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Four great whites for your Thanksgiving feast

TODAY wine columnist Edward Deitch looks beyond chardonnay with a list that's sure to please.
/ Source: TODAY

Whether you drink red or white wine for Thanksgiving is pretty much a matter of preference. Both can work well with the range of foods on the Thanksgiving table. But which reds and which whites? That’s a somewhat tougher question, so this week and next we’ll discuss the options, beginning with some white wine possibilities.

It would be easy to turn to chardonnay, the world’s most popular white, as the default wine. While I am going to suggest a chardonnay, you should consider mixing things up a bit this Thanksgiving.

But first, let’s consider the menu. In our house Thanksgiving tends to be pretty simple; there’s just lots of it: smoked salmon and cheeses to start; roast turkey with gravy, of course, the stuffing accented with sausage; twice-baked potatoes (scooped out, pureed, spooned back in the shells and baked again, perhaps topped with a little cheese); sweet potatoes; steamed brussels sprouts tossed with maple syrup; carrots drizzled with balsamic vinegar; my wife’s homemade cranberry sauce, which she learned to make from her mother. I’m sure I’m leaving something out. Oh, maybe it’s the buttered broccoli my older son likes so much.

All of these dishes are uncomplicated in themselves but combine in a potential collision course of tastes. So the wine needs to be capable of holding up to the foods, while not drowning out the flavors. That means substantial white wines with ample fruit, well-integrated oak that doesn’t dominate the wine (some may not have any oak) and, perhaps most important, bright acidity that makes them refreshing and makes you eager for the next sip.

From California, the 2006 Chardonnay from Justin Vineyards & Winery in Paso Robles on the Central Coast fits the bill nicely. This wine, which I’ve seen listed for between $15 and $20, shows excellent fruit and surprising complexity at this price. It’s buttery, yes, but well balanced with notes of yellow Delicious apple, brown sugar, vanilla and lime. You can sense how this would match well with our feast.

Now, looking beyond chardonnay, let’s consider viognier. This still rather obscure variety (pronounced VEE-un-yea) is originally from France’s Rhone Valley, but is catching on in California, and I’ve tasted a bunch of them from there recently. One of the best is the 2006 Viognier from the well-known Zaca Mesa Winery in the Santa Ynez Valley of Santa Barbara County. Viognier’s signature lies in its aromatic floral notes, which, as long as they’re not overpowering, are what make the wine so interesting.

In my notes I described Zaca Mesa’s wine as “gorgeous” with notes of melon, honey, vanilla and touches of cinnamon, butterscotch and minerals. I think it would pair beautifully with your Thanksgiving meal and, at around $18, it was one of the less expensive viogniers I tasted.  I also enjoyed the 2006 Viognier from the Robert Hall Winery in Paso Robles, a bigger, richer wine that I described as “beautifully elegant.” It’s chock-full of ripe tropical fruit with interesting nuances, including hints of spearmint and even a little black licorice. As I continued to sip it, new layers kept coming on. It, too, is a bargain, listed at $18 on Robert Hall’s Web site (

Until recently, I would not have thought of Thanksgiving and gewürztraminer, the aromatic French Alsatian and German variety that is often paired with Asian and other spicy foods. That changed the other day when I opened the 2001 Helfrich Gewürztraminer, a $20 grand cru wine from the well-known Steinklotz vineyard in Alsace. The grand cru designation refers to a more esteemed vineyard site.

And it shows here. This semi-sweet, but not cloying, wine shows mildly spicy and herbal notes that are typical of gewürztraminer (pronounced guh-VERTZ-tra-meen-er), along with great fruit, including pear and pineapple, and secondary notes of strawberry, honey, brown sugar and sage. The finish is long and crisp, ending with lemon and minerals. “Wonderfully complex,” I wrote.

This wine has limited distribution and may be hard to find, so I’m going to suggest that you consider other gewürztraminers as well, either from Alsace (another good one with wide availability is from Willm) or California. Ask your wine merchant to suggest one with a touch of sweetness. Your Thanksgiving guests will be surprised and delighted.

Next week, we’ll look at some Thanksgiving reds.

James Beard Foundation

Edward Deitch is the recipient of the 2007 James Beard Foundation Journalism Award for Best Multimedia Writing. He welcomes comments from readers. Write to him at