Thanksgiving Feast wine advice: Under $20

Thanksgiving Feast wine advice: Under $20

Each year I write about the many wine matches that pair with the indulgent Thanksgiving feast. Over the past few weeks I have been asking friends and readers if turkey would grace their tables or if another meat would star. Of the more than 30 or so people asked, I had only one respond with a different entree. Statistically, that may be about correct considering estimates are that more than 46 million turkeys will be cooked for the celebratory occasion. So here is my Thanksgiving Feast wine advice.

In order to ease the stress of preparing for this holiday celebration I am recommending value wine for less than $20 this week. In the past I’ve gone into detail about the various flavors and textures on the Thanksgiving table and the best wines to match with each. This year my approach is much more simple: You could literally close your eyes and point to one of these suggestions. They are all spot-on as the ideal pairing for your Turkey Day festivities!


  • 2014 Irony Chardonnay, California (about $11 retail)
  • 2014 Chateau Ste. Michelle Gewurztraminer, Washington (about $12 retail)
  • 2015 Firesteed Riesling, Oregon (about $16 retail)
  • 2014 Kim Crawford Unoaked Chardonnay, California (about $17 retail)
  • 2015 Matua Sauvignon Blanc, New Zealand (about $15 retail)
  • 2015 Tora Bay Sauvignon Blanc, New Zealand (about $14 retail)
  • 2015 Raptor Ridge Pinot Gris, California (about $19 retail)
  • 2015 Pine Ridge Chenin Blanc/Viognier, California (about $18 retail)
  • 2015 Simi Chardonnay, California (about $20 retail)
  • 2015 Cline Viognier, California (about $15 retail)
  • 2013 Anne Amie Estate Dry Riesling, Oregon (about $19 retail)



  • 2014 Presqu’ile Winery Pinot Noir Rose, California (about $20 retail)
  • 2015 Domaine Bousquet Rose, Argentina (about $12 retail)
  • 2015 Crios Rose of Malbec, Argentina (about $15 retail)
  • 2014 Turkey Flat Rose, Australia (about $20 retail)
  • 2015 M Minuty Rose, France (about $20 retail)



  • 2014 Clos du Bois Pinot Noir, California (about $12 retail)
  • 2014 Bell Wine Cellars Red Blend, California (about $17 retail)
  • 2014 Acrobat Pinot Noir, Oregon (about $20 retail)
  • 2014 Parcel 41 Merlot, California (about $20 retail)
Appetizers need refreshing wines

Appetizers need refreshing wines

In many places around the world, appetizers are considered an essential part of life. Not necessarily just for entertaining guests but as a daily ritual for socializing with family and friends. And of course they are accompanied by refreshing wines.

Spanish tapas, Russian zabuski, Italian antipasti and Mediterranean mezze are as common as the main entree. It was possibly the French who made the appetizer more formal with their hors d’oeuvres and then the English expanded on the formality with passed appetizers on silver platters. American appetizers can fall anywhere in between.

When it comes to pairing wine with appetizers, the most simple and straightforward wines are the best for pairing. White wines are usually a better choice than red because they are generally lighter bodied, lower in alcohol, refreshing, lack harsh tannins and will pair with an array of foods.

My top wines for appetizers are pinot grigio/gris, sparkling wine, gewurztraminer, sauvignon blanc and on occasion, chardonnay. When serving chardonnay, it’s important to stay away from big, oaky, high-alcohol styles that can wreck the whole philosophy of the white wine and appetizer perfection.

If you are including a red wine, keep in mind the same principles of your white choices: stick with lower alcohol, lighter bodied styles and those that are refreshing. My top choices are usually pinot noir and merlot. Both of these grapes can be produced in regions pushing upward to 14.5 percent alcohol levels so be sure to check the labels for lower ranges and those usually grown in cooler regions.

Here are a few friendly matches for recipe planning: salty with champagne; beef with merlot; chicken with unoaked chardonnay; spicy with Riesling; savory with pinot noir; grilled with syrah.



