A Vinous Thanksgiving
BY VINOUS | NOVEMBER 20, 2020
The traditional Thanksgiving menu, with its wide range of savory and sweet flavors, presents many opportunities for food and wine pairing. We asked our team of critics for their top Thanksgiving wine recommendations.
Josh Raynolds’ Classic Thanksgiving
Thanksgiving was my late mother-in-law’s favorite holiday, by far. The huge, all-day feast that she put together for up to 50 people, plus late-night arrivals for an after-party, ran the gamut of traditional fare. We’ll be scaling it back this year, both the number of people and the dishes served, so that means a centerpiece of two turkeys, one roasted in the classic fashion and the other smoked, in a nod to my Oklahoma roots. Then the add-ons: curried deviled eggs, Caesar salad, Maryland crab soup, fresh oysters and clams, smoked turkey and andouille gumbo, cornbread and chorizo stuffing, bacon/cheese/potato cake, mashed russet and sweet potatoes and whatever else somebody comes up with at the last minute. There’ll be a few American cheeses, likely Jasper Hill Bailey Hazen Blue, Cabot Clothbound Cheddar and Winnimere, Cowgirl Creamery Mt. Tam and Pleasant Ridge Rush Creek Reserve, followed by a couple of pies, pumpkin and pecan.
My wine selections focus squarely on the United States and on value, meaning the sort of wines that we feature weekly as Vinous Favorites. Food flexibility is important given the wide range of dishes that will be on the table. For a red wine from Oregon, I would be looking for the vibrant 2018 Patricia Green Cellars Pinot Noir Reserve ($28), the elegant 2018 Arterberry Maresh Pinot Noir Dundee Hills ($29) and also the graceful, complex 2018 Walter Scott Wines Pinot Noir La Combe Verte ($28). The 2018 vintage in the Willamette Valley is outstanding. Each of these selections showcases energetic red fruit and spiciness, which makes them highly versatile at the Thanksgiving table. Oregon’s recent progress with white wines has been remarkable and there are many great choices for the holidays. Some wines to look out for are the 2018 Averaen Chardonnay Flood Line ($30), a wine that displays admirable power as well as energy, the highly complex, concentrated 2018 King Estate Pinot Gris Domaine ($30) and the lavishly fruity 2019 Stoller Family Estate Chardonnay ($25).
From California, the choices are seemingly limitless and cover all styles. Looking at the Santa Lucia Highlands, some fine options would be the 2018 Talbott Vineyards Kali Hart Chardonnay ($25), a fresh and juicy crowd-pleaser, as well as the 2018 Kali Hart Pinot Noir ($26), which delivers unlikely complexity for its relatively modest price. The Luli Wines, which are made by the Pisoni family, deliver superb value and are always food-friendly. It’s hard to go wrong with any of them in a Thanksgiving setting but I’d especially seek out the taut, nervy 2018 Pinot Noir ($24) and the assertively spicy 2018 Sauvignon Blanc ($18), which is a remarkable value. Also worth serving is the deeply flavored, powerful 2018 Hahn SLH Pinot Noir Estate ($30) and the lively, penetrating 2018 Morgan Chardonnay Highland ($28).
Paso Robles is known for its bold, rich red wines, and there are a number of terrific choices as well. Top options from the pioneering Tablas Creek Vineyard are the 2018 Patelin de Tablas Red ($25), a delicious Southern Rhône look-alike and its white sibling, the 2019 Patelin de Tablas Blanc ($25), a vibrant and sharply focused wine that will work well with all sorts of food. The 2018 and 2017 versions of both are excellent as well. Villa Creek Cellars makes some of the most sought-after wines of the region and their newly introduced Cherry House label includes two delicious, entry-level bottlings that deliver noteworthy value. The 2019 White ($20) is a well-concentrated but lively blend of Rhône varieties and the 2018 Red ($20), also a mix of Rhône grapes, displays vibrant red fruit and spice character, with impressive complexity for its price.
