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Wine at Home

Hearty Gourmet Corn Chowder & 2019 McGrail Family Chardonnay

By Laina Carter of McGrail Vineyards

I am a huge fan of the delicious summer veggies that come with living in California and the tail end of summer seems to give us the cream of the crop (pun intended). Having easy access to what is arguably the best corn in the world here in the east Bay Area, I’m going to eat it at nearly every chance I get. A hearty, chunky corn chowder is one of my all-time favorite dishes and it’s even more excellent alongside our yummy McGrail Family Chardonnay. This chowder is filling, but so fresh and flavorful. I can’t get enough. I hope you enjoy this tasty summertime treat as much as I do!

For those who are vegan or vegetarian, I have included substitution suggestions for this recipe below.

Hearty Gourmet Corn Chowder

Makes about 8 servings.


  • 4 slices thick-cut bacon (about 7 oz.)
  • 1 tbsp. unsalted butter
  • 1 cup chopped yellow onion
  • 1 tbsp. minced garlic
  • ¼ cup cornmeal
  • 3 cups chicken broth
  • 3 cups water
  • Kernels cut from 8 ears fresh corn (approx. 3.5 lbs. or 9 cups), cleaned with husks and silks removed (I used 6 yellow ears and 2 white ears)
  • 4 medium-large red potatoes (about 1.25 lbs.), cut into ½” pieces
  • 1 bay leaf
  • ½ tsp. fresh thyme
  • ½ tbsp. fresh rosemary, chopped
  • ½ tsp. dry oregano
  • ½ tsp. dry basil
  • 1 tsp. paprika
  • ½ tsp. cayenne pepper
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 cup skim milk
  • Optional: Freshly grated sharp cheddar cheese and chopped fresh chives

Make it vegan by cutting out bacon, subbing butter for vegan butter or olive oil, subbing chicken broth for vegetable broth, and subbing skim milk for unsweetened plain almond milk. Sprinkle nutritional yeast on top for an added cheesy flavor.


  1. In a large, thick-bottomed pot, cook bacon over medium heat for about 8-10 minutes, or until crispy. Remove cooked bacon from pot and place on a paper-towel-covered plate.
  2. Reduce heat to medium-low. Add butter to pot with bacon grease and allow to melt. 
  3. Brown onion and garlic in butter. 
  4. Whisk corn meal into butter for about 1 minute. Continue whisking while adding in chicken broth and water. Increase heat to medium and continue stirring while soup comes to a boil. 
  5. Once at a boil, stir corn kernels, potatoes, bay leaf, thyme, rosemary, oregano, basil, paprika, cayenne, salt, and pepper into broth mix. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer for about 20 (or until potatoes are soft), stirring occasionally.
  6. Remove bay leaf from pot. In a blender, liquify 2 ½ cups soup, then pour back into pot. Add milk. Stir well.
  7. Serve chowder with an optional sprinkling of freshly grated cheddar cheese and chopped chives and a bottle of McGrail Family Chardonnay. Cheers!

Please let us know if you end up making this pairing! We’d love to hear from you.

Cheers and enjoy!

Wine at Home

Black Bean Burgers & 2017 Malbec, Lucky 8 Vineyard

By Laina Carter of McGrail Vineyards

One of my favorite vegetarian foods is a black bean burger. They can be so filling and flavorful, just like our Malbec! For those of you who don’t know, our Malbec comes from our Lucky 8 Vineyard, which we acquired just a few years ago. We have been quick to update the farming practices used on this property to match the meticulous methods we have used on our estate property for several years now. We named  the vineyard “Lucky 8,” because the McGrails have eight grandchildren. The vineyard is planted with a handful of different varieties and clones of grapes that tend to grow well here in the Livermore Valley. Due to the fact that our Winemaker Mark Clarin’s mother’s favorite wine varietal is Malbec, we chose to plant a few rows of this Bordeaux variety in our Lucky 8 Vineyard, so this wine is affectionately dedicated to Sylvia Clarin. This wine is easy-to-drink, but is also full of flavor and perfectly balanced. It’s also one of just a few single-varietal bottles (aside from Cabernet Sauvignon) we produce here at McGrail Vineyards. This wine is certainly special to us and we think you’ll find it special, as well! 

Vegetarian Black Bean Burgers

Makes about 5 burgers.


  • 1/2 tbsp. fresh-squeezed lime juice
  • 1/2 small red onion, chopped
  • 1 (15 oz.) can organic black beans, rinsed
  • 1/4 tsp. ground cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 tsp. 21 seasoning salute
  • 1/4 tsp. ground smoked paprika
  • 1/4 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1/4 tsp. ground coriander
  • 1/4 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp. chipotle chili pepper powder
  • 1/2 tsp. fresh-cracked pepper
  • 3 tbsp. fresh cilantro leaves, packed
  • 1 tbsp. fresh parsley leaves, packed
  • 1 free range large brown egg
  • 1 cup panko bread crumbs
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • Five brioche buns
  • Two Roma tomatoes, sliced into 1/3″ rounds
  • One Haas avocado, sliced
  • 1/4 cup Thousand Island dressing


  1. In a food processor, add lime juice, red onion, and black beans. Pulse a few times, or until you can’t see any big chunks of red onion.
  2. Add cayenne, 21 seasoning salute, paprika, cumin, coriander, kosher salt, chipotle chili powder, and pepper. Allow food processor to process this mixture until all the seasoning has been mixed in well.
  3. To the food processor, add cilantro, parsley, egg, and bread crumbs. Again, pulse until you can no longer see any large cilantro or parsley leaves.
  4. Shape your black bean mixture into five 4.5″ patties.
  5. In a large pan, heat olive oil over medium heat. Set your patties about an inch apart in the oiled pan. Cover the pan and cook your patties for about two minutes, twice on each side (for a total of four minutes per side per patty), or until patties have been cooked all the way through.
  6. Toast your brioche buns upside down on a baking sheet under a low broil for about three or four minutes.
  7. Spread the Thousand Island dressing on your toasted buns, add a cooked black bean burger, tomato slices, and sliced avocado.
  8. Enjoy your black bean burgers with a bottle of delicious 2017 McGrail Malbec!

