Pairing Thanksgiving and holiday dinners shouldn’t be dreadful. In fact, like the meal itself, it should give one a sense of permissible indulgence. When other time of year can you buy so many wines from around the world, knowing all have their place for perfect articulation with some classic dish on the table?
Rather than stress about THE perfect wine, take a deep breath and choose a few versatile sippers. Think higher acid varietals that simultaneously offer lower tannins and little to no oak. This is not the time for Silver Oak and Prisoner. If you are hosting, place a few glasses at each setting, and encourage your guests to really experiment with food and wine pairing. These are meals that are characterized by their abundance and variety, so why fall short with the wine?
Here’s a little guide so you can make the best of this most anticipated gastronomical tradition. It’s a little long, but many have requested it. Remember, if you are not in Colorado, ask your local wine shop what wines might be like the ones you are interested in. They should be able to help.
Whetting the palate…
Whether looking for something to pair well with appetizers or enjoy with the meal itself, you can never go wrong with bubbles at Thanksgiving.
B-Deville-Chevellier Grand Cru Champagne ($31.99): This is the Champagne for those who will have nothing less but are finding such a palate hard to afford these days… A gorgeous blend of 67% Pinot Noir and 33% Chardonnay made by a family who has been in the business of bubbles for four generations. An inexpensive, classy touch to any holiday event.
Allimant-Laugner Cremant d’Alsace Rose ($22.99): Exquisite. Truly eye-opening in elegance and complexity for the dollar. Juicy cherries and raspberries soften the tang of the high acid that makes this wine such a stellar selection for pairing with holiday food. Made of 100% Pinot Noir.
Lini 910 Lambrusca ($16.99): Blow away your guest by popping open this lambrusco… bianco. Very rarely does one come across this Emilia-Romagna delight in a dry, white style. Stainless steel fermentation allows for a bright, citrusy alternative to Prosecco or Cava. A real crowd pleaser.
On the table whites…
2007 Chehalem Pinot Gris ($16.99): They say go Alsace for this meal, but some of these Gris coming out of Oregon are eerily parallel to these petrol-like, minerally whites from France. This one is just so. Rich pear and apricots laced with an array of spices will play wonderfully with mashed sweet potatoes and homemade stuffing.
2008 Leitz Out Riesling ($12.99): It’s not every day you can come by fruity, mineral-kissed German Riesling for under $13. Leitz Out Riesling is a special selection of grapes from a variety of their highly acclaimed vineyards in the Rheingau. Generous fruit and stiff acid make for a symphony with just about anything on the table!
2008 Delheim Chenin Blanc ($11.99): Chenin Blanc is definitely one of the most well-received varietals coming from South Africa at the moment. This is a wine that shows off a lovely arrangement of flowers, honey, and ripened pear. A decadent white that would easily harmonize with squash, buttery potatoes, and cream-based side dishes.
2005 Domaine Ferret ‘Les Moulins’ Pouilly-Fuisse ($33.99): Don’t miss out on experiencing one of the best producers in the Maconnais. Recently sold to Louis Jadot, this is one of the last vintages available that will give you an idea of just how incredible a producer Ferret it. A serious Pouilly, this Chardonnay is aged for 18 months in the bottle before release, gaining complex aromas of white flowers, pear, and a lovely paradox of both focused citrus notes yet indulgently lavish plump fruit characteristics. Sometimes the best pairing during the holidays is just with a good, classic wine.
2006 Zind-Humbrecht Pinot d’Alsace ($24.99): A blend of 70% Auxerrois and 30% Pinot Blanc from the highly esteemed biodynamic producer Olivier Humbrecht. Well-structured, this dry austere white promises to be a sensational pairing with any harvest dish, as it is simply singing with acid and hushed aromas.
On the table reds…
2007 Chateau Cortinat Saint-Pourcain ($16.99): Everyone knows the age-old pairing of Beaujolais with Thanksgiving food. The famous Duboeuf Nouveau comes to mind, which is released the third Thursday of November to celebrate the end of harvest. But why not go with something a little different? How about combining the two best red holiday grapes: Gamay and Pinot Noir? This selection from Chateau Cortinat in the Loire Valley is a perfect choice for the holidays. Embedded with dried cranberry, forest floor, and savory herbs, this medium-bodied red will enhance just about any dish on the table. A well-balanced, smooth, delicious alternative!
