With Thanksgiving season upon us, many tend to stress out over the elaborate meal about to be consumed – “Do I wet-brine or dry-brine the turkey? Do I brine the turkey at all? How big a turkey? What sides should I serve? What’s a Parsnip, and who named it that? In what grocery store aisle does one actually find those little fried onion pieces that get sprinkled over the green bean casserole? What exactly IS a green bean casserole?
And then there’s the wine selection. The last thing one really needs to worry about when heading to town to buy that toilet paper roll-long list of groceries needed to complete the holiday feast, is what wines to buy. And while many store owners are happy to steer their customers in the right direction, let’s remember that they also are selling products, and will invariably point you in the direction of something that they probably got a good deal on and have a big stack of.
So, Let’s not turn Thanksgiving into ‘Thinksgiving!’ Let’s de-mystify it a bit, and go off the beaten path while we’re at it, as Thanksgiving, for all its significance and pageantry, is really quite a simple meal, and the wine selection process should be a simple endeavour, too. That said, let’s categorize it, breaking down the day into three parts: Before Turkey, During Turkey, and After Turkey. That’s how my family does it each year, and it helps define the day, and the drinking.
This is the part of the day that’s devoted to prepping the meal by those in the kitchen, each with a certain job, like peeling chestnuts for the stuffing, making the mashed potatoes, etc (the turkey went in the oven before everyone arrived); and to lending moral support to those in the kitchen by the family members that are less culinarily inclined. They do things like set the table, report the game score, and open the bottles of wine that go with the appetizer spread that’s out for everyone. Some families might not do appetizers. We do, and it usually involves a good amount of wine consumption help wash them down. We usually drink non-vintage Champagne, but any sparkling wine will do. We’ve also done Cava, Italian sparkling wine, and even sparkling wines from New York and California. Mixing it up each year is a good thing. Here are a few that are good options (all bottle prices retail 750ml):
Mumm Cordon Rouge (NV), France, $45. One of the great NV Champagnes, made since the 1840s. You can’t go wrong.
Nicolas Feuillatte Brut Réserve (NV), France $37. One of the top champagne makers in the world, a personal favorite.
Pere Ventura Tresor Reserva, Cava, Spain, $17. A beautiful wine, and major bargain. Truly an artisan Cava. This is a small production family owned producer who makes some of the best bubbles south of Reims.
Italian Sparkling Wine:
Ferrari Perlé Brut Trento, $42. A well known and well-made sparkler from Trentino. One of Italy’s top producers. Great name, even better bubbles
Note: there are many good choices for Italian sparkling wines, including wines from Franciacorta, and Prosecco, which we drink all year. Want a Prosecco? Try Ruffino’s DOC Prosecco, $15.
Chateau Frank Blanc de Blancs (NV), Finger Lakes, $30
Chateau Frank Celebre (NV), Finger Lakes, $21. (Crémant style sparkling wine)
Both these wines are award-winning sparklers, consistently rated at the top of the game.
Iron Horse Classic Vintage Brut, Sonoma, $40. Classic Indeed! From Joy Sterling, one of Sonoma’s great ambassadors.
There are many many sparkling wine options. Too many to list. Good sparkling wine is made all over the world now, with great representation also coming from countries like Austria, New Zealand, and South Africa.
For those who do not like Bubbles, there are also many still wine options. We tend to offer something fresh and lively, like Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand. Brancott Estate Sauvignon Blanc ($13), is a good choice here. For Chardonnay folks, try the Isabel Mondavi Chardonnay ($30) from California, a truly wonderful wine from Carneros fruit made by Isabel, Michael, Rob, and Dina Mondavi. This wine is also a good choice for those who want a white wine during the next phase of the day, as its body and richness on the palate hold up well against the food.
Once the feast is finally on the table, most folks will say it’s time for red wine. I agree, but what kind? Cabernets tend to be too much for the turkey, but there are lots of wines that do work. One that gets a lot of attention is Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais Nouveau ($11). The first wine release of the year’s harvest in France’s Beaujolais region, and cause for celebration in its own right, it is soft, fresh and vibrantly fruit driven, and tends to work well with Thanksgiving and the spirit thereof.
For something a little more traditional, try one of the Beaujolais Cru wines, same grape (Gamay), but vinified to be aged for release the following year, not the following month. More structure, more finesse, and in some cases, like those from the villages (Cru) of Morgon, Julienas, and Moulin a Vent, an ability to age for a few years. Again, producer Georges Duboeuf is a good bet for these wines, He bottles offerings from all ten Cru Beaujolais designations. Prices vary, and start around $16.
Want something with a little more body and tannic structure? Maybe a little less traditional are these wines, all of which tend to work quite well, and will be a hit at the table:
Bertani Amarone Della Valpolicella Classico, ($130). A splurge, but well worth it. I find the unique flavor profiles of Amarone to be wonderful with this meal. Current Vintage is 2006, but many stores will have older vintages available, as well.
Fattoria Le Pupille Morellino di Scansano, Tuscany. ($16). Morellino di Scansano is one of the unsung Sangiovese-based wines of Tuscany. Great wine, greater value.
Italy is obviously renowned for making reds, so a little experimentation is always a fun thing, and will probably lead to true Thanksgiving enjoyment.
Ecocci Tinto Premium, Catalunya, ($34). Owned by designer Elsa Perretti who has owned property in Catalunya for 40 years. This winery makes very good wines strictly from French varietals. The winery is also Zero Carbon certified, Spain’s first to be credited as such.
Willamette Valley Vineyards Pinot Noir, ($20). The Skinny on WVV: Pinot Noir is a great Thanksgiviing wine. Oregon makes some of the world’s best. Jim Bernau has been doing it there longer than most. A win-win.
Channing Daughters Blaufrankish, Long Island, ($25). Esoteric European Grape varietal, grown on Long Island. How can you go wrong? One of New York State’s most unique and delicious wines.
Again, there is great red wine made all over the world. So, if you have a style you like, then try it. The Thanksgiving meal tends to be quite a versatile pairing opportunity.
Once the carcass is cleared, most families tend to take a bit of a break to digest. This is a good time for a digestif, right? Here’s one of the best:
Amaro Nonino ($35). Nonino is, hands down, one of the most lauded spirits producers in Italy, and a legend in the world of Amaro.
Finally, when the pies come out, it’s time for dessert wines. Almost every wine producing region in the world makes them. Find one you like from a grape you like: notable are Sauternes (made with Sauvignon Blanc, Tuscany’s Vin Santo wines (from Moscato grapes), German and New York Late Harvest Rieslings (also Ice Wines), and many others. All full of rich flavors that bring out the best in any dessert course.
After dinner, the marathon meal over, our family has a tradition of opening a good bottle of aged vintage Port. There are a lot of good producers of Portugal’s famous fortified wine. The new release, one of the best declared in a long time, is the 2011 vintage. If you buy one, plan on having it for Thanksgiving 2030, it’s way too young to drink now. If you have an old bottle, open it, decant it, let it breathe, pour and enjoy. If you don’t have any, try a 20 year old Tawny, one of the hidden gems of the Port industry, aged by the producers and bottled ready to drink. It takes the guesswork out of ‘how old is just right’ – and allows for immediate gratification. My go-to is the Sandemen 20 Year Old Tawny ($52). All nutty and soft, and a perfect end to a long, gluttonous day.