A display of various wines

Grape Expectations

The leaves are fading, the holidays looming. Which means it’s not too soon to start thinking about wine pairings for Thanksgiving. If you’re into hands-on research, consider heading to Des Moines for the Hawkeye State’s third annual Premier Wine & Food Expo. Feeling ambitious? Branch out—there are more than a dozen wineries within an hour of Des Moines. Below, an itinerary for Des Moines, plus great grapes nearby:

Down Under’s Top Chef

There’s eye candy as well as things to tantalize your taste buds during the Wine & Food Expo on November 12th and 13th at Des Moines’ Iowa Events Center. Celebrity chef Curtis Stone—the Australian star of “Take Home Chef” and one of People magazine’s Sexiest Men Alive in 2006—hosts cooking demos on Friday and Saturday. When he’s not heating things up in the kitchen, Stone will sign books in the Expo’s “meet and greet zone.” The Expo will also feature lessons in chocolate making, provided by chocolatiers from Des Moines’ 97-year-old Chocolaterie Stam; a presentation on eco-friendly kitchens, courtesy of designers from the Silent Rivers firm in Clive, Iowa; and a talk on basic food and wine pairings by the folks at Cru Wine Online. Other Expo highlights include a “Sampling Zone” where for $12 you can taste dozens of wines and micro-beers and visit dozens of exhibitors ranging from Amish cabinetmakers to purveyors of Cajun hot sauce.

Where to stay: For deluxe amenities, try the Suites of 800 Locust (800 Locust St.; 515-288-5800, 800locust.com); rates range from $149 for a standard room to $525 for the presidential suite, which features a wet bar and 70-foot atrium.

GO Iowa’s Premier Wine & Food Expo, November 12th and 13th at Hy-Vee Hall in the Iowa Events Center (730 3rd St., Des Moines). Tickets are $21 for a day pass and $37 for a two-day pass. For more information, go to wineandfoodexpoiowa.com or call 866-553-2457.

DIY Wine Trails

If you’ve got full day or more, consider exploring Iowa’s wine trail, a route that crisscrosses the state as it winds past eight wineries. (For a listing of the wineries, click here; for the trail’s map, click here.) Less than a day to spare? Here are three wineries worth investigating, all within an hour of Des Moines:

  1. Jasper Winery (2400 George Flagg Pkwy., Des Moines; 515-282-9463, jasperwinery.com). Family owned and minutes from downtown Des Moines, the Jasper Winery uses grapes from throughout central Iowa as well as its on-site vineyards. Among its classics: Lucy Lane, a Concord red that goes well with cheesecake (and is named after the family dog).
  2. Summerset Winery (15101 Fairfax St., Indianola; 515-961-3545, summersetwine.com). Summerset has about two dozen wines, all from Iowa grapes. Its best seller is its Caba Moch, but it also offers seasonal favorites, including mead.
  3. White Oak Vineyards (15065 NE White Oak Dr., Cambridge; 515-367-7777, whiteoakvineyards.com). Three generations of Harmeyer family work the White Oak vineyards, crafting small-batch wines, including their best-selling Summer Breeze (sweet and white) and St. Croix (dry and red).