I hope I’ve inspired you to make this tasty vegetarian grub at home! Please let us know if you do try out this recipe. We’d love to hear from you!

Cheers and enjoy!

Wine at Home

Black & Blue Cheese Burger & 2018 McGrail Malbec

By Laina Carter of McGrail Vineyards

Malbec, which is the favorite varietal of our Winemaker’s mother, is typically an easy drinking, jammy wine. Being a producer of heavy, tannic Cabernets, our Malbec is naturally bigger and bolder than the typical Malbec. The large body on this Bordeaux varietal makes it excellent for pairing with heavy cheeses and red meats. A favorite of our winemaker, blue cheese burgers make a seriously scrumptious suitor for our Malbec.

Black & Blue Cheese Burgers

Makes 3 burgers.


  • 1 lb. organic ground burger (I used 85% lean ground beef)
  • 1 ⅔ tbsp. worcestershire sauce, divided
  • 2 tbsp. minced garlic, divided
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 ½ tbsp. whole grain dijon mustard
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 small yellow onion, sliced into ⅓” rounds
  • 2 tbsp. red wine
  • 4 oz. baby bella mushrooms
  • ¼ cup mayonnaise
  • ¼ cup ketchup
  • 3 oz. organic blue cheese crumbles
  • 3 ciabatta rolls (3 oz. each)
  • 6 pieces romaine lettuce leaves, cut into 5” pieces
  • 1 large tomato, sliced into ½” pieces


  1. Heat olive oil in a small skillet over medium-low heat.
  2. In a medium bowl, combine ground beef, worcestershire sauce, 1 ½ tbsp. minced garlic, salt, and pepper. Use clean hands to work seasonings into beef and shape three burger patties. Smother patties with mustard.
  3. Heat grill on medium (about 350-400 degrees F).
  4. In the small skillet, sautee onion rounds until slightly browned. Add red wine and baby bella mushrooms. Sautee until wine has evaporated and mushrooms are soft. Remove from heat and set aside.
  5. In a small bowl, combine mayonnaise, ketchup, remaining worcestershire sauce, remaining minced garlic, and salt and pepper to taste, to create a special sauce.
  6. On the heated grill, grill your patties for 2-3 minutes, flip them, grill for another 2-3 minutes. Repeat. Before the last few minutes of grilling, sprinkle blue cheese crumbles on top of patties. Put cut ciabatta rolls face down on grill and remove at the same time as you remove the patties. 
  7. Plate your ciabatta rolls and drizzle with special sauce. Place patties, romaine slices, tomato slices, and a spoonful of sauteed onions and mushrooms on rolls.
  8. Serve blue cheese burgers with blistered shishito peppers and a glass of McGrail Malbec. Enjoy!

Please let us know if you make these yummy burgers! We’d love to hear from you.

Cheers and enjoy!

Wine at Home

Bun-Free Rosemary Gouda Balsamic Portobello Mushroom Burgers & 2017…

By Laina Carter of McGrail Vineyards

Since portobello mushroom burgers always seem to be our go-to vegetarian pairing suggestions for our big, bold estate-grown Cabernets, I thought it was time I finally created a recipe to pair with our wines. I chose not to add a bun or any kind of bread to this burger, because like our Patriot Cab, I wanted this dish to be as savory and as flavorful as possible and I think sometimes starch can detract from that. While I am someone who generally prefers meat to a veggie alternative, this mushroom burger wasn’t just some alternative; it was incredible. I loved this big juicy, hearty mushroom so much, I can’t wait until the next time I get to make it. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

Bun-Less Balsamic Rosemary-Gouda Portobello Mushroom Burgers 

Makes 4 servings.


  • 4 large portobello mushrooms (about 3 oz. each)
  • ¼ cup balsamic vinegar reduction
  • 2 ½ tbsp. olive oil, divided
  • ½ tbsp. worcestershire sauce
  • 2 tbsp. black olive juice
  • 1 tbsp. fresh rosemary leaves
  • 1 tbsp. garlic, minced
  • ½ tsp. dried oregano leaves
  • ¾ tsp. black pepper
  • ½ tsp. sea salt
  • 1 medium yellow onion, cut into ¼” rounds
  • ¼ cup red wine, divided
  • 4 slices of gouda (about 1 oz. each)
  • 1 large organic heirloom tomato, sliced into ½” pieces
  • 5 oz. arugula


  1. Heat 1 tbsp. olive oil in a small saucepan over medium heat.
  2. Rinse portobello mushrooms under cold water. Use a wet paper towel or clean dish towel to gently clean the tops of the mushrooms. Cut stems from bottom of mushrooms. Using a spoon, gently scoop the gills from the underside of the mushrooms in an outside-to-inside motion. Rinse mushrooms again. Place mushrooms on a paper towel and allow them to dry.
  3. In a gallon-sized Ziploc, combine balsamic vinegar reduction, 1 ½ tbsp. olive oil, worcestershire sauce, olive juice, rosemary leaves, garlic, oregano, pepper, and salt. Once mushrooms are dry, place them in marinade in Ziploc bag. Shake bag to coat mushrooms thoroughly. Allow mushrooms to marinate for about 30 minutes. 
  4. Heat grill on medium heat (until it reaches 350-400 degrees F).
  5. In the heated skillet, sautee onion rounds until browned. Add 2 tbsp. red wine. Continue cooking until wine has evaporated. Remove onions from heat and put aside.
  6. Remove mushrooms from marinade and place on grill. Grill mushrooms for about 3-4 minutes. Flip and add sliced gouda. Grill for another 3-4 minutes.
  7. While mushrooms are grilling, pour the marinade into your heated saucepan, add 2 tbsp. red wine, and simmer on medium heat until marinade has reduced and thickened slightly (about 5 minutes), stirring continuously.
  8. To plate your burgers, place a handful of arugula on each plate. Add grilled mushrooms and top with tomatoes and grilled onions. Drizzle with marinade reduction.
  9. Serve bunless portobello burgers with a glass or bottle of McGrail Patriot Cabernet Sauvignon. Enjoy!

