Turkey Steals: The 10 Best People-Pleasing, No-Hassle, Thanksgiving Wines Under $15

Stressed about what to serve your guests for Thanksgiving?  No need: here is my list of delicious wines that are versatile enough to match the day’s spectrum of flavors – plus they are inexpensive enough to serve in ample supply.

They are all priced under $15, some are even under $10.

thanksgiving wine under $15Top 10 Under $15 Holiday Wines


Sparkling wine:

Jaume Serra Cristalino Brut Cava (Spain)


White wine:

Antinori “Villa Antinori” Tuscana White (Italy)

Chateau Ste. Michelle Pinot Gris Columbia Valley (Washington State)

Marqués de Cáceres Verdejo Rueda (Spain)


Red wine:

Bogle Zinfandel Old Vine (California)

Castle Rock Pinot Noir Central Coast (California)

Jean-Luc Colombo Côtes du Rhône Les Abeilles (France)

Planeta Sicilia La Segreta Red (Italy)

Viu Manent Carménère Gran Reserva (Chile)

Yalumba Cabernet Sauvignon South Australia The Y Series (Australia)


For more carefully curated lists on affordable alternatives to Billionaire-caliber wines, check out my latest book, How to Drink Like a Billionaire (Regan Arts).

Sip Vicious

Yellow Wine: A few minutes after I ordered a bottle of wine at New York’s Bette restaurant, the sommelier hustled over to my table like Tony Dorsett tumbling for the end zone, setting down a plate of gouda, pears, hazelnuts, and pecans.

“You’re gonna need this with your wine,” he warned.


yellow wine puffeney


When I zeroed in on the wine — a 2002 Arbois Savagnin from Jacques Puffeney — I knew I might be in for an unusual ride.  Puffeney’s wines hail from France’s obscure Jura region, which is nestled between Burgundy and Switzerland, and are known for their aggressive acidity and fino-sherry-like oxidized quality.  Vin jaune (or “yellow wine”) is the most famous of Jura’s wines, made from extra-ripe Savagnin grapes and aged under a layer of yeast for six years, producing a style said to be even more aggressive than the less-aged Savagnin I chose.

Okay, bring it on, I thought – I love taut sips like Chablis and Grüner Veltliner from Austria, and a little oxidation rarely rubbed me wrong; such vinous voltage can turbo-charge the tastebuds and heighten the flavor of food.

But was the Puffeney so high-wattage that it merited an unsolicited plate of nibbles?  To be sure, certain foods can buff the contours of an edgy wine — like red meat’s ability to tame the astringency of a tannic Cabernet or walnuts’ mellowing effect on an overly-dry glass of Sherry.  The sommelier’s offering — and his insistent, almost apologetic rendering of it — suggested that something more dire might be at play.  Did experience teach him that diners needed to be numbed before wetting their lips with this juice, like Xylocaine before a needle or a blindfold before the firing squad?

The wine arrived, and I took a hit.  First, there was a briny smell of the ocean — bracing, but not unpleasant.  A few sips later, however, we crossed the line into something considerably more sauvage — the yellow wine’s saline tang giving way to fifth-grade memories of nose-tweaking Testors paint.  Its taste was equally disconcerting—so salty doctors should prescribe it for sore throats.

Ever the optimist, I informed my tablemates that it would eventually come around.  Give it time.  Give it food.  Give it love.

“This is a black-diamond wine, an expert’s quaff, an acquired taste,” I declared hopefully.

I tried to acquire the taste.  I really tried.  I sampled the yellow wine it with nuts and cheese, and meats and cheese, and meaty cheese.  I yearned to like it, like a neophyte struggling to appreciate the baroque operas of Handel or the disjointed poetry of William Carlos Williams or any BBC comedy.

But I just couldn’t catch its groove.  It put a pall over everything we ate — an immovable distraction, like trying to picnic in the shadow of a Chinatown dumpster.  Like one’s inaugural visit with raw oysters or improvisational jazz, perhaps appreciating wine from Jura requires several attempts.  But until I explore more, I fear that many of them are like Siegfried & Roy’s saber-toothed Montecore: rare, unwieldy, and headed for your jugular.

The Parisian Speedo Police

Before I get to this entry’s featured wine, I ask you to indulge a digression into an indignity that happened on a recent wine-tasting trip to Paris, France.

paris speedo

Being an avid swimmer, I sought out a decent pool in Paris, and all suggestions pointed to the enormous Piscine Suzanne Berlioux at the underground Les Halles shopping mall in Paris’ 1st arrondissement.  So I grabbed my goggles and hopped the Metro to Les Halles.  Entering the lobby, I encountered a curious placard: “Pas de Bermuda”.  That’s odd, I mused, but if this means what I think it means – pas de problème – I have in tow not knee-length Bermuda shorts but just a standard-issue boxy bathing suit – the kind adorning any guy around any pool in Normal, Illinois.

After a quick change in the locker room, I headed out to the pool area, set down my bag of gear, and prepared to dive in. Suddenly, from the shadows charged a pool employee with her face twisted in a pretzel of consternation, as if I were about to heave a boa constrictor into the pool.

“Arrêter, arrêter [stop, stop]!…pas de Bermuda!” this Frenchified Roseanne Rosannadanna barked. “You must buy zee proper suit in zee locker room.”

“Really?” I asked, “In America, swimmers wear these,” pointing to my comfortably baggy suit.  She wasn’t buying it, waiving her finger at me in a French figure-eight of finality.

Defeated, I slinked back into the locker room and found the female attendant (yes, there are female attendants planted in the men’s locker room at the Les Halles pool, though their appearance were more lunch lady than Lindsey Lohan).  I scraped together a few bits of my shoddy Jersey-trained French to ask to buy an approved bathing suit.