  • 2015 Chateau Ste. Michelle Gewurztraminer, Oregon (about $12 retail)
  • 2014 Le Grand Pinot Noir, France (about $11 retail)
  • 2014 Rudi Wiest Mosel River Riesling, Germany (about $15 retail)
  • 2014 Chloe Pinot Noir, California (about $12 retail)
  • 2014 Grayson Cellars Pinot Noir, California (about $13 retail)
  • 2014 Stellar Organics Merlot, South Africa (about $14 retail)
  • NV Pascual Toso Sparkling Wine, Argentina (about $11 retail)



  • 2014 Bell Red Blend, California (about $17 retail)
  • 2014 Joseph Drouhin Chablis, France (about $27 retail)
  • 2014 Chateau Saint-Sulpice, France (about $17 retail)
  • 2014 Decoy Chardonnay, California (about $21 retail)
  • 2015 Firesteed Riesling, Oregon (about $17)
  • 2015 Pierre Sparr Pinot Gris, France (about $20 retail)
Grilling anytime mixes food, wine

Grilling anytime mixes food, wine

Whether tailgating, camping or simply enjoying your backyard minus the mosquitoes, Arkansas’ temperate climate means we can enjoy the flavor and fellowship of grilling year round.

I know plenty of people consider grilling a summer-only ritual and close down the grill along with all of the other outdoor amenities as soon as the leaves start to change. But when that slight chill hits the air I find it’s the best time to fire up our grill. Take the warmth of the grill and add a glass of wine … that’s my kind of weather.

Beer is the general go-to for any type of grilling and barbecue. It’s refreshing and acts as a cleanser for the fat and richness on your palate from heavy sauces and the char taste from the grill. But wines can offer the same refreshing effect. Explore these classic fall wines for your next grilling opportunity.

If brisket or ribs are on the menu, reach for a zinfandel, carmenere, syrah or tempranillo.


  • 2014 Concha y Toro Casillero del Diablo Carmenere, Chile (about $11 retail)


  • 2014 Volver Single Vineyard Tempranillo, Spain (about $20 retail)

For burgers, consider zinfandel, malbec, pinot noir, cabernet sauvignon or a dry rose.


  • 2013 Montes Twins Red Blend Malbec/Cabernet Sauvignon, Chile (about $14 retail)


  • 2014 Crios Malbec, Argentina (about $18 retail)

Chicken pairs well with sparkling wine, pinot noir, chardonnay, carmenere and dry rose.


  • NV Domaine Ste. Michelle Brut, Columbia Valley (about $13 retail)


  • 2013 La Playa Axel Carmenere, Chile (about $24 retail)

Match vegetables such as sweet potatoes, mushrooms, squash and onions with pinot noir, carignan or cabernet franc.


  • 2014 Clos du Bois Pinot Noir, California (about $12 retail)


  • 2014 Sean Minor Pinot Noir, California (about $20 retail)

Zinfandel, malbec, cabernet sauvignon or pinot noir are good options for pairing with sausage.


  • 2014 Kaiken Malbec, California (about $14 retail)


  • 2014 Cline Cellars Zinfandel, California (about $18 retail)
Long ago, bubbly was deemed faulty

Long ago, bubbly was deemed faulty

This past week Arkansas had an astonishing group of French Champagne winemakers in our midst. Each showcasing the Champagnes and sparkling wines of their wineries. It was obvious as we shared in the tastings that most of us adore the elusive bubble of a sparkling wine or Champagne. I’ve never actually met a wine drinker who didn’t enjoy the celebratory drink.

Today, sparkling wine is valued for its luxurious and prestigious reputation. It adds a bit of flair to any occasion and popping open a bottle can make a humdrum dinner feel like a special occasion. But this wasn’t always the case. Long before French monk Dom Perignon is thought to have called out, “Brothers, brothers, come quickly, for I am tasting stars!” bubbles were considered a wine fault. Froth belonged to beer but in wine it was considered unrefined.

The idea of a sparkling wine was not new, as it was noted by the Romans, and the Bible refers to “wine that moveth” but it wasn’t until the late 17th century in Champagne, France, when advances were made in glass production and wine stoppers, that bubbly as we know it today became possible.

So, as you savor your next glass of bubbly, keep in mind the long historic journey it took for the celebratory drink to be in your hand.