Please let us know if you make this delightful veggie pairing! We’d love to hear from you.

Cheers and enjoy!

Wine at Home

Spicy Citrus Scallops & Cabbage & Sparkling -OR- Sauvignon…

By Laina Carter of McGrail Vineyards

Can’t choose between our Gracie Sparkling and Peyton Paige Sauvignon Blanc? That’s okay; neither can I. This dish works with both of these delightfully crisp, refreshing wines. Either combo is godsent on a hot day, which we’ve had plenty of lately. The soft, creamy texture of the scallops tones down the heat of the cayenne and jalapeño, and both are brightened by a splash of citrus. Each of these flavors combine to complement our Gracie and Peyton Paige wines.

Spicy Citrus Scallops & Cabbage Salad

Makes about 6 servings.

  • 1 lb. frozen scallops
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • 2 cups Napa cabbage, thinly shredded
  • 1 cup red cabbage, thinly shredded
  • 8 oz. mung bean sprouts
  • 2 green onions, sliced thinly
  • 1 cup fresh-squeezed orange juice
  • 1/2 cup fresh-squeezed tangerine or clementine juice
  • 1/3 cup fresh-squeezed lime juice
  • 2 tsp. minced garlic
  • 1 jalapeño, seeds removed, minced, separated
  • 1/4 tsp. cayenne powder, separated
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • 3 blood oranges, peeled and sliced thinly
  • 2 avocados, peeled, pitted, and sliced thinly
  1. Soak frozen scallops in a large bowl of water overnight or for up to 24 hours to defrost and minimize fishiness.
  2. Heat olive oil in a griddle or frying pan on high (about 400 degrees F).
  3. In a large salad bowl, combine Napa cabbage, red cabbage, bean sprouts, and green onion. Mix well.
  4. In a small bowl, combine orange juice, tangerine juice, lime juice, minced garlic, 3/4 jalapeño, 1/8 tsp. cayenne, and salt and pepper to taste, to create the dressing.
  5. Use a paper towel to pat the scallops dry. Season with salt, pepper, and remaining jalapeño, and cayenne. Allow to sit at room temperature for twenty minutes.
  6. Sear the scallops in the pre-heated griddle for about 4 minutes per side, or until cooked through. Add small spoonfuls of dressing over scallops as they sear for added flavor.
  7. Dress the salad and plate it. Top with avocado, blood orange, and seared scallops.

I hope I’ve inspired you to make this delightful summertime dish to enjoy with one of our yummy chilled wines! Please let us know if you do end up enjoying this pairing at home. We’d love to hear from you!

Cheers and enjoy!

Wine at Home

Semi-Sweet Summertime Grilled Fruit Spongecake & Gracie Sparkling

By Laina Carter of McGrail Vineyards & Winery

The versatility of sparkling wine always gets me super excited! It can go with pretty much anything and everything, but it’s also always delicious on its own or in a cocktail. Since we don’t currently have any sweet wines, it’s hard for me to come up with pairings that involve anything even semi-sweet. Berries and spongecake work well with our Gracie Sparkling Brut, because they both contain little sugar. The baked good aspect of the spongecake matches the hint of yeast in the bubbles. And berries with bubbles is always a good idea. I hope you enjoy this treat that is as tasty as it is beautiful with our equally gorgeous Gracie Sparkling!

Grilled Summertime Fruit Skewers, Berry Compote Spongecake, Dreamy Caramel, & Whipped Cream

Makes about 6 servings.

  • 6 bamboo skewers, at least 6” long
  • 2 1/2 cup fresh raspberries, washed and separated
  • 8 large strawberries, washed and separated
  • 2 tbsp. fresh-squeezed orange juice
  • 1 tbsp. fresh-squeezed lime juice
  • 1 tsp. fresh-ground ginger
  • 1/4 cup granulated white sugar
  • 5 apricots, washed
  • 6 (1 oz.) spongecakes
  • Caramel sauce
  • Whipped cream
  • Optional: edible flowers for a garnish
  1. Pre-heat grill on low.
  2. Place bamboo skewers in a shallow bowl and cover with water. Allow skewers to soak in water until you are ready to use them. This prevents them from burning when they are on the grill.
  3. In a small saucepan, add 1 1/2 cups raspberries, three large strawberries, orange juice, lime juice, fresh ginger, and two pinches of sugar to create the berry compote. Heat on medium and use a large spoon to mash the fruit and stir ingredients together.
  4. Once fruit mixture begins bubbling, reduce heat to low and continue to stir occasionally. Allow fruit to simmer for about 10 minutes.
  5. Remove fruit from heat and allow to cool.
  6. In a shallow bowl, add remaining granulated sugar. Cut the apricots and the remaining strawberries in half. Remove pits from apricots. Dredge your halved strawberries and apricots face-down in sugar.
  7. Place sugared strawberries and apricots face up on a plate. Being careful not to remove any sugar from the fruit, use your wet bamboo sticks to create skewers with alternating apricots and strawberries (I used three pieces of fruit per skewer). You will have a few pieces of fruit left over.
  8. On the grill, place each skewer face-down. Leave the grill open and grill each skewer for about 1-2 minutes, or until sugar has caramelized on fruit.
  9. Place each spongecake on a small plate. Spoon enough berry compote on the spongecake to fill the center of the cake. Top the cake with a drizzle of caramel sauce (optional), a few sprays of whipped cream, and a grilled fruit skewer. Garnish with the remaining fresh raspberries and edible flowers (optional).
  10. Serve with a glass or two of our chilled Gracie Sparkling Brut.

