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A quick and easy way to find a few gems at your local grocery store.

Super_Market_Blog_Let’s face it, the amount of choices at the grocery store can be overwhelming.  Most of them aren’t ideal and are one-dimensional fruit bombs with little to no personality.  

So what do you do when you’re headed to a potluck and you’re pressed for time?  Before you pick the one with the prettiest label, I’ve got a few tips to make your choice quick, easy, inexpensive, and delicious.

Argentinian Malbec from Mendoza is usually near the top of my list for quality and value.  The ripe flavors of plum and black cherry tend to please a lot of palates, while the dusty tannins on the finish balance it all out.  I’d go “unoaked” if at all possible.  They tend to be the most food-friendly with brighter acidity and more earthy complexity.  Fermentation in steel keeps the costs low and the fruit and acid vibrant.  Fans of robust Cabernet and Merlot will love Malbec too.  If you know there’s gonna be red meat or charcuterie at the potluck, this is your wine.  

Grenache might be my favorite red varietal on the planet.  There are so many different expressions of it, and Spanish Garnacha may have the widest appeal.  A lot of them are made in an international style – meaning the fruit is a little riper than your typical Old World red.  Garnacha tends to be inexpensive to produce, again using only steel to ferment with no oak aging.  Be aware of the alcohol on some of these, though.  Stay away from the Garnachas that are over 15% alcohol.  The higher alcohol means more ripeness and a lot less sophistication.  To go with food, you want the acid bright, alcohol in check, and the fruit to be in balance with the tannins and earthy flavors.  When made right Garnacha tastes somewhere between Pinot Noir and Zinfandel with the softness of blueberry-like fruit and Pinot Noir-like acidity.

Domestic Wines

Roederer Estate makes the best value sparkling wine in the country.  From the famous Louis Roederer family in Champagne, Roederer Estate has been making great sparkling wines in Anderson Valley, Mendocino for 25 years.  Their NV Brut has the sophistication of Champagne with half of the price tag. The notes of toast, brioche, and crisp pear fruit will make you wonder where the rest of the bottle went.  If you’re having cheese or want to spruce up the party, this sparkling beauty is for you.  

Pine Ridge Chenin Blanc / Viognier, California is consistently a wine that you can depend on year in and year out for value and deliciousness.  It began as an experiment for Pine Ridge back in the early 90’s and has become their most popular wine – all for $13.99 retail.  Its citrus and honeysuckle notes, combined with silky fruit and food-friendly acidity make this a perfect pairing with salads, antipasti, Thai curry, sushi or pan seared fish.

CMS by Hedges in Columbia Valley is one of the best values on the West Coast.  It is Washington’s original Meritage (rhymes with Heritage!) blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah.  It tastes as if you’re somehow getting away with a steal at $10.99 retail.  The blend of jammy blackberry, cherry, and plum fruit mixed with vanilla and cocoa powder might make your friends want to smell the wine more than talk to you!  The palate is not just all fruit, as it’s balanced out by a relatively low 13.5% alcohol, toasted oak, licorice, and pronounced tannins.  Pick this one if you’re having red meat.  

Your Grocery Store Cheat Sheet

  • Alamos “Selección” Malbec, Mendoza, Argentina – $18.99
  • Las Rocas Garnacha, Calatayud, Spain – $10.99
  • Roederer Estate NV Brut, Anderson Valley, Mendo – $20.99
  • Pine Ridge Chenin Blanc / Viognier, California – $13.99
  • CMS Cab Sauv / Merlot / Syrah, Columbia Valley, Washington – $10.99


This short list of wines will save you time, money, and worry. You can rest assured that despite the varied array of cheeses, fruit salads, and barbecue, you can count these selections to work every time.

Be sure to let me know if you try one of my suggestions.  Let me know what it paired best with.  Are there any other gems you’ve found at the grocery store that we all should know about?

It’s impossible to know everything about wine.  Let’s keep learning.




Sonoma County is Laid Back, Stylish and Has Some Great Values. 6 Wines that Pair Well with Food – All for $20 and Under

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Even though Napa Valley seems to get all of the attention, this week I’m going to highlight the gems of Sonoma County, and why it produces some of the best food pairing wines in California.

One of things that makes Sonoma so special is it’s geographical location. Nestled between the Mayacamas Range and the Pacific Ocean, the natural environment creates the perfect recipe for high quality grapes. It’s the diurnal temperature variation that makes Sonoma so special.

The hot days followed by fog influenced cool night time temperatures make it a melting pot for many different varietals to flourish.  So basically, the hotter it is, the riper and sweeter the grapes become.  But it’s the cooler air during the evening that regulates and balances out the sugars with acidity.  This is a key component that makes many wines of Sonoma County perfect for pairing with food.