  • NV Chandon Etoile Rose, California (about $32 retail)
  • NV Chandon Blanc de Noirs, California (about $15 retail)
  • NV Chandon Rose, California (about $15 retail)


  • Moet & Chandon Brut Imperial, France (abut $49 retail)
  • Moet & Chandon Nectar Imperial, France (about $50)
  • 2006 NV Moet & Chandon Grand Vintage, France (about $64 retail)
  • NV Krug Grande Cuvee, France (about $179 retail)
  • NV Ruinart Blanc de Blanc, France (about $74)
Wine production insight boosts experience

Wine production insight boosts experience

Discussions about wine production and all of its technical components may be a bit boring for most of us. But a better understanding about what goes into wine, as well as where and how it is made, will not only help you decipher wine labels but also aid in evaluating potential wines to enjoy.

The first step to understanding the wine is to identify the grape variety from which it is made. With the exception of many French labels, most wines are labeled with the grape variety along with the brand. (French wines are often identified by region, with specific regions being known for producing certain grapes or styles.) Of course, not all chardonnays will taste exactly the same, but they will have similar flavor profiles. Once you know the grape and the flavors, you can better understand what type of wine is in the bottle.

Who produces the wine also makes a difference. If a company is producing thousands of barrels using high-tech equipment versus a small family winery with only a few hundred barrels, the outcome will be different. I always use cheese as a comparison. Consider the difference in a supermarket brand cheese versus a locally produced small batch cheese.

Where the grape is grown and what goes on in the vineyard is the next key. The climate — hot versus cool — determines style. Hot areas usually grow grapes that are riper, richer and more full-bodied. Grapes grown in cool areas generally will be lighter-bodied and produce wine lower in alcohol content. Also influencing the wine taste is crop size, age of the vines, when the grapes are harvested, and even how much spraying is done and the pesticides used.

Another factor in determining taste is whether the winemaker used massive stainless steel or small hand-crafted, new oak barrels to store the wines.

It’s also important to keep in mind that most of these factors will be reflected in the price. A wine mass-produced and brought to market quickly will be cheaper than one that is more elaborately produced and aged.


  • 2014 Chamisal Vineyards Stainless Chardonnay, California (about $16 retail)


  • 2013 Alexander Valley Schoolhouse Reserve Cabernet, California (about $41 retail)
6 tips for mastering wine lists at dinner

6 tips for mastering wine lists at dinner

For some the restaurant wine list is a dreaded, somewhat embarrassing and often intimidating part of the dining experience. I frequently hear from Uncorked readers asking for advice on navigating the wine list.

For me, the first look at a restaurant’s wine list can be compared to the thrill of the first look at a page-turning novel. In all honesty, I sometimes enjoy exploring the wine list more than the food menu.

If you are in a fine-dining restaurant chances are strong they have given careful thought to the wine choices, pricing and food pairing options. With all due respect to my fellow wine managers, in these restaurants you could easily close your eyes, throw a dart at the list to pick your choice and end up with an excellent wine.

But just in case, here are a few tips to keep in mind for your navigation.

  • Don’t be shy about asking your server for direction. Most are trained for this moment and it’s a pleasure for them to be asked to guide you on making an ideal choice. If stating the amount you are willing to spend is embarrassing with your date, family or business clients within earshot, there are subtle ways to direct your questions. On price, point to a wine that is the price you want to spend and simply say: “I’m looking for a wine in this price range that will match well with what the table is ordering.”
  • If you prefer a specific varietal or drink only chardonnay but can’t find it on the list, there is no need to stress about your selection. Talk to your server about your love of the grape and ask for recommendations close to the style you enjoy.
  • Plan ahead. Many restaurants have their menus and wine lists available online. Take a look and study your options before you go. If you are ordering the wine for your table, arrive a few minutes before your guests to discuss your options, confirm the website list is accurate and find out about any specials.
  • Keep in mind a few safe and reliable regions and/or wine types. It’s possible to make a selection without recognizing specific vineyards, vintages or even brands. For value-priced whites consider Australian chardonnay, Italian pinot grigio and New Zealand sauvignon blanc. For value priced reds consider California zinfandel, Chilean cabernet sauvignon, Australian shiraz and French Cru Bourgeois.
  • Consider the cuisine of the restaurant. If it’s Italian stay with Italian wines, for a tapas menu chances are Spanish wine selections will be ideal. This also offers a unique opportunity that the house wine is a reliable and ideal choice for your dining experience.
  • Order by the glass to keep your options open throughout dinner. This is also ideal if you have many guests with diverse tastes.
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