An increasing number of top-notch, elegant Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays are being made in San Luis Obispo, which enjoys a strong, cooling ocean influence. Many of them deliver solid bang for the buck, like the vibrant 2018 Bishop’s Creek Pinot Noir ($24) and nervy, sharply focused Chardonnay ($24), which represent the entry-level bottlings of the famed Talley Vineyard. An outstanding Pinot Noir for the money is the 2018 Stephen Ross Wine Cellars Pinot Noir ($25), a lively, intensely perfumed and balanced wine, and I’d also recommend the intensely fruity, expressive 2018 Niner Wine Estates Chardonnay Estate ($25), which will deliver great crowd appeal.
Eric Guido’s Italian Thanksgiving
So you want to pair a wine with the myriad of flavors, textures and aromas of Thanksgiving, which can run the gamut from succulently sweet to rich and nutty and, finally, the ever-challenging white meat covered with tangy cranberry sauce and gravy? This is always one of my favorites topics each year; because in the end, after we spend far too much time trying to bend our brains around the perfect pairing, the answer is usually far simpler than we ever imagined. To set the ground rules straight, I’m envisioning the traditional Thanksgiving table. We have turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes (possibly sweet potatoes - no marshmallows for me, please), an assortment of roasted vegetables spanning from carrots to brussels sprouts, green beans, corn, gravy and cranberry sauce. Frankly, the easiest answer is to have more than one wine available at the table. Something zesty, fruity and fun, something dark, earthy and animal, and something lifted, pure and with a gentle sweetness - of course, bubbles can’t hurt either.
That said, depending on the size of your party, this may not be an option; and so, we’ll go on the premise that you need that one perfect wine. Being that my first love is Italy, that’s where I’m going to steer you. First thing’s first, keep in mind that the most important thing to pair your wine with is the main event: The Turkey. The moment you start worrying about the other items on the table is the moment your head begins to throb.
My pairing from the Northeast of Italy took no more than a matter of seconds to arrive at: Gewürztraminer. This is a classic pairing for turkey and all the fixings. A good Gewürtz brings the spice, exotic florals and ripe fruit with a kick of vibrant acids, which works wonders with white meat, even when there’s a dollop of cranberry sauce; and let’s not forget that gorgeous golden skin. One of my favorites from recent tastings is the 2019 Gewürztraminer Tradition from Cantina Terlano ($29).
As we move down the boot to central Italy, I’m thinking of two fantastic wines for the holiday table. First, from Le Marche, it’s Montepulciano, a grape that brings both fleshy red as well as blue fruits and herbal tones with brilliant acidity and framing structure. A good, fresh (no new oak) Montepulciano often reminds me a bit of Merlot - which happens to be another classic pairing for turkey. I think the best place to look is Le Marche, where we find the 2017 Le Terrazze Rosso Conero ($20). My other pairing from central Italy hails from Campania, and it’s a variety that doesn’t receive nearly enough attention: Fiano. In this situation, you’re looking for a more decadent and lush expression of Fiano, yet one that isn’t refined in oak. In my opinion, a Fiano such as this may be a wine of contrasts, mixing ripe fruit with savory herbs and hints of hazelnut or smoke; yet the pairing itself is one of complements. A perfect example is the 2018 Luigi Maffini Fiano Kratos ($29) from Paestum.
Time to look to the south; and for this pairing I’m going to Sicily, but not to the variety that the average person would assume, which would be Nerello Mascalese from Etna, in an attempt to channel Pinot Noir at your holiday table. No; instead, I’m looking at one of the most food-friendly reds produced in Italy today, and that’s Frappato. The best part about Frappato is that it pairs perfectly with both white and dark meat, with only gentle tannins and cleansing acidity, which preps the palate for each new bite. They are elegant and pure, full of tension, yet wildly aromatic with ripe fruits and florals. One that moved me earlier this year that I highly recommend is the 2017 Planeta Frappato Vittoria from Planeta ($23).