This sent the attendant rummaging through a box of bathing suits in a nearby closet.  She fished out a black satiny swatch – a miserable sliver of cloth whose rightful place is parked on a Brazilian pinup or on Borat from Kazakhstan – not on a jetlagged wine writer just looking to swim laps.

“You can’t be serious!,” I protested, my guttural McEnroean scorn in full flower.  She shrugged, her face a scowl of intransigence, the man-thong hanging from her fingers like a gift from Euripides’ Medea.

Then the thought of trekking all the way to the pool for nothing – and the solace of knowing not a soul there – tempered my disgust.

“Okay, fine, give it to me.” I handed her four Euros and most of my self-respect.

The swim ended up being less horrible than I expected.  When every other guy is dressed in the manner of a marsupial – imagine the Mike Myers-parodied dancer in Madonna’s “Justify My Love” video – it’s easy to blend in.  And those Speedo-sporting Olympians may be on to something: there’s definitely less drag in the water.

However, the question remained: why on Earth is this Paris swimming pool enforcing a Speedos-only policy?

I pictured the mystery woman for which the pool is named, Suzanne Berlioux, as a militant feminist, sitting with her girl-power cronies in a smoky backroom. “Errr, I ’aave it,” she exults, her eyes beaming with anti-patriarchal righteousness. “If zee women must wear zee beekini, then zee men must too!”

I held fast to this silly theory until my friend’s Parisian girlfriend – a frequent swimmer herself – revealed the real reason. She said that the policy was borne not of misguided gender politics but of simple hygiene – to prevent French men from wearing their shorts all day and then swimming in them.

That’s a novel idea, I thought, but does it really work? “What’s to prevent these filthy boulevardiers from wearing their Speedos underneath their shorts all day and then swimming in them anyway?”

Her answer explained everything.

“Why ask all of these questions? We’re French.”

paris wineProducer: Jacquart
Wine: Brut Champagne Mosaïque
Vintage: NV
Cost: $35

The French may have singular notions of swimming pool hygiene, but they know a little something about bringing back the fly in flying. Whereas you can’t even buy bubbly in economy class on most U.S. airlines, Air France dished it out gratis both ways between New York and Paris — and decent stuff to boot.

Not your usual monochromic, medicine-bottle coach-class quaff, the Jacquart Brut pushes all the right buttons with its bright, Granny Smith perfume and hints of toast and honey, culminating in a persistent finish that is both tangy and smooth


DRC Grands Echézeaux ’78: Parting the Feathers (Part II of DRC tasting)

Vintage wine tasting in Silicon Valley, part deux: One of the wines at the aforementioned DRC tasting inspired the elaboration below.

Nugget to know:

When the stars align, wine can become something more than mere fermented grape juice.

vintage wineProducer: Domaine de la Romanee-Conti (Burgundy, France)
Wine: Grands Echézeaux
Vintage: 1978
Cost: priceless
Track it down: www.usmint.gov

Burgundy can be like a 1920’s feather dancer whose charms cajole, tempt, promise, but are maddeningly just out of sight. But the DRC Grands Echézeaux 1978 achieves the unachievable: it parts the feathers and allows a straight gape into the divine.

It is the “You are Here” of where fine wine becomes more than just fine wine. It creates a disjunction of experience, portaling the taster from the merely extraordinary to the supernal. After the wine is gone, even the lonely residue in the glass haunts the soul.

The aroma has a glowing intensity that rendered the other wines on the table, even a normally compelling Comte De Vogüé Chambolle Musigny 1er Cru 1997, blurred, indistinct, mortal. The first whiff of the DRC slays you with aromas found nowhere else. “How does this happen?” you wonder, breathing in Asian spices, rose petals, stewed prunes, and tilled soil. The combined effect is at once ferocious and finessed, a vinous Valhalla that astonishes the senses.
The texture combines the silk of a thousand spiders with a pleasurable grip on the palate. So commanding is this sensation that it remains tattooed on your tongue after you have drained your glass and brought your lucky bones home to bed. The next morning, it is still there — a final fading marker of having parted the feathers to witness, however briefly, divinity divined.


Value Viognier

Value at its best: As novelist Jay McInerney put it in my book, Viognier “has a tropical garden nose that puts you in the mood for romance.” Unfortunately, good versions of this exotic, pulse-priming nectar often requires spending at least $25 a bottle retail, and sometimes much more, so for most people it is hardly an every day indulgence. A visit to New York’s new Mainland restaurant last night revealed a toothsome exception to this rule – the Domaine Triennes 2004 Viognier, a bargain at $14 retail and $35 on Mainland’s wine list.

Nuggets to know:

1) Viognier, with its tropical aromas and crème brulée texture, is a winning alternative to Chardonnay.

2) Viognier’s fruit-stand character is a delectable match with moderately spicy Chinese food, such as Mainland’s superlative Steamed Prawn and Bamboo Dumplings and crisp, flavor-packed Pork Potsickers.  (Mainland’s info: 1081 Third Avenue, at 64th Street, 212-888-6333).

value viognerProducer: Domaine de Triennes (France)
Wine: “Sainte Fleur” Viognier
Vintage: 2004
Cost: $14
Track it down: www.klwines.com/product.asp?sku=1016919

Classically Viognier, with intense aromas of apricots and honey combined with a creamy texture.  It is kept honest by more acidity than one typically sees in Viognier, making it refreshing and food-friendly.  A perfect crowd-pleaser for those seeking a full-bodied, personality-laden white; serve it at your next cocktail party.