Gatherings from The Kitchn

10 Budget Wine Picks for a Polenta Dinner

updated Jun 5, 2019
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(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

It was ‘polenta party’ time at Faith’s house last week, and she served it with a delicious dish of beef braised in red wine. My mouth is watering already. So, the big question we pondered was, what wine or rather what wines to serve alongside this robust, meaty, yet creamy dish. Here are some thoughts on how to choose wines to go with this meal, and some specific budget picks.

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

Before coming up with options the most important thing I did was clarify with Faith the parameters in recommending wine options. Firstly, the wines needed to complement both the hearty braised beef and the creamy polenta. Secondly, I took into consideration the number of expected guests and most importantly Faith’s budget. As it is a party, and Faith was expecting about 10 people, we agreed that we needed to keep below $15 per bottle. This is not always easy if you are looking for interesting wines, but we did it.

Given that it is a party, we decided to come up a selection of wine options, so that guests can mix and match, explore how the different wines pair with the dish, and see if they like all the pairings or whether they have a few favorites.

We eat polenta a lot at our house so already I had lots of ideas about what I like to drink when polenta is on the table. That said I like to be adventurous as well and try something different every now and again.

Key Characteristics of the Wines

The richness in both the polenta and the braised beef, the creaminess in the polenta, and the protein-rich beef were all-important considerations in choosing the wines. I was looking for wines with sufficient tannin to cut through both the protein and the richness in the braised beef, as well as looking for sufficient acidity in the wines to contrast the creaminess of the polenta as well as lift the richness of the overall dish, and add complementary refreshment.

The body and flavor intensity of the wine are also important elements to consider. This is a fairly robust dish, so we needed medium-to-full bodied wines, but not so powerful (i.e. a blockbuster) that they overpower and kill the food. Similarly we needed a flavorful wine, a wine with a moderately-high to high flavor intensity to balance the rich flavors of the dish.

When it comes to the wines’ flavors you can become experimental, trying wines that are more mineral and savory, or wines that are more upfront and fruit driven. Both styles will work with this dish of braised beef and polenta.

(Image credit: David & Deborah Hopler)

Tips for Getting the Most Value for your Money

When I am looking for a good price to quality ratio I look to less famous and less well-known wine regions. In France I go to the Languedoc and the southwest to places like Cahors and Madiran. I might also veer toward a good Côtes du Rhône. Beaujolais often gets overlooked because of the whole ‘Nouveau’ phenomenon, but a good Beaujolais Villages has enough tannin, body and flavor to stand up to this dish.

If I am veering toward Italy, I might seek out a simple Chianti Rufina from Tuscany, a Dolcetto from Piedmont or something from Sicily in the south. And if Spain takes my fancy I can have a field day choosing anything from a keenly priced Rioja to a Navarro or Campo de Borja or even a Monsant or Toro.

For the more adventurous out there I would suggest giving Austria or Greece a twirl. Zweigelt from Austria’s Burgenland, Xinomavro fro northern Greece or Agiorgitiko from the Peloponnese will all pair really well with this dish.

Finally if I am after a more fruit driven wine from the New World. I would probably opt for a juicy Malbec from Argentina, a vibrant California Zinfandel and even an modest Australian Shiraz.

Mary’s Top 10 Great Value Red Wine Picks for Faith’s Party

I could list 20+ actual wines that I would enjoy with Faith’s delicious polenta and Beef Braised in Red Wine, but to make things simple I have narrowed my list to ten wines that I especially love, wines that offer an excellent price to quality ratio and wines that are fairly well distributed around the United States.


  • 2011 Rimbert “Travers de Marceau”, St. Chinian, Languedoc, $15 – Made from predominantly old vines (60 years+) this is a blend of Mourvèdre, Syrah, Carignan, Cinsault. A longtime favorite in our house. Packed with flavor.
  • 2010 Pierre Laplace, Madiran, Southwest France $13 – A blend of the local Tannat grape variety and Cabernet Sauvignon. Another firm family favorite for the flavor it delivers for $13
  • 2011 Louis Jadot Beaujolais Villages, France, $13 – Louis Jadot, a legend all over Burgundy, this is a solid, flavorful well-structured minerally Beaujolais.
  • 2010 Bodegas Borsao “Tres Picos” Campo de Borja, Spain $12 – 100% made from Garnacha. Campo de Borja is south of Navarra and east of the Rioja region in Spain.
  • 2007 Campo Viejo Rioja Reserva, Spain, $14 – A long-time, consistent easy-drinking pleaser from Rioja.
  • 2010 Peter Lehmann Shiraz, Barossa Valley, $14 – Under $20 tis is one of my favorite Aussie Shiraz wines – packed with flavor but not too bold.
  • 2010 Bodega Diamandes “Perlita” Malbec Mendoza, Argentina $14 – Malbec, always great with beef. This is the little ‘brother’ of the DiamAndes I reviewed a few weeks back for Wine of the Week. Softer mouth feel but nonetheless delicious.
  • 2010 Ecker Eckhof Zweigelt, Burgenland, Austria, $13 – Don’t be put off by the name – a delicious wine
  • 2009 Domaine Spiropoulos “Red Stag” Agiorgitiko, Nemea, Greece $15 – the modern, clean label with a drawing of a red stag makes up for the complicated name!
  • 2010 Vallone di Cecione, Anichini, Chianti Classico $15 – For its attractive price point this Chianti Classico more than delivers


Wine Notes from Faith: I picked up four bottles of wine for this party, all from $12 to $15. I easily found the Tres Picos and Peter Lehmann Shiraz, but I couldn’t find any of Mary’s French or Italian picks (I live in Ohio and she lives in New York, so there is always a difference in what’s available to the two of us). But my wine guy recommended the Morgon, a wine from the Beaujolais region that was really nice with the beef. I had to have something Italian on the table, so we also went with a Chianti Classico that had a good balance of tannins to complement the food. Delicious all round!
(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

Photographs: David & Deborah Hopler of D Squared Photography and Video