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Inexpensive Wines that Pair Perfectly with Comfort Foods

By Tom Marquardt and Patrick Darr

As we continue to hunker in our bunkers, there is every indication that we are spending more time and more money with wine. Some stores are showing four-fold increases in sales of all wine, especially in the $20-plus category. Many of you, like us, have decided that if we’re going to be stuck in our homes, we may as eat and drink well. For many of us, it’s the highlight of the day.

Next week, we will have a column about some pricey red wines to enjoy with steak. But this week, we’re writing about inexpensive wines that make great companions to comfort foods, such as pasta, burgers, and chicken. It’s warm enough to even fire up the grill.

Wines that are inexpensive – say, under $20 – are inexpensive for a reason. While many pricey cabernet sauvignons are aged and fermented in expensive oak barrels, value-priced wine either avoid oak barrels or substitute chunks of oak.

Also, the sources for the grapes are not likely the same for inexpensive wines. Wine producers may select wines from younger vines or in blocks that don’t meet their standards for premium wine. In some places, growers pass through a vineyard and select the best bunches for their top wines and pass through a second time for grapes that go into secondary wines.

If you look at the labels of inexpensive bottles, you often will see an amalgamation of grape sourcing. Not only will the grapes come from a variety of vineyards but often they come from a variety of locations, or AVAs. Premium wines generally come from a single vineyard.

Many producers keep down the prices of their wines by blending an array of grape varieties. It’s akin to a mulligan stew in which anything in the refrig is fair game. These blends – often based on zinfandel – are very popular and for $15 or less deliver a lot of fruit.

Regions also influence price. You’re not going to find a cheap pinot noir in the Willamette Valley, for instance, but you can find good malbec from Argentina, good cabernet sauvignon from Chile, expressive tempranillo from Spain and great sangiovese from Italy.

Purple Wine + Spirits is a relatively small wine producer headquartered in Sonoma County crafting a group of wine brands that consistently over deliver for the price. Raeburn, Four Vines and Avalon are three of their more recognizable brands that are consistently consumer-friendly wines at reasonable prices.

The Avalon Red Blend California 2017 ($12) is an amazingly pleasurable wine with juicy, berry and cherry notes in a very elegant finish. Crafted from cabernet sauvignon, zinfandel and petite sirah grapes, this classic California red blend is a must try.

We also were impressed with the Avalon Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2017 ($20). It offered a bit more structure and oak influence along with ample cherry and berry elements. If there is a less expensive tasty Napa Valley cabernet, we are not aware of it. They also produce a Lodi version of cabernet sauvignon that sells for around $12.

Here are some other inexpensive wines that exceed their price in quality:

  • Writer’s Block Lake County Syrah 2017 ($18). Made by Steele, this may be the perfect quaff for those of you who are using your time at home to write a book. Good depth of flavor with black berry flavors and hints of spice.

  • Amalaya Argentina Malbec 2018 ($16). Donald Hess started this brand as an experiment. He found new locations for malbec and torrontes vineyards to pair with his established Colome brand. The fruit for this wine is fresh and young.

  • Chronic Cellars Purple Paradise 2018 ($15). This Paso Robles producer has several intriguing wines with labels fit for Halloween. Don’t be discouraged if you think there is nothing behind the label. This blend of zinfandel, petite sirah, syrah and grenache is packed with ripe and juicy fruit flavors. Great match to pizza, ribs and burgers. Chronic Cellars also makes a delightful blend of petite sirah and syrah called Suite Petite that is an explosion of serious fruit.

  • Cigar Old Vine Zinfandel 2018 ($20). As a category, zinfandel is generally inexpensive. It does exceptionally well in Lodi where warm temperatures are ideal. Alcohol levels for most Lodi zinfandel are at least a percent higher than most wines. This one is blended with petite sirah, petit verdot and cabernet sauvignon. Ripe dark fruit flavors and a touch of oak and spice. This is big enough to pair with barbecued beef.

  • Tenuta Regaleali Lamuri Sicily DOC 2016 ($20). This is a delicious yet elegant Sicilian wine made entirely of hand-harvested nero d’avola grapes grown on hilltops. Ruby in color it has effusive black cherry and truffle aromas followed by black fruit flavors and fine tannins to give it enough body to pair with meat dishes.

  • Samuel Charles Reserve Red Blend 2018 ($18). Another blend from Lodi, this puts a lot of merlot (40 percent) in the mix along with a little petite sirah. Good depth and richness with plum aromas and raspberry, blackberry flavors.

  • Shooting Star Merlot 2017 ($15). Another value from Steele, Shooting Star’s merlot has plum and dark fruit flavors with a bit of spice and vanilla.

  • River Road Un-oaked California Chardonnay 2019 ($14). We are often asked to recommend an un-oaked chardonnay. They do better with most fish entrees. This one is a good example of keeping costs down by drawing grapes from a wide swath – California. Apple and pear flavors with crisp acidity.

  • Hess Select Pinot Gris 2019 ($12). Using no oak barrels for this wine, Hess is able to hold down the cost and preserve the fresh fruit character. Round, tropical fruit flavors.

  • Bodegas Bianchi Oasis Sur Cabernet Sauvignon 2019 ($16). From Argentina, this medium-body cabernet sauvignon over delivers with effusive floral aromas, ripe dark fruit and a hint of coffee.

Free wine seminar

Cooped up in the house and looking for a diversion? So is Tom. He’s ready to offer a free introductory wine class for about 20 people. The program will be given virtually through Zoom. All you need is a computer or device with a camera and microphone. If you are interested, send Tom an email at If there is enough interest, it could be expanded.

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