Thanksgiving Wines: What’s On Your Table This Year?

2010_11_15-WineThksv.jpgOnce again Thanksgiving is almost upon us. Most of us are looking forward to a few relaxing days with family and friends to unwind, catch up, have fun and enjoy being together. Whether your gathering is a huge affair, or a simple small gathering, here are some wine ideas sure to complement the fare, and not break the bank.

2010_11_15-WineThksv2.jpgThis is the third year that I’ve written this post on Thanksgiving wines. As I read back through last year’s post and that of 2008, I am confident that the guidelines given are still valid. Many of our readers are probably more comfortable with the food preparation side of the day but might find the wine choosing a little more daunting. Every wine store you enter or wine website you look at recommends a plethora of different wines. No wonder it can be confusing.

My advice is to relax. Thanksgiving is not about celebrating the wines. It is about enjoying time with our loved ones. Yes, it is certainly nice to enjoy a few glasses of wine, but they should not dominate the day. I like to think of them as quiet companions at the table, not demanding too much of my attention as I sip.

Simple Guidelines for Choosing Thanksgiving Wines

Once more I suggest these simple guidelines when choosing your Thanksgiving wines

  • Be realistic – The bigger the gathering the less likely you are to please everyone. And that is okay! After all, Thanksgiving is most importantly about having friends and family together.
  • Keep it simple – Go for food-friendly wines. Avoid overly big, powerful wines that might overwhelm the food.
  • Stick to your budget – As Thanksgiving gatherings tend to be large, the cost of the wine is sure to be a concern. You don’t have to spend over $20 a bottle to get a really good wine. Plenty great wines between $10 and $15. Or, this could be the occasion to try that bag-in-box wine. They keep getting better and better.

Sparkling & White Wines for Thanksgiving

Sparkling wine is always a great way to start the celebrations. Champagne is always a winner, but there are many less expensive options to choose from as well. Staying close to the Champagne style, you might opt for a good traditional method Californian sparkling wine, or a French Cremant de Bourgogne or Cremant d’Alsace. For larger gatherings a Cava from Spain or a Prosecco from Italy are much less expensive options (many under $15 / bottle) and certain to please.

White wines – Once again I recommend whites that have good acidity, bright fruit and are not overly oaked as these are the most versatile at the table. Aromatic or off-dry wines are very accommodating, as they pair with the more difficult tart flavors like cranberry, chutney and spices.

While Chardonnay has long enjoyed a prime place at the Thanksgiving table, and is a safe option, it can be fun to venture out and try some alternative whites such as:

  • Albariño – aromatic, with crisp acidity, fruit, versatility across the meal. Traditionally from Rias Baixas in Spain, but today, you can find lots of US Albariño wines, if you, like us, prefer to keep the wine selection American on this important holiday.
  • Pinot Grigio – both the lighter fruity ‘Pinot Grigio’ style as well as the more full bodied and textured ‘Pinot Gris’ style.
  • Riesling – Aromatic variety. The breadth of dry, off-dry and sweet styles makes Riesling a natural choice for Thanksgiving.
  • Gewürztraminer – Intensely aromatic and often a hard wine to place, but is perfect for the stuffing, cranberry sauce, chutneys and spicy sides.
  • Marsanne/Rousanne white blends – The spicy herbal notes of the Rousanne along with the richness of Marsanne make for fairly full-bodied wines that will work well with the turkey, as well as spicy sides. Traditionally from France’s Rhone Valley, but lots of exciting Marsanne/Rousanne blends coming from the Central Coast.

Red Wines for Thanksgiving

For red wines, go for wines that are refreshing, fruity and not too tannic. For so long Pinot Noir has long been the preferred partner for turkey. And there is so much great Pinot out there to choose from. However, if you want to try something different here are some suggestions:

  • Gamay – Fresh, light and fruity. Light enough for appetizers and yet can carry through the main course. Beaujolais is the first that comes to mind. But you might also try a Macon Rouge or a juicy little Gamay from the Loire.
  • Zinfandel – Great brambly-berry fruit, and lowish tannin that will enhance any turkey and all its trimmings. Lots of suggestions in both last week’s post as well as a previous one dedicated to Zinfandel wines.
  • Mencia – Last week, as I tasted through a few Mencia wines from Bierzo in Spain, I immediately thought of turkey and Thanksgiving. Deliciously juicy, vibrant and packed with dark cherrys and berries.
  • Syrah – Similar dark red and black fruit and notes will enhance any meat course.

Mary’s Personal Wine Picks for Thanksgiving

Once again my husband’s favorite aunt ‘Auntie Joanie’ is coming down from Toronto for the occasion. This year, we are a slightly larger gathering than last year. So far we are ten — six grown-ups, three children and one seventeen-year-old teenager. Not a huge gathering but enough to keep us all busy!