I hope I’ve inspired you to make this pretty pairing at home! Please let us know if you try this one out. We’d love to hear from you!

Cheers and enjoy!

Wine at Home

Independence Day Patriot Pairings

By Laina Carter of McGrail Vineyards

If you don’t fire up the grill on our Day of Independence, are you even American? One of my family’s oldest traditions is our July 4th ritual of throwing steaks, burgers, hot dogs, veggies, and just about anything else grill-able over the massive fire pit grill at my family’s ranch in the Livermore hills, while sipping on some yummy, locally-sourced beverages. Since McGrail’s Patriot Cabernet is the quintessential Independence Day drink, I’ve got some delicious pairings for this wine that can be tossed on the grill this 4th of July!

When asked what makes this wine so special, Heather McGrail said, “Patriot Cabernet is a favorite at McGrail and a tribute to all of those that serve our country and communities. This 100% Cabernet Sauvignon was first produced in 2009 and was a wine for a cause for the four Oakland Police Officers that lost their lives in the line of duty. Following our first vintage, we have continued to donate a portion of the proceeds to the families of lost heroes from police, fire, and military. Our Patriot Cabernet is produced using 100% new American oak and has beautiful aromas of dark cherry, berry, vanilla, and a hint of cocoa.” Personally, the Patriot is one of my favorite McGrail Cabs because of its rich, velvety mouthfeel and the delightful notes of vanilla, roasted coffee, and sweet campfire s’mores the wine derives from the new American oak it’s aged in. Below are some recipes to enjoy alongside this special Cabernet.

Grilled Bacon-Wrapped Cabbage Skewers

Makes about 6 servings, with two skewers per serving.

Having been aged in new oak for thirty months, our Patriot Cabernet can certainly come across as big and tannic for some palates. Pairing tannic wines with foods that contain fat is awesome for those who aren’t overly enthusiastic about that boldness, because the fat in the food combines with certain compounds in our saliva and creates a sort of layer of that fat that tones down the tannins in the wine. This is one of the reasons I love this pairing so much! But also, who doesn’t love bacon?

  • 12 bamboo skewers, at least 6″ long
  • 12 oz. red cabbage, cut into 12 equally sized squares
  • 1 lb. thick-sliced bacon (about 12 slices), uncooked
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Garlic powder
  • Optional: micro greens for a garnish
  1. Place bamboo skewers in a shallow bowl, add water and soak skewers for at least 10 minutes to prevent them from burning while on the grill.
  2. Pre-heat your grill on medium-high, or about 400 degrees F.
  3. Take each piece of bacon and wrap it tightly around your red cabbage squares. Use your bamboo skewers to secure the bacon on the cabbage.
  4. Liberally sprinkle salt, pepper, and garlic powder over both sides of each of your cabbage skewers.
  5. Set the cabbage skewers on the grill, reduce heat to low, or about 300 degrees F, and close the lid on the grill.
  6. Cook cabbage skewers on each of four sides for about three minutes (about 12 minutes in total), checking on cabbage about once a minute to ensure bacon fat doesn’t catch fire. Cooking time will vary depending on your grill and the size of each skewer. Skewers will be done when all bacon has been cooked through and cabbage has become soft.
  7. Serve bacon-wrapped cabbage over a bed of micro greens (optional) and with a glass of McGrail Patriot Cabernet Sauvignon!

Grilled Balsamic Parmesan Artichokes

Makes about 4 servings, with 2 artichoke quarters per serving.

Another food I love with our bold Cabernets is a sharp cheese. Freshly grated parmesan is one of those cheeses that can be so great with a big Cab and it can be even further complemented by some classic balsamic vinegar reduction. This hearty grilled artichoke is amazing with the parmesan and balsamic and a glass of the Patriot Cabernet.

  • Two large whole, organic artichokes
  • 1 tbsp. minced garlic
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • 1 1/2 tbsp. balsamic vinegar reduction
  • 2 tbsp. grated parmesan cheese
  1. In a large pot or deep pan with a steam basket, bring one inch of water to a boil.
  2. Wash your artichokes well. Cut about 1/2″-1″ off the top of the artichoke and trim the stem to about 1 1/2″. Using a large, serrated knife, cut the artichokes into quarters. Use a spoon to scoop out the furry insides.
  3. Set each quarter into the steam basket and cover. Steam the artichokes for about 30 minutes.
  4. Pre-heat your grill to medium heat.
  5. Once artichokes have been steamed, sprinkle insides with minced garlic, salt, and pepper.
  6. Place each quarter face-down on the grill and grill for about two minutes on each side.
  7. Plate the quarters, face-up. Drizzle with balsamic reduction and sprinkle with freshly grated parmesan.
  8. Enjoy with a glass of McGrail Patriot Cabernet!

Garlic Parmesan Mashed Potatoes & Rosemary Rib Eye

Last, but certainly not least, our Patriot is perfect paired with classic steak and mashed potatoes. This is a tried and true, classic Cabernet pairing that couldn’t be more fitting for America’s day of Independence. Again, I’ve chosen to add parmesan to these potatoes, as it really complements the wine so well.

Makes about 4 servings.

  • 1 lb. rib eye
  • 2 tbsp. steak rub (I used 5 Mary’s)
  • 3 medium russet potatoes, washed and peeled
  • 1/2 cup skim milk
  • 1/3 cup freshly grated parmesan
  • 1 tbsp. minced garlic
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Garlic powder
  • 4 sprigs rosemary
  1. In a large pot, bring 4 quarts of water to a boil.
  2. Pre-heat your grill to high heat.
  3. Remove your steaks from the refrigerator and cut into four equal parts. Rub each steak piece liberally with your favorite steak rub. Cover and allow to sit at room temperature for about 20 minutes.
  4. Cut your peeled potatoes into 2″ cubes. Boil your cubed potatoes for about 15-20 minutes, or until soft enough to mash.
  5. Use a potato masher to mash your boiled potatoes. Add milk, parmesan, minced garlic, salt, and pepper and stir well.
  6. Season steaks with salt, pepper, and garlic powder, then place on the grill. Grill steaks for about 3 minutes on each side, then repeat (for about 6 minutes total per side), or until steaks have reached desired done-ness. Place a sprig of rosemary on top of each steak after the last flip.
  7. Place steaks on a plate and cover. Allow to sit for about five minutes.
  8. In a bowl or small plate, place one large scoop of mashed potatoes and one cut of steak with a sprig of rosemary as a garnish.
  9. Enjoy steak and parmesan mashed potatoes with a glass of McGrail Patriot Cabernet Sauvignon.