Napa is known for Cabernet and Merlot, whereas Sonoma County’s multiple microclimates offer much more variety.  Sonoma is divided up into 15 sub appellations (or AVA’s) that allow specific varietals to flourish.  Pinot Noir loves the oceanic influence of the Sonoma Coast and the cool breezes of the Russian River Valley.  Zinfandel does really well with the hot daytime temperatures of the Dry Creek Valley and Cabernet does well with the soil types of Alexander Valley, Knight’s Valley and Sonoma Mountain.  There are so many subclimates in Sonoma that there’s bound to be a wine for every palate.   

The one Sonoma County wine that changed everything for me was the 1996 Laurel Glen Cabernet Sauvignon from Sonoma Mountain.  I discovered it in 2006 and was amazed at its power, grace, earthy complexity and gorgeous fruit.  Until then I didn’t think Sonoma could touch Napa Cab’s.  Boy was I wrong!  It’s level of complexity and finesse beat the pants off of Napa Cab’s that were twice its price.  Sonoma wines became my new favorite in terms of approachability, complexity and value.   

What I also like about Sonoma is it’s laid back, down to earth vibe that welcomes visitors to relax and enjoy the simplicity of life.  I often buy wine directly from places like Paul Mathew, Les Caves Roties de Pente and Speedy Creek, because I prefer supporting the small wineries that have a passion for winemaking and aren’t pretentious about it.

Napa wineries can be great too, but one of the big differences is that they usually come with a different vibe and loftier price.  If you’re looking for a more regal vibe and love being a part of the buzz, then Napa is your place.  In contrast, if you’re looking for more of a laid back, country feel with some decent value, Sonoma is the spot.

Truthfully it’s been a difficult task to find great Sonoma County wines for $20 and under.  Most of them are either $25 and up or the style and value don’t exist for under $20. However, these 6 wines from Sonoma County are fantastic while pairing excellently with food – all for $20 and under:

Barber Cellars Pinot Gris 2013, “Rougissant”, Keller Vineyard, Sonoma Coast – $18

This tiny winery makes sustainable, organic and biodynamically farmed wines.  The Keller vineyard was planted in the 80’s insuring that these old vines produce grapes of wonderful complexity.  Think of this wine as somewhere between pinot grigio and a French Rhone white.  It’s honeysuckle nose and gorgeous stone fruit are balanced out by a savory finish with plenty of structure.  I’d go grilled pork loin with this wine.  

People’s Wine Revolution Viognier 2013, Salem Ranch, Dry Creek Valley –  $18

Speaking of French Rhone … this is in the style of Rhone with wonderful mouthwatering acidity that pairs really well with fat.  All of Matt Reed’s wines are deliciously made and a relative steal.  Classic notes of honeysuckle, peach, green apple, green melon and chalky minerals pop out of the glass.  Think of the body as heavier than Sauvignon Blanc but lighter than Chardonnay with vibrant acid.  Pair this Viognier with sautéed duck breasts with honey, ginger and lavender.  

Paul Mathew Gewurztraminer 2014, Harvest Moon, Russian River Valley – $20

I love the wines of Paul Mathew.  This husband/wife knock it out of the park with care and reverence for the land while making wines that’ll make you sing in the rain. Winemaker Mat Gustafson cut his teeth as a sommelier to put himself through school then worked for CA icons Joseph Phelps, Oakville Ranch and the Dutton family.  Most of these small lot hand-crafted wines are pricier than $20, but this “Gewurtz” is a gem for the price.  The classic nose of peach, orange Marmalade and clove will pull you into the glass while it’s meyer lemon acid and dry finish balance out the fruit.  It’s perfect with Phad Thai or smoked ham with a spicy apricot-orange glaze.  

Lioco Chardonnay 2014, Sonoma County $19.99

The gents from Lioco fell in love with wine through the restaurant biz.  They wanted to counterbalance the “bigger is better” CA movement with more subtle, nuanced wines.   A decade later … mission accomplished.  Their wines remind us of “vintage California”, a time when wines weren’t attempting to score big in publications and reflected a desire to create wines to go with food.  Nose of lemon blossom and jasmine with pear, apple and rocky minerals.  The palate is clean with balanced body and acid and a slightly creamy finish.  Pair this with a crab salad with a lemon-curry dressing.

Brack Mountain “Barrique” Pinot Noir 2014, Sonoma Coast – $17

All of the Brack Mountain “Barrique” wines are as good as it gets for the price.  The Pinot is complex with sea-like minerals, graphite and raspberry on the nose with a soft, supple, sophisticated and sexy body.  Pair this it salmon or a wild mushroom risotto.  

Gundlach Bundschu “Mountain Cuvée” 2012 Sonoma County – 16.99

a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Zinfandel from a great winery near the town of Sonoma.  Gundlach Bundschu had its beginnings in 1868 leading to a 4th generation vintner in President Jeff Bundschu.  Notes of blackberry and plum-like fruit, clove, tea and spices. Soft and robust with a great texture.  Pair it with grilled lamb and porcini sauce.  

Be sure to try some of these pairings and leave a comment below on how they were for you.  What’s your experience of Sonoma County wine?  Are you a fan?  What are your favorite places to visit and why?  Do you have a favorite Sonoma winery for great value?



