We interrupt our originally scheduled rant to bring an important message…holy smokes it’s November! Yeah, it kind of snuck up on us again as we were scurrying around trying to find delicious deals and innovative new sources of fermented grape juice.
We realize there are folks that have it all planned from their own cellar stock. But there are others who treat this family holiday differently than they would a dinner or event with their ‘wine and food’ friends. Ours is neither to judge, nor comment on prices because that is up to everyone’s discretion and based on their individual needs.
We’re merely here to comment on some categories that we think work well with the Thanksgiving bird. Isn’t it the same stuff every year? To a point, yes. The ‘basics’ still apply. No matter how it is cooked, turkey is still fowl and tolerates a wide range of wine choices. It is less about the bird and more about the stuffing and other accoutrement in determining which choices might prove most complimentary.
Every year is different wine-wise as well. There are some categories hitting a high note this year, and others that are at a nadir. For the most part this year offers more potential choices in what we feel are the ‘right’ categories. Our basic rule of thumb is that, given the varied goodies that will be on the holiday table, whites should have good acidity and little or no oak, and it’s a fine spot for something with a little residual sugar. As for reds, bright fruit, light to medium body, and not a lot of tannin or obvious wood work best. Again a bit of underlying acidity is a good thing, and large framed, oaky, high alcohol wines can get tiresome over the course of the meal.
For those ‘big reds’(Cabernet, Bordeaux, Syrah), save them for hearty beef or lamb roasts. Acidity is good, wood and tannins not so much with fowl. These are our favorite red plays with the bird.
Pinot Noir-The fruit driven, bright fruit of a Pinot marries beautifully with roast, smoked, or fried bird. These are wonderful times for Pinot fans as California has been rolling out the hits and there are plenty of 2012 and 2013 examples on the shelves, with a few 2014s now in the mix, a vintage that has a real elegant tender edge that makes them pretty serviceable. Oregon has plenty of good stuff, too, particularly the outstanding 2014s and remaining 2012s. Burgundy? Of course, if the budget allows.
Beaujolais–This is also the ‘near perfect’ choice always and one we have been recommending for ages. But this year is particularly exciting given the arrival of the bold, expressive 2015s and the remaining tender, elegant 2014s. Serving them with a slight chill offers another dimension to the folks at the table. Not everybody ‘gets’ room temperature. Forget the still travel-shocked 2016 ‘nouveau’ when even the ‘little’ 2015 Beaujolais are lovely, juicy glassfuls.
Rioja-Somehow you knew we’d get there but the elegance, versatility, and the bottle age of reservas and gran reservas make them crowd pleasing choices. Spanish wine for an American holiday? Heck yeah.
Chianti- Sangiovese works nicely particularly on tables where the food choices have a more savory bent. The 2015s are quite juicy.
If Thanksgiving is a ‘white night’ for you, there are lots of unique options this time around that didn’t exist last year. The key is fresh, bright flavors, lifted acidity, and little or no oak. Again the choice has a lot to do with the sides because turkey itself is pretty versatile. Spanish Albarinos, Portuguese versions of the same, white Rhones, and a host of things from northeastern Italy (Kerner, Pinot Grigio, Pinot Bianco, Friulano, etc.) are as good as they have been since the benchmark 2010s, maybe better. The 2016s have even a bit more drive. Consider this a blanket recommendation.
Riesling- Crowd pleasers and the kind of wines that far too many people deny even liking (until they taste it). We are not fans of the new ‘trocken’ movement in Germany and find the majority of the examples either under nourished or over priced. That being said, classic German Riesling at the kabinett (fruity) and halb-trocken or fienherb (medium dry) level are always lovely choices, particularly from the 2015 vintage. If you want dry Riesling, the Australians and Austrians do fine work with the 2015s from Austria particularly noteworthy.
Pinot Blanc- We are referring to the examples from Alsace rather than the bigger, often oaky California versions, though there are some Oregon efforts that will work also. Pinot Blanc definitely plays well in a ‘supporting role’ and rarely calls attention to itself…until the bottle is empty.
White Bordeaux- People are surely waiting for us to say Sauvignon Blanc or Sancerre. Hey the 2015 Sancerres are knockout, but the pungent edge, while gorgeous with a plate full of oysters or mussels, can run afoul of some of the varied things on a lot of Thanksgiving tables. The Bordeaux versions, tempered with Semillon and Muscadelle, play more to the melons and minerals profile with less of the lime/grapefruit edge.
Wild Cards- We aren’t deliberately trying to frighten people here. But sometimes they need a nudge to try something new. The 2015 vintage in Austria is the ‘year of the Gruner Veltliner’, with so many examples carrying the classic terroir-driven stony flavors, but also with more stuffing in the middle and stone fruit flavors adding another gear and dimension that we can’t remember in any recent crop. Our wildest card? Muscat from Alsace, with a super spicy nose that says sweet, but a bone dry cut to clean the palate.
We could go on, and certainly haven’t covered all the possibilities. But this is where our heads will be spinning as we are out looking at the shelves for our own holiday plans. It is a particularly bountiful year in some of our favorite categories for Thanksgiving service. Of course, if you can’t decide, there is always Champagne! Happy Thanksgiving.