I hope I’ve inspired you to make some of these deliciously patriotic dishes for your Independence Day celebration! Please let us know if you do make any of these dishes. We’d love to hear from you!

Cheers and enjoy!

Wine at Home

Fast Food & Wine Pairings

By Laina Carter of McGrail Vineyards

With a global pandemic and a shelter-in-place order came economic recession and unprecedented job loss in the United States. As a result, what became a necessity for American people was comfort and frugality. Said need for comfort and frugality can be satiated in many forms, but food usually tends to be the most favorable for many Americans, myself included. The reality that many people living in the United States have lost their jobs as the result of a global pandemic was our team’s inspiration for this series of fast food/takeout pairings that are as delightfully delicious as they are inexpensive.

The idea that good wine has to be paired with fancy food is, quite frankly, crap. Even the cheapest, greasiest fast food can be perfectly complemented by a great glass of vino. Please allow me to walk you through one of my favorite projects yet.

FAQs, Answered

Did you eat all this fast food on your own?

I can imagine how someone might be concerned with my health after this project, as this is clearly a lot of fast food for one person to consume. Please rest assured this project took place over several weeks and I did not consume a single item featured here on my own, nor do I eat fast food regularly. I almost always brought the remaining bites to the winery to hear our team’s take on the pairings.

Did all the pairings work?

For transparency, I’ve included some pairings at the end that just didn’t work. Expecting a food item to pair with a wine is like playing an educated guessing game. You can use the rules of pairing to make your choices, but not all pairings will work out the way you might hope. Even when you’ve encountered a pairing failure, you’re left with a bottle of delicious wine and something greasy to eat. Things could be a lot worse.

Now for the Pairings…

Patriot Cabernet Sauvignon & Wendy’s Baconator

Like I mentioned before, I don’t eat fast food all that much, so when I asked for the Western bacon cheeseburger at the Wendy’s drive-thru, I could tell there was some confusion surrounding my order. I suppose I meant to pair this wine with Carl’s Jr.’s ~famous~ Western Bacon Cheeseburger, but luckily, Wendy’s Baconator barbecue cheeseburger stepped in and filled its shoes. This BBQ bacon cheeseburger-Cabernet combo is quite the catch. The burger has enough fat and flavor to not be overtaken by the tannins of this smooth, but bold wine. It doesn’t get more patriotic than this duo. I mean, seriously, what’s more American than a BBQ bacon cheeseburger from a fast food joint?

McGrail Family Chardonnay & KFC’s Famous Bowl

You’re probably wondering what the heck a Famous Bowl is comprised of. That’s fair. I didn’t know either. A Famous Bowl is a few scoops of KFC’s mashed potatoes, a spoonful of gravy, a healthy amount of corn, some shredded cheese, and little crispy pieces of chicken. The Chardonnay meshes well with both the seasonings in the chicken breading and the chicken itself, as well as with the buttery corn and the cheesiness on top. I was surprised at how effortlessly the Chardonnay and the Famous Bowl worked together.

Gracie Sparkling Brut & Jack in the Box Curly Fries

For some reason I feel like food from Jack in the Box is always just slightly greasier and crispier than food from other fast food places, not that it’s a bad thing. What I love about these curly fries is that the shape is super fun, but they’re also coated in some kind of magical seasoning that makes them tastier than the average fry. It’s not difficult to get behind this magically flavorful pairing.

McGrail Merlot, Picazo Vineyard & Wienerschnitzel’s Chili Beef Dog on a Pretzel Bun

The meatiness of the combination of the all-beef frank and delicious Wienerschnitzel chili stands up to the boldness of this big, Cabernet lover’s Merlot. Everything is better on a pretzel bun and a chili beef dog is no exception. Somehow the complete amalgamation of this fast and easy take on an American classic complements the acidity and tannins in this French-oak-aged wine. The combo is smooth and just friggin’ tasty.

A Jó Élet, “the Good Life,” Cabernet Sauvignon -OR- Sláinte Red Blend & McDonald’s Big Mac

There were two things that really surprised me about McDonald’s Big Mac. First, I couldn’t actually believe how perfectly fluffy the bun was with the little sesame seeds so neatly sprinkled on top. It was like something from a commercial. Secondly, I couldn’t believe that people actually willingly eat these things. It was the world’s okay-est hamburger. Nevertheless, it’s still a hamburger, which means it will probably pair well with a nice red wine. Luckily, our Good Life Cab and Sláinte Red Blend took care of the job and actually enhance the burger. If you’re a fan of the Big Mac, I’m sorry. Still, check this pairing out for yourself.

Kylie Ryan Rosé & KFC’s Popcorn Chicken with Finger Lickin’ Good Sauce

I know what you’re thinking. Any restaurant that dares use the phrase “finger lickin’ good” is majorly cringey. This pairing worked and it worked best with the unfortunately named sauce (not pictured), as it offered a bit of creaminess, a bit of spice, and a bit of acidity that balanced out those same flavors in this delicious wine. When I had our team try this pairing, they had a hard time figuring out just what the sauce was all about. Cris said it was like a honey mustard sauce and Joy said it was reminiscent of a thousand island dressing. With no description for the sauce on KFC’s website, the true identity of the foul-named sauce remains a mystery. What we do know about it is that it pairs well with our Rosé and I guess that’s all that really matters.