As usual for Thanksgiving we plan on sticking to American wines. It is a strong tradition at this stage and always a great opportunity for me to try out some exciting new wines. Additionally, as our guests are all non-Americans, I want to show them the diversity and quality of food-friendly wines produced in this country. While my selections are not final yet, these are some great American wines that I’ve tasted and enjoyed during this year and would be proud to showcase on our Thanksgiving table.

Thanksgiving is also an opportunity to try your local wines. As we know, wine is now made in every state. However, many of these wines are only available locally, so for my list I have focused on wines that are more widely available around the country. But do check out your local wines.

Sparkling Wines

2006 Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs, California, $23 – “White from white” – made from 100% Chardonnay grapes, this sparkling wine is beautifully dry, crisp, vibrant and elegant with persistent tiny bubbles. For the past two years we have enjoyed the 2004. The 2006 is still quite young but shows delicious citrus fruit – lemony/lime notes, as well as subtle notes of freshly baked bread and biscuits. A great way to start the festivities.

NV Roederer Estate, Anderson Valley (Mendocino County) $18 – I feel I am always recommending this wine, but truly I think this sparkler represents fantastic value. Roederer Estate is owned by the renowned Champagne house Louis Roederer in Reims. This is a blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir; it has a lively mousse and attractive orchard fruit character with hints of brioche and biscuit.

2006 Domaine Carneros, Brut, California, $20 – Another great Californian sparkler with Champagne connections. This time the House of Taittinger. Blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Quite broad, and rich, but fresh and lively. Creamy mousse. Hints of floral notes, toast and nuts on the nose with flavors of red apple compote, redcurrants and blood orange.

NV Mumm Napa Cuvée M Red, Napa Valley, $30 – More of a ‘Noir de Noirs’. This may not be the aperitif wine, but will certainly keep pace with the turkey. Dry, with lots of red fruit flavor and subtle spice, but well integrated with the bubbles. Very refreshing. A delightful surprise. Great for guests that want to stick with bubbles throughout the meal. Only available from the winery or through their website.

White Wines

2009 Decoy Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley, $18 – We tried this recently and it was really delicious. Not heavy like so many Californian Sauvignon Blancs. Crisp, juicy, with lots of grapefruit, tangerine and passion fruit. More subtle than New Zealand. A real find.

Sokol Blosser, Evolution No.9 NV – $14 – Quite an interesting wine! Non-vintage, it is made from a blend of nine different grape varieties (Müller-Thurgau, Riesling, Semillon, Pinot Gris, Gewürztraminer, Muscat Canelli, Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, Sylvaner). So if you are a little jaded of varietal wines, this is the way to go! Subtle nose of white peach, apricot and white flowers. Tropical fruit, dried citrus peel and an herbal, balsamic kick mid-palate. Slightly off-dry so will work really well with the chutneys and spicy dishes.

2009 Seven Hills Pinot Gris, Oregon, $15 – Really vibrant juicy fruit. Crisp, mouthwatering with a medium-rich texture. Smooth and beautifully balanced showing lots of ripe stone fruit, yellow plum, flowers and hints of vanilla and spice. Persistent and refreshing finish.

2008 Concannon ‘Conservancy’ Chardonay, Livermore valley, $15 – A fairly classic California Chardonnay – creamy, buttery, toasty, with lots of ripe pear, grapefruit, pineapple and banana. But even so, it has a deliciously refreshing backbone, that balances out all that ripeness. Sure to please and will certainly work with the turkey.

2008 Migration Chardonnay, Russian River Valley , $30 – I first tasted this wine about a year ago and was quite blown away by its quality. Very minerally and elegant with a tight focused structure. Crisp, almost Chablis like with intense huge depth of fruit – not loud, but subtle and persistent flavors of ripe orchard fruit, hints of melon, grapefruit, toast and creamy vanilla.

2008 Channing Daughters, Pinot Grigio, South Fork Long Island $18 – another delicious wine from Channing Daughters. Fruity, floral, extremely refreshing and packed with bright youthful stone fruit. A small proportion of Chardonnay is in the blend, giving it added weight and body – so that you can stick with this wine throughout the meal if you like.

2009 Qupé Marsanne, Santa Ynez Valley, California $16 – Made from the traditional Rhone white grape ‘Marsanne’ known for its fleshy texture, body and aromatics. There is also some Rousanne (another Rhone valley white variety) in the blend, ensuring bright acidity, and adding a delightful herbal, spicy note. floral Inviting floral nose with aromas of quince, pear and perfectly ripe apricot with a medley of dried herbs on the finish. A fairly full-bodied wine that will work really well with your turkey and all the trimmings.