Build Confidence in Finding Great Wines…These Top Quality Wines Are Guaranteed to Be Some of the Best Food Pairing Gems. All for Less than $15… by Patrick Cress

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Us wine drinkers often run into this common dilemma:  we love to find a bargain, yet often times the best quality wine doesn’t fit in the “let’s make a deal!” category.  Plus, there are always too many choices and it gets confusing or overwhelming.  So we sometimes either settle for 2nd best, strikeout when trying to save money or end up splurging on the bottle that we end up not liking.

Whether you’re buying a bottle for a special occasion or for everyday, it’s a bummer to feel like you have to compromise quality for quantity and/or price. There’s a lot of wine out there that’s either overpriced and makes us feel duped, or that tastes too cheap if we’re on a budget.

To help you avoid paying big money for a wine that turns out to be a disappointment, I’ve narrowed down a list of my top choices for the world’s best values in wine from these countries:  Argentina, Chile, Spain, and Portugal that all price under $15.

I’ve picked my fav’s – that way you don’t have to worry about making the wrong choice OR get stuck spending too much money on something you don’t like. Choose from these wines below and you’ll win every time. These choices are some of the best quality wines that you’ll find easily for prices under $15.

Argentina’s national varietal is Malbec.  It originates from Southwest France and was discovered to flourish in Argentina’s alpine climates. Look for Mendoza as the chief appellation (or winegrowing area) where most of the best Malbecs come from. Try the malbecs with little to no oak.  These wines are what I call food versatile.  They go well with so many different types of food from veggie dishes to salmon, to chicken, pork, lamb and even steak.  

  • Bodegas Hinojosa “H” Malbec 2012, Mendoza$14.99
  • Finca Mosso Malbec 2014, Lunlunta, Mendoza$14.99
  • Tomero Malbec 2012, Lujan de Cuyo, Mendoza – $13.99
  • Viamonte Malbec 2013, Lujan de Cuyo Mendoza – $13.99


Chile is super versatile with the varietals it offers.  Carménère can be an amazing value but it can be challenging to find ones that don’t taste solely like bell peppers – so be careful.  There are so many great values from this country.  I’d focus your efforts on Sauvignon Blanc as well.  Try a shrimp salad and simple lemon vinaigrette with the Sauvignon Blanc and try braised lamb shank and sautéed sweet peppers with the Carménères.

  • Chocalan SB 2013, single vineyard, Maipo – $12.99
  • Las Mercedes Carménère 2011, Estate, Single Vineyard, Maule Valley  – $12.99
  • Koyle Carménère 2012, Gran Reserva, Alto Colchagua, Chile – $14.99


Spain might be my favorite appellation for the perfect balance of old and new world styles.  You can get so much bang for your buck. Look out for Garnacha from Navarra, Godello and Mencia from Galicia and Monastrell (Mourvedre) from Jumilla for some of the most delicious bargains. I’d recommend a butter lettuce salad with granny smith apple, goat cheese and walnuts paired with the green apple acidity of Godello.  I also love pork loin and hibiscus cherry sauce with the fruitiness of Garnacha and Roasted Chicken with the vibrant acid of Mencia.  

  • Vina Reboreda Godello 2014, Ribeiro, Galicia – $13.99
  • Brezo Mencia 2012, Bierzo – $14.99
  • Menguante Garnacha 2014, Cariñena –  $11.99
  • Hilanda Monastrell 2012, Jumilla – $11.99


Portugal is the latest rising star of top value wines of the world.  Most of y’all have heard of Vinho Verde and there are many delicious ones for summer quaffing.  Look out for the latest sub-appellation of Vinho Verde called “Monção e Melgaço”.  It is becoming a place for great quality.  My other favorite appellations are the Douro where Port is king but still reds art fantastic and Alentejo in the south.  I love oysters and grilled sardines with Vinho Verde.  Check out Chicken Mole with still reds from the Douro.  The rosemary like herbal quality and hint of cacao will make you blush once you’ve had that pairing!

  • Luis Pato Maria Gomes 2013, Beira, Portugal – $11.49
  • Muralhas Alvarinho / Trajadura 2014, Monção e Melgaço, Vinho Verde –  $13.99
  • Fundacao Batalha De Aljubarrota 2013, Alentejano, Portugal – $10.99
  • Flor de Crasto 2013, Douro – $11.99


You actually don’t have to spend a ton of money to get a really fantastic wine. Nor do you need to get overwhelmed by hundreds of mediocre choices at Trader Joe’s.

If you know what to look for, you’ll always come out on top. The selections I gave you are great places to start. They are some of the BEST top quality wines set at unbelievably affordable prices. Play around with them and let me know what you think.

Don’t forget to leave me a comment on your thoughts, insights or questions below. Let me know other wines you’ve found to be delicious for under $15…I’d love to do a write up on it.

Thanks so much.

Next week’s topic will focus California Chardonnay’s and what makes it so controversial yet celebrated in the world of wine.