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Friday, November 16, 2012

Thanksgiving Wines

I love Thanksgiving.  Every year I wake up early and run a 5K Turkey Trot with a bunch of other equally demented fleece clad trotters.  It's my favorite day in Autumn, even though by mile 2, when my breath is short and I just got passed by another 10 year old in roller sneakers, I usual wonder why I thought that it was such a great idea in the first place.  In reality, I'm just happy when I can stay ahead of the under medicated middle aged guy dressed like a giant turkey.  One of my brothers and his wife host the big dinner that afternoon, so after I catch my breath, my only responsibility for the rest of the day is to provide the liquid libations.  The beauty of this arrangement is that I can take care of my contribution days before and spend the actual holiday enjoying a drink or two.  I know that some people freak out over finding the perfect wine or beer to serve with their diverse Thanksgiving menu, but not me.  I don't care I've figured out a trick or two.

In case you might need some direction in what to bring to your own family gathering, I thought that I'd do two posts on what I like to serve with Thanksgiving meals.  Today I'll concentrate on which wines you could offer your guests (I'll follow later with beer pairs for the day.)  All of these bottles should be easy to locate at your favorite liquor store and the prices are approximate.

APPS (and not the angry bird kind)

It's nice to greet guests with something to drink when they arrive.  You could go with a specialty cocktail (and I have done this in the past) but let me warn you.  It can get real old making a fresh drink every time the doorbell rings and as the cashmere sweater that I wore last year would tell you (because my cashmere can speak.  In a French accent) all cocktail shakers, no matter how insanely expensive they were at Pottery Barn, leak.   Horribly.  

It's so much easier to open a bottle or two and let your guests refill their glasses on their own. Since you may not always know exactly what sort of appetizers are being served, I'd recommend a citrus based white wine.  Nothing too heavy, sweet or cloying.  A nice Sauvignon Blanc or a sparkling wine would fit the bill.  Chill it in the fridge for an hour, then let it rest for 15 minutes before serving.

Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc $12.99

Kim Crawford wines are consistently a great value and very easy to find.   Her Sauvignon Blanc boasts a medium body and a crisp, dry finish that lingers ever so slightly.  The winery is located in Marlborough, New Zealand, a region made famous by this varietal.  As is typical for Marlborough Sauvignon Blancs, it tastes of gooseberry, citrus & tropical fruits balanced by just enough mineral and herbal notes to make it pair nicely with everything from hummus to that weird bean dip that your third cousin's girlfriend insists on bringing.  Every.  Year.   

Freixenet Cordon Negro Brut Cava $10.99
Nothing says holiday quite like a sparkling wine.  You don't need to shell out $$$ for a Champagne now that places like Spain & Italy are offering reasonable, yet very tasty, options.   In fact, a $15 bottle of Cava (Spain) or Prosecco (Italy) will taste 100x better than an equally priced bottle of Champagne.  Freixenet Cordon Negro Brut Cava is smooth with a crisp taste of apples, citrus and a bit of toast and ginger to cleanse the palate.  Sparkling wines pair wonderfully with all sorts of food, but this one will certainly liven up the standard shrimp cocktail and same old same old cheese plate.  Plus it has bubbles and who doesn't like bubbles? 

Jean Marc Burgaud Morgon Cote Du Py $15.99
So say you're the type who insists on having a red wine option for guests (and if you are, please feel free to invite me over anytime.)  When you walk into a liquor store at this time of year, you're probably bombarded with displays of Beaujolais bottles.  Bypass the ones with the yellow label and anything that is priced under $10 (unless you like drinking cough syrup.)  Ask for a Gamay varietal from the Beaujolais region of France instead and be willing to pay $15 to $25 for a decent bottle.  It'll be worth it.  Jean Marc Burgaud Morgon Cote Du Py has soft tannins and notes of sour cherries and dark fruits with under notes of moss and earth.   The bright palate works with heavier appetizers, like wild mushroom crostini or bacon wrapped anything.  Beaujolais wines should be served slightly chilled, so treat it as if it was a white (pop it in the fridge for a bit then take it out for a slight warm up before serving.) 

DINNER (or as some families call it, the battle round)

Here's where people get a little freaked out.  Most hosts try to pair their dinner wine with the actual turkey as well as all of the various side dishes being served.  And I'm sorry to say, you just can't do this.  It's like trying to set up a nuclear scientist underwear model  with your best friend who hoards cats and also happens to run the local Doctor Who fansite.  Since the turkey is the focal point of the meal, some people try to pair the wine with just the bird.  Unfortunately, you end up with a drink that combats everything but the gravy covered meat on the table.  Another philosophy is to  match the wine to the strongest tasting dish being served.  This backfires because then you have a wine that tastes amazing with the cayenne spiced roasted butternut squash, but too mellow with the run of the mill green beans.  My advice is to think moderate values in the wine's qualities.  Moderate mouthfeel, moderate taste notes and moderate finish.