David Schildknecht’s Favorites from Germany and Austria
Fifty-plus years ago, my affair with wine scarcely budding but memories of the Rheingau fresh and fond, I instinctively – and, as it turned out, aptly – chose wines of then-prestigious Schloss Vollrads for the family Thanksgiving table. Today, Weingut Josef Spreitzer sources a Winkeler Jesuitengarten Riesling halbtrocken Alte Reben (from very nearby) and a Hattenheimer Engelmannsberg Riesling feinherb that recall those impeccably-balanced Vollrads Rieslings of the 1960s. Both exhibit sub-threshold but supportive sweetness, sadly rare among contemporary German Rieslings, which develop their distinctive flavors and equips them to tackle culinary situations into which analytically dry bottlings fear (or at least, should fear!) to tread. While exhibiting restraint and complexity once deemed synonymous with “Rheingau,” either wine is at once distinctive enough not to get lost amid a diverse menu and luscious enough to charm those diners not bent on scrutinizing vinous nooks and crannies. Amazingly, not just the delectable vintage 2018 renditions but also the profoundly delicious 2017s and 2016s are still in U.S. markets for $20-25.
Thanksgiving is just another among endless excuses to drink Pinot Noir. Increasingly, though, the challenge is finding something affordable for a family affair yet displaying the tender fruit and texture, the herbal, carnal and mineral intrigue that uniquely distinguish this grape. Given its denizens’ deep pockets and keenness on native reds, Germany is hardly the ideal place to search. Yet, young Christian Dautel’s compellingly savory basic Spätburgunder will run you just $20-25, a circumstance doubtless reflecting Württemberg’s dominance of black grape varieties and the fact that (unlike in neighboring, bigger, better-known Baden) Pinot comes in fourth among those in local notoriety. (I give Dautel’s 2017 a slight edge over the excellent 2018.) Or why not take Thanksgiving as an occasion to spread the gospel of Austrian Blaufränkisch? An example from ne plus ultra Weingut Moric can be had for under $30. While drought and sunshine made for intensely-ripe dark berry fruit; Roland Velich’s 2017 Blaufränkisch Burgenland preserves the tang and tension, the floral, mineral, peppery and herbal nuances that render this variety distinctive, but that many practitioners erode in an effort to achieve a rounder and more predictable red. (If you’re feeling flush, there are the sensational village-designated Moric bottlings, notably from contrasting 2014 and 2015.)
Ellen Clifford’s Delectable Picks
Some may not realize that Chinon offers more than just red wine! I’d kick things off with a grape that can be many things (sweet! dry! sparkling!) but to me, is everything: Chenin Blanc. And it’s fun to say you are drinking Chinon Chenin. Domaine Bernard Baudry La Croix Boissée Chinon Chenin Blanc 2018 (about $45) is dry, slightly spicy, and honeyed. It makes me think, spiritually, if not precisely flavor-wise, of a hot spiced tea punch my dad makes for Thanksgiving that’s composed of lemonade and orange concentrate, tea, sugar, cloves, and cinnamon. I secretly always hope there are leftovers so I can drink it cold, and the Baudry Chinon Chenin is making my chilled dreams come true. Plus, the high acid contrasted by full golden body would allow it to be enjoyed throughout the meal - particularly with cranberry sauce and buttery potatoes, I think. I plan to test this hypothesis this year. When it comes to red Chinon (made of Cabernet Franc), I wanted to give you a couple of options. Marc Bredif Chinon 2018 ($23) is light and bright enough to cut cleanly through all the contrasting (and sometimes conflicting) Thanksgiving dishes. The fine and silky tannins won’t fight back. If you need a Chinon rouge with more oomph, look to Charles Joguet Chinon “Les Varennes du Grand Clos” 2016 ($47). It has a bit more structure but remains graceful. Plus, on the palate there is an herbal heft and pink peppercorn lift that are just bold enough to make the wine interesting without being overwhelming.
