Besides me, and occasionally one of my brothers, no one in my family really cares all that much about what wine is being served during Thanksgiving. It’s not that they don’t care about quality wine, but this meal is about time spent with family and friends. Surely there will be some mishaps with the meal. The bird may be a touch dry. There may be a lump or two in the gravy. No matter the imperfection, people are there to enjoy themselves.
In that light, I decided to do things a little differently this year with the wine. It’s an unspoken task that I’m in charge of the wine for our family gatherings. It’s ok. I love this stuff. But instead of seeking out the perfect bottle and spending far too much money, this Thanksgiving I’ve decided to look to my current collection and pull bottles that I already have on hand. There will be a variety of whites because I typically don’t buy all that deep in particular bottles (maybe two of each), and one crowd-pleaser of a red.
The factors to keep in mind when looking for wines to pair with Thanksgiving, or any other meal for that matter, are weight and acid. These are critical with a menu as varied as this. The wines need to play nicely with bright salads, earthy vegetable dishes, rich cream sauces/gravies, and of course, the bird. The acid will complement the lighter salads and sides while the weight of the wine on your tongue will keep it from getting lost once you hit the more rich foods near the end of the buffet.
Keep in mind that these are simply examples. If you can’t find these particular bottles, no worries. There are plenty of others out there that will accomplish the same idea. For accounting’s sake, these bottles averaged out to right around $15, which is great for holiday levels of consumption.
Let’s talk bottles. First, the whites.
2013 Cartograph Floodgate Vineyard Gewürztraminer – On a recent trip down to visit a buddy of mine and his girlfriend, we made a day trip to Healdsburg to go taste some of the locally fermented grape juice. On the hour, or so, drive north, we simply chatted it up without putting together any kind of tasting itinerary. In hind sight, I’m thrilled that we didn’t. Once parked, we got out and simply wandered into the closest tasting room to formulate our next move with a wine glass in our hands.
The second wine poured was this bottle. It blew me away. I immediately turned to my friends and declared this would be on my Thanksgiving table. Why? Weight and acid. First of all, it smelled like a delicious fruit salad of peaches and pineapple showered in grilled lemon juice and flowers. It tasted like it too! The ripe, tropical fruit flavors with assertive, but slightly softened, acid dovetailed perfectly with the rich texture of the wine.
2012 Caves de Saumur “Les Pouches” will always be in my cellar. It’s inexpensive ($8-10) and punches way above its weight class in just about every vintage I’ve tasted. Yes, I have an affinity for Chenin Blanc from the Loire Valley, but it’s really good and will work beautifully. Did I mention it’s inexpensive?
The last white I pulled from its cellar cubby was the 2012 Vieux Clocher Vacqueyras from Maison Arnoux & Fils. When pouring this for friends and loved ones, don’t even worry about the blend which is peppered with classic Southern Rhone white varietals (grapes) that many casual wine drinkers will have never heard of (mostly consisting of Grenach Blanc with Clairette, Viognier, and Bourboulenc filling out the rest). It’s just fantastic wine. I feel like a broken record… weight and acid. This will mirror some of that tropical and stone fruit found in the Gewürztraminer, but the fruit in this style is slightly more subdued thanks to the little bit of oak aging this wine undergoes. For other options in a similar vein, look to just about any other white blend from the Rhone Valley. This could mean the more familiar Cotes-du-Rhone or if you’re looking to splurge a bit, Chateauneuf-du-Pape makes incredible whites wines that many never even think about. Similar blends in both, but price points can vary wildly.
Moving onto the red…
To be perfectly honest, I’m sick of hearing the story of how Beaujolais gets a bad rap because of cheap Beaujolais Nouveau that floods the market every November. I’m sick of it, but at the same time, I absolutely LOVE it! How can that be? Because for all of those people who have sworn off Gamay Noir being grown in a little pocket of Burgundy, called Beaujolais, I (and now all of you reading this) get to reap the benefits of world class wines at laughably low prices. This may be grounds for a whole other post, but for now, let’s focus on what I’ve chosen for Thanksgiving.
The 2012 Hubert Lapierre Chénas Vieilles Vignes hails from one of the 10 designated Crus of Beaujolais. Strictly in the name of research, I pulled the cork from a bottle of this wine just a few nights ago. If you like cranberry sauce (Poll: fresh or canned?), you can’t help but enjoy this wine. For the same reason cranberries have muscled their way onto almost every plate full of turkey and sides, Cru Beaujolais just belongs on the Thanksgiving table. Its relatively low alcohol makes it nice to sip on throughout the course of the inevitably lengthy meal. The abundance of fruit on the nose of this wine make it approachable to those that don’t love heavy red wine, while the purity of the aforementioned fruit and underlying complexity will satisfy even the most discerning wine critic at the table. And if one of those critics initially turns their nose up at the idea of Beaujolais, it’s clear he/she just needs some educating. Give it a glass or two. They’ll come around.
Like I said before, this is by no means the final word on Thanksgiving wines. If you want bubbles to start off your meal, go for it! If you want a massive Zinfandel from California (which works quite well, oddly enough), by all means…
When it all comes down to it, something is always better than nothing. Be thankful.
I’d love to hear what you’re popping this Thanksgiving. Let us know in the comments section and have a fantastic Thanksgiving. Cheers!