Spy Valley Pinot Noir $23.99

 My go to red for Thanksgiving dinner is a Pinot Noir.  Pinots, by definition, are delicate wines with just a bit of roughness around the edges.  They have soft tannins and a light to medium body.  They are definitely one of those wines that you get exactly what you pay for.  I've drunk cheap Pinots before, and let me tell you, they aren't worth the energy to wash the dirty glass.  $20 is usually the lowest I will go for a decent Pinot Noir.  Spy Valley Pinot Noir is one of the great low priced bottles.  It's from the Marlborough region of New Zealand and is 100% Pinot Noir grapes.  It has a medium body with notes of nutmeg, clove and red fruits (think raspberries) and just a hint of oak.  This is a wine that will cut through the creamy gravy and starchy potatoes yet not over power the more delicate vegetable side dishes.   Pinots Noirs (and other medium bodied reds like Zinfandels) should be slightly chilled in the fridge for 20 minutes or so before opening.  If you have the time, most bottles will benefit from uncorking and sitting a little while before serving.  This gives the wine a chance to open and come to full flavor. 

Rancho Zabaco Zinfandel $11.99

Let's say that you are providing wine for a larger gathering and need to have a few bottles on hand.  At  $20-$25 a bottle, that could blow your Christmas budget before any stores even open on Black Friday (and the way things seem to be going, I'm pretty sure that Black Friday will begin on Halloween next year.)  I would recommend picking up a few bottles of Zinfandel for dinner.  You can usually get a nice bottle from California's Somoma or Paso Robles regions.  Rancho Zabaco Zinfandel (Somoma) is a good choice.  It has a medium body with flavors of dark fruit (currants and black cherries) balanced by black pepper with softer notes of roasted herbs and a bit of earth.  Zindfandels usually possess a spicy finish which will help to cut through the heartiness of a large meal.

Off dry, slightly spicy white wines were made for Thanksgiving dinner.  I'm pretty sure that after those kill joy Pilgrims hurried off to bed early, their Indian dinner guests broke open the good bottles of white wine and had themselves a proper day of thanks.  

What?  I'm pretty sure that I read all about Wrestles With Bear in a comic history book in fifth grade.

Fitz Ritter Gewurztraminer Spatlese Pfalz $20.99

A German or an Austrian Gewurztraminer is a wonderful pairing for the holiday.  They are highly aromatic wines with round mouthfeels, but with just enough acidity to work with a variety of foods.  Fritz Ritter Gewurtraminer Spatlese Pfalz has the classic taste of lychee fruit, rose petals and stone fruits.  The under notes of spice (think ginger) and minerals gives the wine a crisp finish.  German and Austrian labels can be a bitch to read (they are the IKEA instruction manual of wine labels.)  Spatlese denotes that the grapes were an early part of the late harvest (as the grapes ripen, they become more intense and the flavors truer.)  If the label refers to the wine as a Kabinett, it means that the grapes were harvested early and will not be as flavorful, much sweeter in taste  and the wine will most likely not be as well balanced. Typically, I'd recommend drinking this bottle with something spicy, such as Thai food.  But in this case, I also believe that the balance of ever so slightly sweet and spicy will work with, and more importantly, not against anything that gets thrown onto your Thanksgiving dinner table.  Including that marshmallow pretzel concoction that you only spooned onto your plate out of a sense of familial pity.

Nora Albarino $14.99

There are some really great deals to be had on wines from Spain, especially whites.  Albarino wines  are from the north of Spain and share many similar characteristics with German Gewurztraminers, but for a lower price point.  Nora Albarino uses late harvested grapes (much like a German wine labeled Spatlese) which allows the fruit to fully ripen.  These juicy, ripe grapes give the wine a medium, slightly silky, body and a crisp finish.  It tastes of honeydew melons, green apples and lemon zest, balanced by a spicey bite and more lemon on the finish.  This is the sort of wine that is perfectly fine to drink on it's own, but really comes alive when paired with food.      

Wine doesn't have to be a mysterious, intimidating beverage.  After all, it's really just smushed fruit that's been left around too long to eat.  Have fun with it.  I've yet to leave a holiday meal thinking that the choice of wine ruined the dinner for me.  Now, being forced eat canned green beans smothered in Campbell soup and dried onions is a whole other matter. 

Next time, craft beer pairings for your Turkey Day.