Rebecca Gibb MW – A Kiwi Take
The first Thanksgiving celebration was held by white colonists in 1621 to celebrate the first successful corn harvest on American shores, but it would be another two decades until New Zealand was discovered by Dutchman Abel Tasman and another two centuries before the first vines took root in New Zealand. The country’s wine industry was forged by visionary immigrants from Britain, France, Dalmatia and Lebanon, and it remains truly international today. Thus, it seems only fitting that on America’s annual national holiday I select New Zealand wines with American associations to match your turkey-laden platters.
Pair your bird with a glass of Sheth & Smith Heretaunga Chardonnay 2018 ($28), a ripe yet perfectly proportioned barrel-fermented style from Austin-born businessman Brian Sheth and New Zealand Master of Wine Steve Smith. Alternatively, if you’re looking for a red pairing, Valli’s Bannockburn Pinot Noir 2016 ($50.00) comes from a very smart Central Otago producer that counts Oregonian winemaker Jen Parr and several other Americans on the team while a few minutes’ drive from Valli HQ, you’ll find American wine importer Marquis Sauvage’s biodynamic property Burn Cottage. Its mellow and nuanced 2017 Pinot Noir ($50.00) is widely available in the U.S.
While 2020 was not the year we had hoped for, I hope that you are able to enjoy a glass of wine with someone you love wherever you are this November 26.
Neal Martin – Is It Thanksgiving, or Christmas?
I was asked to recommend wines for Thanksgiving Day. Well, first I had to look up “Thanksgiving Day”. Here on the other side of the Atlantic, it is just something we see in films such as Planes, Trains and Automobiles, Miracle on 34th Street or Thankskilling - just in case you have not seen it - a 2009 horror featuring, and I quote, “a demonic turkey”. We Brits cannot understand why our American cousins hold a celebration that involves eating an enormous turkey so close to Christmas, another celebration that involves an enormous turkey. So I researched this annual celebration because I do not want to advise on wine without knowing exactly what it is for.
Apparently the roots of Thanksgiving Day are traced back to pilgrims that emigrated from England in 1621, so be thankful this was before Brexit and quarantine restrictions, otherwise they’d still be stuck at Plymouth filling out forms. The Thanksgiving dinner originates from those first settlers that wanted to celebrate a bountiful harvest.
Now this made me ponder: Why we don’t we have our own Thanksgiving?
Here it is only celebrated in two places. Firstly in junior schools, when pupils are encouraged to raid parents’ larders to donate food to local charities. This result is hundreds of tins of out-of-date semolina being redistributed to families having to live off tins of semolina. The only other place it is celebrated is on the Scottish island of Summerisle, as depicted in the 1973 film The Wicker Man. Their recipe uses a police sergeant rather than an enormous turkey. I suppose if the good folk of Summereisle had used an enormous turkey it would have made for a less interesting film - unless it involved a demonic turkey. Another factoid that I discovered is that Thanksgiving is held on the fourth Thursday of November, which made me wonder if my wine recommendations are unnecessary since families will surely still be drinking all that excess Beaujolais Nouveau.