C. Tarantino Cabernet Sauvignon & Taco Bell’s Mexican Pizza

One of the things I love most about our C. Tarantino Cabernet is its gorgeous acidity. A wine that is as smooth and drinkable as this Cab deserves to be paired with a dish that is just as lovely. Taco Bell’s Mexican pizza really fit the bill for me. The fried tortillas, creamy refried beans, T. Bell’s mild sauce, the melted cheese, and those teeny, tiny tomatoes create a perfect pairing that simply balances the gorgeous acidity in the wine.

McGrail Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve -OR- James Vincent Cabernet Sauvignon & Foster’s Freeze’s Texas Toast Cheeseburger

Prior to this project, I think it had been a decade or so since the last time I had been to Foster’s Freeze. In all honesty, I didn’t even remember them having anything other than ice cream, so this sandwich was a surprise in itself. I was excited to try this burger because Texas toast is always good. The burger alone wasn’t as great as I had hoped, but I was surprised at how well it paired with these wines. The sandwich was big, buttery and toasty, which allowed it to work with these Cabs. I couldn’t pick a favorite between the Cab Reserve and the James Vincent with the burger, so I’m recommending both. Each wine does a great job of making the sandwich taste better.

McGrail Family Chardonnay & McDonald’s Apple Pie

Did you know McDonald’s has an apple pie? Not many people do. This warm, gooey, classic American pastry pairs effortlessly with our crisp, fruit-forward Chardonnay. The cinnamon, apple, and sweet vanilla in the pie matches each of those same notes in the wine. It’s a match made in apple heaven.

Colton’s Cabernet -OR- McGrail Malbec & In N Out Double-Double Cheeseburger with Grilled Onions

I wasn’t really sure what wine would work best with California’s favorite burger, so I tried more than one. The mixture of creaminess of the spread sauce and the cheese with the acid in the tomato and grilled onions made me think a big, bold Cab might not be the perfect match for this choice cheeseburger. It turns out our old-world-style Colton’s Cabernet and our Malbec are proper companions for the burger, so I’ve recommended both to go alongside it.

Austin James Cabernet Sauvignon & Taco Bell’s Beefy Fritos Burrito

As any of our staff will tell you, Taco Bell is a favorite at McGrail. It’s the cuisine we most commonly crave and are quick to devour on crazy Saturday afternoons at the winery. Like the regular bean and cheese burrito, a staple in the diet of most McGrailians, the Beefy Fritos Burrito also contains the creamy refried beans and cheese and yummy mild sauce. Unlike the regular burrito, this one contains salty, crunchy Fritos chips and the ever-tasty, but undistinguishable Taco Bell beef. The saltiness, boldness, and acid of this burrito tap into all the best parts of our Austin James Cabernet, making it a truly terrific Taco Bell pairing.

McGrail Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve & Habit Burger’s Garden Burger

I really wasn’t sure what wine would work with this burger, but I knew I wanted to include at least one vegan/vegetarian burger. The plant-based patty was surprisingly bold enough to stand up to our Cab Reserve. The burger was actually really good and I was glad to find that this pairing worked as well as it did.

Kylie Ryan Rosé & Popeyes Cajun Fries

Anyone who knows anything about Cajun food knows that it is generally well seasoned and sometimes a little bit spicy; these fries refuse to be left out of this generalization. Like Jack in the Box’s curly fries, these Cajun fries are seasoned to perfection. The flavorful crunch on the outside is met with soft, luscious potato goodness on the inside. The creamy vanilla and slight effervescence in the Rosé tame the bite from seasoning and complements the starch from the potato very nicely.

McGrail Family Chardonnay & KFC’s Mac & Cheese

I’m someone who really loves mac and cheese. It might actually be one of my favorite foods, so I had pretty high hopes for this stuff. By itself, KFC’s mac and cheese was just alright. I think my standards may be more heavily weighted on cheesiness than they are on creaminess, and this dish definitely had more of the latter. It could’ve even just had an off day. I don’t know. However, I’m glad to say it paired just right with our Charlie Rae Chardonnay, 100% of which goes through malolactic fermentation, making it super creamy and buttery. Each matches the other’s elite level of creaminess, which is why this works so well.

Shamus Patrick Red Blend -OR- Malbec & Jack in the Box Tacos

Other than the shredded lettuce and orange-colored oil that permeates through both the shell of the taco and the sleeve in which it comes, I don’t think anyone really knows what the heck is inside a Jack in the Box taco. I guess it doesn’t really matter what you’re eating when you’re devouring these greasy beasts at 2am after a night out. Perhaps this is the question that swiftly and steadily envelops my mind when I’m eating one of these beloved tacos sans four G&Ts. Anyway, it’s hard to hate on these tacos, even when you are stone-cold sober. Our Shamus Patrick Bordeaux style Red Blend is medium-bodied with beautiful acidity that complements whatever it is these tacos are made of. Our super drinkable Malbec works just as well, but is not pictured here. Yum.

Gracie Sparkling Brut & McDonald’s French Fries

McDonald’s has the best French fries. Don’t @ me. They’re crispy, crunchy, salty, and just perfectly greasy. The starch in the potatoes meshes well with the yeast in the method de champenoise Sparkling Brut. Though it’s simple and maybe boring to some, this pairing is easy, classic, and it just works.

Sláinte Red Blend -OR- A Jó Élet, “the Good Life,” Cabernet Sauvignon & Foster’s Freeze’s Chili Burger with Cheese

As I mentioned before, I don’t think I had been to Foster’s Freeze in ten years prior to this project, so I was excited to try try this burger. I chose this chili burger because I figured it would be a safe bet—I think it’s really difficult to make bad chili and because as long as a chili is mild, the acidity will always work with the acidity in a good red wine. And of course I had to add cheese, because you can’t have chili without cheese, or at least I can’t. Anyway, this burger was actually pretty darn tasty and it seemed to really pair best with both our Sláinte Red Blend and our A Jó Élet, “the Good Life,” Cabernet Sauvignon (not pictured).