Red Wines

2008 Nalle, Zinfandel, Dry Creek Valley, $35 – Primarily Zinfandel with small amounts of Carignane, Alicante Bouche and Petit Sirah in the blend. One of my favorite Zins because it is more on the restrained side with very reasonable alcohol level (13.9%). Lots of bright, ripe berry fruit, juicy tannins and well integrated oak, with nuances of cedar, spice, clove and vanilla adding complexity.

2007 Seven Hills Malbec, Walla Walla Valley, Washington State, $30 – This was my first experience with a Washington State Malbec and I was not disappointed. So if you are a die-hard Malbec fan, yet want to stick to Ameriocan wines for Thanksgiving then this is the wine for you. Deliciously juicy with lots of ripe bramble fruit, sweet spice and clove. Smooth mouthfeel with supple tannin giving just enough grip.

2009 Evening Land Gamay Noir Celebration, Eola-Amity Hills, Oregon $20 – I seem to recommend this wine each year (though a new vintage). Why? Because it is delicious and is made from Gamay (think Beaujolais) – so pairs fantastically with the turkey. As delicious as ever, refreshing, juicy with wonderful fruit purity – a medley of youthful ripe berries – raspberry, strawberry, blackberry – and soft tannins.

2007 Migration Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley, $34 – Well I had to include a few Pinot Noir wines. This wine has style, texture and elegance. Inviting aromas of cherry, strawberry, floral notes and a hint of coffee. Silky tannins beautifully integrated. The palate is packed with vibrant fruit, hints of leather and earth and a strong mineral note prevails right to the long finish.

2008 Dashe Zinfandel, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma $25 – A very versatile zinfandel – for my liking it is on the lighter side, showing attractive bramble, damson and dried fruit aromas and flavors with notes of clove and sweet spice. Medium bodied, it is fruity and easy-drinking. Very versatile, and sure to please around the Thanksgiving table.

2008 Qupé Syrah, Central Coast, $17 – This wine is such good value for what you get. We have been enjoying Qupe Syrah now for about four years, and I am always amazed by how excellent and delicious it is. On the restrained side, with almost a northern Rhone structure. Packed with clalssic Syrah black fruit, cracked black pepper and a wonderful gamey, leathery note. Full bodied with good grip and lingering finish.

Dessert Wines

For dessert, there are also lots of choices. Having read so many delicious dessert recipes on The Kitchn over the past few weeks this is what we are considering:

2007 McKinley Springs Heaven’s Reward Late Harvest Chenin Blanc, Heaven Horse Hills, Washington State – 375ml – $19 – When I think of late harvest Chenin Blanc I automatically think of the Loire Valley (France). Well here we are with a delicious local offering from Washington State. Made from late harvested grapes, it is aromatic and intensely flavored with dried apricots, tangerines, honeysuckle and other white blossoms, plus hints of waxy lanolin. Crisp acidity balances the luscious sweetness. Enjoy chilled with lighter pastry and fruit desserts.

Essencia Orange Muscat, California, $23 – From 100% Orange Muscat grapes. Intense aromas of ripe paricot, peach, orange blossom. My favorite pairing is with traditional trifle, but also great with apple pie, flan, pavlova or open fruit tarts.

2007 Pacific Rim “Vin de Glaciere” Riesling, 375ml, $17 – This wine is made like an ice-wine, where the grapes are frozen to concentrate the sugars. Sweet honeyed pear, apple, papaya, passionfruit with a touch of spice. For lighter fruit based desserts.

2008 Bonny Doon “Vinferno” Beeswax Vineyard Arroyo Seco Dessert Wine, California, 375ml, $20 – Another delicious dessert wine. For the 2008 vintage the ripe grapes were harvested and then left to dry on mats – which concentrates the sugars, flavors and everything else. It is made from a blend of Grenache Blanc and Rousanne. Deliciously sweet but refreshing, it shows aromas and flavors of dried orchard fruit, ultra ripe quince, dried apricot, golden raisins, floral notes and mild honey. I can see this with apple pie, pear cobbler or other pie desserts.

These are but a few recommendations for the Thanksgiving gathering. But most important is to keep it simple. Thanksgiving is such a medley of flavors that no one or two wines will be perfect with everything. So best to stay within budget and aim for the lighter, fresher styles. Enjoy.

Mary Gorman-McAdams, DWS, is a New York based wine educator, freelance writer and consultant. She hold the Diploma in Wine & Spirits from the Wine and Spirits Education Trust (WSET), and is a candidate in the Master of Wine Program.

(Images: Mary Gorman-McAdams)