loved ones to enjoy together. And that’s my PSA for the Holiday Season… Cheers!

What To Drink With Your Bird This Thanksgiving

You may want to sit down for this: Thanksgiving is less than a week away! How nuts is that?!? But ready or not, here it comes. Which means not only does your menu need to start rapidly coming together, but so does the wine lineup for the evening. Even if you are not hosting  (which makes life that much easier) you can still have a huge impact on the meal and overall holiday enjoyment by bringing the right wines for your family and friends to enjoy. I mean, who doesn’t love the guy who rolls in with a few bottles of really good juice?! Which then begs the question… what are the right wines to pair with a traditional Thanksgiving meal?

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The great thing about oven roasted turkey and all the trimmins is that there are a ton of wines that will pair well with that type of meal. It just depends on what style of wine you and your crew prefer. The one trick is to avoid any overpowering wines with high tannins. Turkey doesn’t have the fat content of red meat, which typically will bind with those tannins. Instead, the tannins can take center stage rendering the turkey and stuffing as bland as opposed to full of flavor.  So while just about any wine will work, here are some that may complement your meal better than others.

The classic white wine pairing with turkey is Riesling. The low alcohol and high acid can be a refreshing complement to the inherent richness of the meal. I prefer to stick with the drier style (Kabinett) as opposed to those that have a sweeter profile (Spatlese). The 2011 Fox Run Reserve Riesling is a stunning option for under $25, and allows you to drink local! For a real value the Chateau Ste. Michelle Riesling is consistently solid and goes for under $10 at most retailers.

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If you like your whites a little bigger and bolder then a buttery, oaky Chardonnay or Burgundy may be the way to go. Although be careful of the super oaked options, as even those woody tannins can stifle the richness of the bird. My favorites right now are from Davis Bynum and Byron, but on the value side you can grab the Seaglass Chard from Santa Barbara. It is unoaked, clean and vibrant… a delightfully refreshing option for around $10.

If you Google red wine pairings for Thanksgiving Turkey, the most commonly recommended wines are Pinot Noir, Zinfandel and Rhone Blends. Pinot is arguably the best option as the higher acid levels, vibrant fruit and peppery spice really bring out the best in just about any poultry dish. The problem in my family is that no one drinks Pinot. They prefer their wines big and opulent and tend to reach more towards a bomby Napa Cab than an elegant red Burgundy. Although I guarantee that bottle of the 2013 Papapietro  RRV Pinot will be in attendance this year for my Turkey Day meal.

2013 Papapietro Perry "Peter's Vineyard" Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

So the pairing that usually works best for my crew is a hearty Zinfandel from California… and no, not the pink stuff. It tends to have loads of big, dark and spicy fruit but a little lighter body and softer tannins than Cab. Seghesio is always my dad’s go to, but personally I prefer the Terra d’Oro Zin from Amador for a few bucks less. Forward, rich and ripe with a nice balance of medium to high acid and tannins, this one is always a crowd pleaser.  And if I’m feeling a little frisky, I will break out one of the Zichichi Zins from my stash. Steve Zichichi is a Zin genius and making some of the best Zin to come out of Dry Creek and all of California really. It ain’t cheap and pretty hard to find, but if you can get your hands on any of his juice I highly recommend it.

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The classic Rhone blend consists of Grenache, Syrah and Mouvedre with Grenache usually taking center stage. Somewhat like Zin, Grenache leans on the lighter side in terms of body with good acid, spicy berry fruit and plush tannins. Blend in some meaty Syrah and a dollup of dark Mouvedre and you have an ideal blend for your Thanksgiving table. Cotes du Rhone Villages wines offer a step up in quality (usually) over the standard CDRs, and still can be found for less than $20.  However they have a hard time standing up to those bigger and more complex Chateauneuf du Pape and Gigondas wines, which is why those are just about impossible to find for under $40. Some value producers include Barville, Santa Duc and Louis Bernard. But if you are from the ‘Go Big or Go Home’ mentality then you can’t go wrong with any of the big dogs such as Domaine de Pegau, Vieux Telegraphe, Chateau de Beaucastel or Chapoutier. Just be sure to give those bigger wines some oxygen before you get start digging into them, or they may come off a little tight and inexpressive.

 

Not All Wine Competitions Are Created Equal

 

Just like the best athletes in the world are awarded Gold, Silver and Bronze medals at the current Olympics in Rio, the best wines of the world can also receive similar awards at various wine competitions. However with the Olympics, you know that it is the best showcase of talent which is why those medals are so hard to earn and precious to the athletes’ who find themselves victorious. When it comes to wine competitions, it may not always be clear. Of course winning an award of any kind at a wine competition is an accomplishment, but not all wine competitions are created equal. Some are more like the Olympics while others are more like a regional qualifier.

WIne Olympics

For example, it only makes sense that wine competitions held in locations closer to certain world renown wine regions are going to draw a larger number of both higher quality wines as well as top tier judges. The same would go for competitions that are held in meccas of culinary and hospitality establishments such as New York, Los Angeles and London. These bigger and more prestigious competitions will also have a more rigid system of evaluation to ensure that there can be no favoritism based on brand or region, and implement a full blind tasting method. They would also make sure that those evaluating the wines were wine professionals who taste wine (to some degree) for a living, and not just collectors or people that simply enjoy wine. So it only makes sense that it is much more difficult to earn a medal or award from competitions such as the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition or the Decanter World Wine Awards than from smaller, more obscure event such as the Arizona Republic Wine Competition or even the Idaho Wine Competition… and yes, those do really exist!

So much like finding the right wine reviewer to follow that shares your palate when it comes to ratings and scores, it is also a good idea to check out the specific wine competition in which a particular wine was awarded a medal. It certainly won’t determine whether you will enjoy that specific wine, but it can give you an idea of what other similar wines it had to beat out in order to win that medal.