Personal Sommelier Online: November 2010
We try to hide it, but even the best of us foodie folk squirm with anxiety at the prospect of Thanksgiving dinner. All those competing ingredients piled together on a single plate! There's no hope for a wine - any wine - to resonate. In past years I have been known to shut off completely and focus on other projects like reorganizing the glassware cabinet, sorting through old photos, and cleaning out the area under the bathroom sink just to distract myself from the somber task of sentencing a wine to Thanksgiving.
Now I realize I was missing the point. Wine is one of the few elements of the modern Thanksgiving feast in which history, tradition, and Hallmark don’t dictate much. The pilgrims may not have been oenophiles, but I'm pretty sure they valued their freedom. In fact, if the Pilgrims found themselves with a holiday that didn't let them eat and drink what they wanted, they would just up and found a new holiday.
While we might not be able to do that (what about Grandma?), as long as we stick with some very basic guidelines about fruit, acidity, weight and tannins—mainly to seek out medium-bodied, fruity whites with moderate to high acidity and similary medium-bodied, fruity reds that are low in tannins - we are free to serve what we want on Thanksgiving. And nobody can say gobble about it.
Need some ideas? Pinot Gris from Alsace or Oregon, richer renditions of Sauvignon Blanc and Italian Verdicchio are just a handful of white wine options to consider for a traditional Thanksgiving menu. Cabernet Franc from the Loire Valley, Grenache-based wines of the Southern Rhône, California Zinfandel and the wonderfully complex Tempranillo-based wines from Rioja are similarly worthy contenders for reds.
More adventurous hosts might be inspired to serve no red wine at all, and instead opt for a high acid, concentrated white with a little sweetness like German Riesling or Vouvray. I’d also encourage anyone willing to listen to skip the whole red/white thing entirely and serve a Tavel or Bandol rosé or Pinot Noir-based sparkling wine. If the perfect Thanksgiving wine existed, it might take the form of an off-dry rosé Champagne...but I digress.
Here’s what I’ll be popping freely on turkey day. (Mine will be out of magnum):
Fleury “Carte Rouge” Brut Champagne* (750ml $39.99; 1.5L $89.99) From Courteron, a village in the Aube department of Champagne, comes one of my all-time favorite Champagnes. This 100% Pinot-Noir sparkler is just the wine to transform your turkey and trimmings into to a true feast. The nose offers a medley of berries and baked puff pastry, and the palate is full and round, with ample fruit supported by balanced acidity. Here is a wine that promises to complement the richer savory flavors of Thanksgiving while flattering the delicate white turkey meat. The finish is very dry and long, with berry and mineral notes that cleanse the palate between bites. Even deeper and more complex out of magnum.
2008 Gerard Boulay “Monts Damnés” Sancerre Chavignol* (750ml $21.99; 1.5L $61.99) This is serious Sancerre made from 100% Sauvignon Blanc grown on the chalky soils of the steeply sloped vineyard for which it is named. More expressive and a little fruitier and rounder than the ’07, offering citrus notes, ginger and herb accents and incredible refreshment without compromising depth. It will complement turkey to a T and take on dishes like creamed onions and green beans with aplomb.
2000 La Rioja Alta “Viña Ardanza” Reserva Rioja (750ml $29.99; 1.5L $79.99) It's no coincidence that Spanish buyer and my colleague and friend Joe Manekin also wrote about the 2000 "Vina Ardanza" Rioja Reserva from La Rioja Alta in the K&L newsletter this month - it's spectacular. A good dose of Garnacha adds structure and depth to this Tempranillo-based wine. The nose reveals a complex bouquet of fruit and spice aromas interlaced with the more developed, savory scents that I have come to love about good Rioja with some bottle age. With still-ripe flavors of raspberry and blackberry supporting the developing dried fruit, caramelized nut and earthy flavors on the palate, this wine has entered its optimum drinking window and will play lead vocal to the chorus of Thanksgiving fare, even pumpkin pie.
Keep in mind - if you focus on general food-friendliness and fun, your guests will be ever more thankful and just might free you from hosting next year.
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