Now that I am completely au fait with Thanksgiving, the question is: What to drink with enormous turkey, demonic or not? I have selected a few bottles from regions that I cover. Starting with a white, forget everywhere else and head to the country that is producing killer whites at giveaway prices – South Africa. I would suggest the 2018 Cartology from Chris Alheit ($45), as good a Chenin Blanc as you will find from the Cape’s boy wonder. Partner that with a 2018 Rully Clos Saint-Jacques 1er Cru from Domaine de la Folie ($50), a superb white from the Côte Chalonnaise. For reds I will pick from Bordeaux and Burgundy. The 2010 vintage is just starting to come round, so why not a bottle of 2010 Château Lagrange ($75). Then something less tannic – either a 2016 Gevrey-Chambertin Village from Domaine Duroché or if you want to push the boat after a challenging 2020, why not treat yourself to a 2014 Nuits Saint-Georges Les Vaucrains from Domaine Robert Chevillon ($120). Is money no object? In Bordeaux, the 1985s are still exquisite, so perhaps a bottle of 1985 Léoville Las-Cases or in Burgundy, the 2015 Chambolle-Musigny Les Amoureuses from Domaine J-F Mugnier. This being the time of year: Do not forget to finish with a fortified. In terms of Port, a glass of 1970 Taylor’s Vintage is just the trick or maybe a Madeira, such as the 2004 Malvasia Colheita Single Cask 132a+d from Barbeito ($50). After drinking all these, you can settle down and watch Thankskilling with the family and start planning recipes for the rest of the month using those enormous turkey leftovers, before Christmas and another enormous turkey is in the oven.
Rosé Champagne always sets the right tone for a festive occasion. Serving Pinot-heavy Rosé Champagne in a Pinot Noir glass brings out breadth and texture.
Antonio Galloni – A Little Bit of Everything
Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday. For starters, it is a quintessentially American holiday that brings together people of all faiths. The central theme – the idea of giving thanks – is very different from other more commercial and/or celebratory holidays. To be sure, 2020 has been an extremely challenging year, and yet I am feeling very thankful as the end of November approaches.
When it comes to food and wine pairings, I admit I am more of an “eat what you like and drink what you like” kind of person. The traditional Thanksgiving menu, with its wide range of savory and sweet flavors, presents some challenges, but nothing that can’t be met with a few good bottles.
I am starting with Champagne. Obviously. It doesn’t have to be expensive, but nothing sets the mood like a good glass of bubbly. Alexandre Chartogne’s NV Brut Cuvée Ste.-Anne ($51) is one of my favorite affordable Champagnes. It captures all of the textural richness of his top wines at a fraction of the price. I especially love Rosé Champagne during the holidays. Aurélien Laherte’s NV Extra Brut Rosé de Meunier ($56) is a fabulous choice.
For whites, I am heading to the Loire this year. Off-dry whites are a common pairing for Thanksgiving turkey, but not really my thing. I prefer whites that suggest a touch of exoticness/sweetness without being overt. Domaine Huet turned out a dazzling set of wines in 2019. The three Vouvray secs are all fabulous, with the Clos du Bourg especially fine. At $45 a bottle, it is quite possibly one of the greatest values in world-class white wine. If the Loire is a bit too adventurous for some of your guests, there are plenty of California whites that will do the trick, and then some. One of the best California Chardonnays I tasted this year was 2017 Chardonnay Nuits-Blanches au Bouge from Au Bon Climat. It is a steal at $40 a bottle.
When it comes to red wines, the choices are almost limitless. Much of California enjoyed a spectacular vintage in 2018. It’s young, but the Pinot Noir Occidental Ridge Vineyard ($80) from Ehren Jordan’s Failla is Sonoma Coast Pinot at its most spectacular. Further inland, Morgan Peterson’s Papera Ranch Heritage Wine, a blend of mostly Zinfandel and Carignan, delivers tremendous value at $50/bottle. In Cabernet Sauvignon land, classically built Napa Cabernets will pair beautifully at the table. They have the structure to stand up to the richest gravies but won't overwhelm the delicate white meat. Whether you are looking for something affordable or want to splurge, Dominus, Dyer, Forman, Frog’s Leap, Mayacamas and Vine Hill Ranch are terrific options that run the gamut of the price spectrum.
Sweet wines get very little love these days, as they largely belong to another era in the way we used to eat and drink. That's a shame, as the best of these wines are so magnificent. One of my favorites is Doisy-Daëne, a gorgeous Barsac that is easily found for around $40 a half-bottle. It will make a fitting conclusion to any holiday feast.