Peyton Paige Sauvignon Blanc & Wienerschnitzel’s Jalapeño Poppers

One of the most common pairing rules says that crisp blush wines and white wines, like Sauvignon Blanc, can and should be paired with spicy foods. Ten percent of our Sauvignon Blanc was fermented in neutral oak barrels, which lends this wine a creamy mouthfeel; this helps to tone down the spiciness from the jalapeño and meets the creaminess of the mozzarella inside these fried poppers. This is just a really nice partnership.

James Vincent Cabernet Sauvignon -OR- McGrail Cabernet Sauvignon & Habit Burger’s Char Burger

I actually think this was the first time I’ve ever had a Habit Burger burger and I’ve got to say this flame-grilled burger was perfection. I think the fact the burger was charred gave it a certain toasty-ness that allowed it to stand up to our big, delicious Cabs. Again, I couldn’t choose which one worked better, so I’m going to suggest pairing it with either the James Vincent Cabernet or the McGrail Cabernet Reserve. This was a really just well-rounded, classic pairing.

Charlie Rae Chardonnay & Popeyes Spicy Chicken Sandwich

Remember a few months ago when these spicy chicken sandwiches were all the craze? Like, people would be queued up for hours just to get their hands on one of these babies. Honestly, it was probably worth it. These sandwiches are incredible. The buns are so soft, buttery, and toasty. The chicken is crispy on the outside and tender and juicy on the inside. The spicy mayonnaise and pickles tie the sandwich together and it all tastes even better with our delightfully buttery Charlie Rae Chardonnay. This might be one of my favorite pairings ever.

What Didn’t Work:

Sláinte Red Blend & a Wienerschnitzel Corn Dog

I chose to try this pairing because I had read somewhere that corn dogs can be paired with a Grenache or lighter-bodied red wine. Even though Sláinte is our most delicate red wine, the flavors ultimately just clashed. When I brought the leftovers to the winery, our Assistant Winemaker suggested pairing the corn dog with a Chardonnay, which was definitely a more suitable pairing. I can also imagine the corn dog being great with our Gracie Sparkling Brut.

McGrail Malbec & Habit Burger’s Tri Tip Sandwich

I really wanted this one to work, but for some reason it just didn’t. I think this was not a compatible pairing because there was a creamy sort of sauce on the sandwich and a semi-sweet teriyaki sauce on the meat that didn’t agree with the Malbec. We also tried it with the Sláinte Red Blend and it was slightly better than with the Malbec, but I think some foods just aren’t good for pairing with wine. Still, I will say this was my first time trying this sandwich and it was SO GOOD. The ciabatta bread was buttered and crispy, the meat was super tender and moist, and the flavors of the entire sandwich combined perfectly. And, of course, the Malbec will forever be one of my favorites.

That’s All, Folks!

As always, please let us know if you try any of these pairings, if you come up with your own McGrail wine and fast food pairings. We’d love to hear from you!

Cheers and enjoy!

Wine at Home

All Wine & Food Pairing Recipes

Wondering what to make for dinner tonight? Simply choose your favorite McGrail wine and follow one of our recommended pairing recipes linked below!

A Jó Élet, “The Good Life,” Cabernet Sauvignon

Austin James Cabernet Sauvignon

Bacon-Wrapped Filet Mignon Bites with Sriracha Horseradish Dipping Sauce and the 2016 Austin James Cabernet Sauvignon

C. Tarantino Cabernet Sauvignon

Marinara & Ricotta Meatball Poppers on Toasted Garlic Bread with the 2016 C. Tarantino Cabernet Sauvignon

Charlie Rae Chardonnay

2018 Charlie Rae Chardonnay and d’Anjou Pear White Balsamic and Butter Popcorn

Colton’s Cabernet Sauvignon

Gracie Sparkling Brut


James Vincent Cabernet Sauvignon

Kylie Ryan Rosé

2019 Kylie Ryan Rosé with Shrimp and Citrus Ceviche in Endive Spears

Malbec, Lucky 8 Vineyard

McGrail Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve

McGrail Clone 8 Cabernet Sauvignon

McGrail Family Chardonnay

Crispy Stuffed Parmesan Pesto Crimini Mushrooms Paired with the 2018 McGrail Family Chardonnay

McGrail Merlot, Picazo Vineyard

Patriot Cabernet Sauvignon

Grilled Bacon-Wrapped Cabbage Skewers, Grilled Balsamic Parmesan Artichokes, & Garlic Parmesan Mashed Potatoes & Rosemary Rib Eye & 2016 Patriot Cabernet
Grilled Bacon-Wrapped Cabbage Skewers, Grilled Balsamic Parmesan Artichokes, & Garlic Parmesan Mashed Potatoes & Rosemary Rib Eye & 2016 Patriot Cabernet
Cheeseburger Tacos & 2016 Patriot Cabernet Sauvignon

Peyton Paige Sauvignon Blanc

Tequila Lime Tacos & 2019 Peyton Paige Sauvignon Blanc

Shamus Patrick Red Blend

2016 Shamus Patrick and Prosciutto Apple Balsamic Flatbread 

Sláinte Red Blend

Sweet Slow-Cooked BBQ Chicken Mango-Apple Tacos & 2017 Slainte Red Blend
Wine Cocktails

Red, White, & Rosé Summertime Sangrias

By Laina Carter of McGrail Vineyards

Although all our wines are delicious on their own, a heavy, tannic Cabernet isn’t always the most appealing on one of the many 100°+ days we have here in the Livermore Valley. An easy way to enjoy a red wine on an unbearably hot summer day is to make sangria with it (sorry, Mark)! That’s not to say just any of our wines should be used to make sangria, because that would be a blatant disrespect of the hard work our winemaking team has put into our beautiful, award-winning wines. In the most respectful, deliberate manner possible, I’ve created some delightful sangria recipes that complement the most prominent notes of three of our most affordable wines–Kylie Ryan Rosé, Peyton Paige Sauvignon Blanc, and Sláinte Red Blend, all of which are priced at under $40! Due to the affordability of these wines, you won’t feel like you’ve just wasted a topnotch bottle on what’s basically a fancy, adult fruit punch, but you also definitely won’t be left feeling rough the next day from using the cheap store-bought stuff.