2008 Humberto Canale Pinot Noir ($12.99): Sure you’re familiar with one of the world’s most esteemed varietals, Pinot Noir. But have you tried one from the lowest latitude winegrowing region, Patagonia? On the nose it shares a resemblance to the bright fruity pinots of California, but the alcohol is kept at a modest 12.5%. This means that you can enjoy all the pure, clean flavors that this delicate grape has to offer without the scorched, heady elements that sometimes come from Cali Pinot Noir. Superb acid and classic characteristics make for a perfect, affordable Pinot for the holidays.
2005 Chateau des Tours ($25.99): I figured I had recommended the Domaine des Tours ($18.99) one too many times by now, so I am moving up to the next in line from this incredible producer, Emmanuel Reynaud, the current owner of the well-known Chateau Rayas and Fonsalette. This selection definitely needs a little air in the decanter, but once it opens, you are in for a treat. More concentrated than des Tours, this CDR has richer notes of kirsch and strawberry, with a touch of peppery spice and savory herbs. A familiar Reynaud touch of smokiness and minerality sets this wine apart in its own remarkable category.
2007 Ridge ‘Three Valleys’ ($22.99): So you want the quality that comes with a well-established name like Ridge, but you want to save a few bucks. This is the only zin-based Ridge that is made from multiple vineyards, though mostly with fruit from their reputable Lytton Estate in Sonoma. It is a bit softer than the others and more accessible in its youth, but it still bears the indisputable structure and complexity so many have grown to respect in this producer’s wines. A classic holiday pairing wine.
2006 Quinta de Cabriz ($11.49): I wanted to offer a red that was completely unlike those typically associated with holiday wine pairing guides. This red from the Dao region of Portugal came to mind immediately. Remember, the key is low tannin, fresh acid, opulent fruit. That’s exactly what you have here. This red uses grapes you would find in a any traditional port wine, including Touriga-Nacional and Tinto Roriz (otherwise known as Tempranillo). An undertone of earthiness really seals the deal. A friendly red that is certain to please a wide variety of palates at your table.
While holding the belly…
2007 Leo X-treme ‘Sundowner’ Eiswein Rose ($39.99): Few wines come along that leave such an impression as this one. Eiswein (or ‘ice wine’) is a sweet dessert wine made from grapes that are left to freeze on the vine. Actually, the water inside the grapes is the only part to really freeze, leaving a concentrated must to be pressed for fermentation. The result is divine. This German eiswein is made of Cabernet Sauvignon. It wears the palest of pink shades. Well-balanced acid assures this dessert wine not to be sticky and cloying. A rare occasion allows for this labor-intensive production, and not much can be made from the limited grapes, making this a pricey dessert wine (that’s oh so worth it!).
2005 Oremus Late Harvest Tokaji ($26.99): If you haven’t tried this Hungarian delight, it is time. A sweet dessert wine made of the furmint varietal, Tokaji is like Sauternes in that it sits on the vine late into the harvest, naturally gaining in sugar content. It also typically develops noble rot, or bortrytis, which deepens its complexity and flavors. Honeyed notes of apricot and pear are the first to be recognized, along with nutty undertones to follow. Unforgettable with blue cheese, fruit tart dishes, and cheesecake. Not as great with chocolate.
2006 Clos Dady Sauternes ($27.99): So often people want to experience Sauternes, but not for over $30. As a wine buyer, that creates a challenge. Every now and again, though, one comes along that is able to provide an accurate depiction of this much-adored noble sticky at a fraction of its typical price. Notes of honey, apricots and spice characterize this wine, but unlike Tokaji, Sauternes is fantastic with chocolate desserts.
2006 Jorge Ordonez Muscato ‘Naturalmente Dulce’ ($23.99): Just next door to the land of Sherry lies Malaga in the southern part of Spain. Like much Moscatel in Malaga, this particular wine was made in the mountain region, in a small village called Almachar. ‘Naturalmente Dulce’ refers to the style in which this wine was made. This indicates that the Moscatel grapes were sundried for about 4 or 5 days in order for sugar levels to rise naturally. This style also sees extended maceration, honing the fullest aromatic expression. That’s really the magic of Moscatel, after all—the exquisite, elegant bouquet on the nose of tangerine, honeysuckle, and sweet spice. Lovely with squash pies, light cheeses, and fruit tarts.
Underberg ($4.99/3-pack): Finally, when the last piece of pie has been swallowed, and you are afraid you may be about to make a scene dropping flat on your host’s living room floor, holding your stomach in agony… reach for the Underberg. Ask no questions, kick a baby bottle back, allow a moment for wincing and possibly even a swear or two, and wait… A few minutes later, you just may be ready for round two. It’s a miracle-working herbal digestif. And it is necessary if you plan to do some serious eating.