10 Wine Recommendations For Thanksgiving - Under $20

The text message arrived the day after the most recent piece on Thanksgiving wine guidelines hit the web: "Conceptually helpful...want to be able to send [husband] out to buy."

Okay.  Got it: Guidelines are fine, but specific recommendations are better. You want to minimize risk and taking a flyer on several bottles of wine (some of which might be pushing your price comfort zone) is, well, risky.  You also don't want to be that guy/girl (like I was last weekend) who brought the skunk wine.

To assist in minimizing risk, maximizing enjoyment, saving face, preserving the peace, and generally making your holiday preparations a little less stressful, I popped into a large, well-stocked retailer to make a list of wines I'd be happy to have on my own table.  They follow.  But just so you don't feel like you're missing out on the parenthetical detour you've grown accustomed to on these pages, a quick brief on what I plan to bring to my sister's for the big meal.

2008 Pelerin Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highlands Tondre Grapefields
Unless you scooped some of this up last week when Last Bottle briefly offered it, you're not going to find this wine.  But here's why it's worth telling you about...two years ago while on a trip to Monterey County I discovered the Tondre Grapefields completely by accident.  After publishing this review of their house wine (pictured here), Penny Alarid (owner) called me.  She sounded tired.  They were at the height of harvest.  Her husband, Joe, had been working long, long days in the vineyard, fretting as farmers do.  Penny explained that she was going to print off the review and take it into the vineyard to Joe and that it was going to make his day.  Her words and gratitude touched me as much as their wine did.  Every time I see a Pinot made from their fruit, I grab some and shoot Penny and Joe an email to check in. And every time I open a bottle made from the Tondre Grapefields, I think of good people, hard work, humility, conviviality between strangers, gratitude, and warm, friendly memories.  You can't ask for a more appropriate wine to go with giving thanks.

If you have a wine in your life that carries meaning because of a story behind it, the holidays are a great time to share that it with those around your table.  You cannot separate sensation from experience and, while the wine might not actually taste different knowing the story behind it, it will mean something much more than what the taste alone can provide.

10 All American Thanksgiving Wines Under $20
Quick disclaimer: many of these choices go against the low alcohol, no oak, not-too-big guidelines.  But the first criteria used in selecting these is that they need to be from the US - and the US doesn't offer a whole lot of widely-distributed low alcohol/no oak wines these days.  The close second criteria is that they taste good. So, there are many bigger, oaked, and higher alcohol wines here.  Enjoy.

2012 McNab Ridge French Colombard Mendocino County $14
Don't let the name of the grape fool you, this is as American as it gets.  Made by Rich Parducci (good guy). Bordering on demi-sec, the Riesling lovers at your fete will appreciate this well-made, fruity white.

2012 Chamisal Vineyards Chardonnay Central Coast $15
Unoaked and better for it.  Bright, exuberant Chardonnay fruit in a head-on style.  Boisterous, even.

2012 Wente Chardonnay Morning Fog $13
Stereotypical California Chardonnay (big, buttery, oaky) from the family that practically invented stereotypical California Chardonnay. Consistently pleases.

2011 Mark West Pinot Noir Carneros $17
Three terrific things about this Pinot: it tastes like Carneros Pinot, it does not taste like it's from the dismal 2011 vintage, and it's under $20.  Booyah.

2010 Columbia Crest Merlot H3 $13
Serves as the benchmark for quality red wine under $15 in my book.  Big, bold, irresistible.  Vibrant fruit, lots of oak.  Lots to love.

2009 Geyser Peak Cabernet Alexander Valley $12
Straightforward, good Cab that tastes like it's from Alexander Valley.  Freaking bargain.

 2010 Mercer Canyons Cabernet Horse Heaven Hills $15
When the world catches on to what's happening in this region the price of this bottling will double.  Honest, broad-shouldered Cabernet with solid oak framing.  Will age well, but really good now if given some air.

2010 J Lohr Cabernet Paso Robles $17
Loud and proud, this hefty, rich, round Cab is a warm embrace.  If you like them obvious, this will suit you nicely.

2009 Vinum Cellars Petite Sirah $12
Not your garden variety $12 wine, this sucker's got savory character aplenty while packing in ripe fruit.  A testament to Lodi's potential even at this end of the price spectrum.  Drinks more like a high end, complex Syrah that a brick shithouse Petite.

2010 Bogle Phantom $20
Year in, year out this wine is better than good and always seems to be $20.  Risk-free and guaranteed to please all drinkers.