These sangria recipes are fun, fruity, easy-to-drink, and always refreshing! Please let us know if you enjoy one of these delicious cocktails on a scorching summer day. We look forward to hearing from you!

Watermelon Strawberry Rosé Sparkler

What I love most about our Rosé is its unexpectedly round mouthfeel, its subtle effervescence, and the implied sweetness you get from the notes of strawberry, watermelon, citrus, and vanilla in this wine. It’s like candy in a glass, without containing any residual sugar at all. I chose to use watermelon, strawberries, cherries, raspberries, and lime in this cocktail because those five fruits are some of the most noticeable notes found in the wine and I think they complement it really well. I also used some sparkling water, because bubbles are undeniably enjoyable. The flavored vodkas I’ve recommended further enhance the flavors in this cocktail, as well, though each are very different from one another. Like the Rosé, the huckleberry vodka tastes just like candy, though it contains no sugar, while the St. George California citrus-flavored vodka plays into those crisp, lemon-lime notes. The choice is left up to you, but either way, I promise you will find this drink delectable!


  • 2 cups watermelon
  • 2/3 cup fresh squeezed lime juice
  • 1 cup strawberries, stems removed, chopped
  • 1 cup cherries, pitted, stems removed
  • 1 cup raspberries
  • 12 oz. sparkling water, lemon flavored or unflavored
  • 750 mL bottle 2019 McGrail Kylie Ryan Rosé
  • 1 cup vodka, huckleberry (44° North) or California citrus (St. George) flavor
  • 1/4 cup white granulated sugar


  1. In a food processor or blender, combine watermelon, lime juice, strawberries, cherries, and raspberries. Blend until smooth.
  2. Using a mesh strainer, strain seeds and pulp out of fruit puree (this will take a long time, but I promise it’s worth it).
  3. In a large pitcher, combine 2019 McGrail Kylie Ryan Rosé, flavored vodka, sugar, and strained fruit puree. Whisk well. Consume within four days of making.
  4. Enjoy your sangria in a wine or cocktail glass over ice and garnish with a sprig of fresh mint. Salud!

Citrus Sauvignon Blanc Summertime Sangria

Citrus, which is easily one of the most vibrant fruit flavors is also one of the most refreshing, in my opinion. Because there are so many lovely citrus notes in our Peyton Paige Sauvignon Blanc, I figured it would be the best to accompany this wine. You can also find notes of green apple in this crisp, white wine, which is another classic sangria ingredient. Departing from tradition, I added Patrón Citrónge Orange Liqueur, which I prefer to other citrus liquers, because it’s high quality and a 375 mL bottle costs about $7 at Trader Joe’s. Simply put, this white sangria is inexpensive and easy to make, thirst-quenching, and perfect for a hot day!


  • 1 green apple, seeded, chopped
  • 1 honeycrisp apple, seeded, chopped
  • 1 navel orange, sliced into half rounds
  • 2 blood oranges, sliced into half rounds
  • 1 pink grapefruit, sliced into half rounds
  • 1/2 cup fresh-squeezed lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup fresh-squeezed lime juice
  • 1/2 cup fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice
  • 1/3 cup fresh-squeezed orange juice
  • 1/4 cup granulated white sugar
  • 1 cup orange liquer (I used Patrón Orange Liqueur)
  • 750 mL bottle 2019 Peyton Paige Sauvignon Blanc
  • 12 oz. sparkling water, grapefruit flavored


  1. Add all fruit to a large pitcher.
  2. Add lemon juice, lime juice, grapefruit juice, orange juice, sugar, and orange liqueur. Whisk until sugar has dissolved.
  3. Add 2019 Peyton Paige Sauvignon Blanc and sparkling water. Stir well.
  4. Allow to sit for at least 2-3 hours to maximize the permeation of the fruit flavors in the sangria. Consume within four days of making.
  5. Enjoy in a wine or cocktail glass over ice and add fruit from pitcher to garnish!

Summery Sláinte Sangria

Last, but not least, I’ve gone slightly classic with this Sláinte sangria, using lemons, limes, oranges, and apples. However, the addition of the ginger beer (or ale) gives this sangria a splash of spice and some bubbles. Unlike classic Spanish sangria, this sangria includes our Sláinte Red Blend, which is composed of Cabernet Sauvignon and two Portuguese varietals, not the lighter-bodied Garnacha or Sangiovese you might find in traditional sangria. The addition of organic brown sugar and brown rum give this drink almost a tropical feel, but it’s still heavy on the classic citrus notes. This sangria is great for red wine lovers who might not want to sip on a bold Cab on one of the hottest days of the year.


  • 1 lemon
  • 1 lime
  • 1 orange
  • 1 green apple
  • 2 tbsp. organic turbinado cane sugar
  • 750 mL bottle Sláinte Red Blend
  • 1/2 cup dark Jamaican rum
  • 1 cup orange juice
  • 12 oz. ginger beer or ginger ale
  • 1 cinnamon stick


  1. Slice lemon, lime, and orange in 1/4″ rounds. Remove core from apple and chop into 1/2″ cubes.
  2. In a pitcher, add fruit, brown sugar, Sláinte Red Blend, rum, and orange juice. Stir well.
  3. Add ginger beer and cinnamon stick. Allow to sit in the refrigerator between 4 and 24 hours to allow drink to absorb fruit flavors.
  4. Serve over ice in a wine glass with your fruit of choice as a garnish.

I hope I’ve inspired you to chill out with these yummy McGrail sangrias at home! Please let us know if you do make any of these drinks and if you have any feedback. We’d love to hear from you!

Cheers and enjoy!