Each year, as we approach Thanksgiving and contemplate the traditional turkey dinner, wine columnists get to pontificate about the virtues of various wines to accompany a rather bland bird that, somehow, when all is said and done, is transformed into a beautiful holiday centerpiece to be marveled at with all the trimmings and enjoyed with family and good friends.
With the exception of my father, I have never known anyone who actually complained about a Thanksgiving dinner. My dad liked his turkey very well done and if he thought it was “undercooked” he would let you know it. (To be fair, he would tell you how wonderful it was when he thought it was just right.) He was also a real turkey, sweet potatoes and string beans kind of guy — no need to experiment with exotic stuff like oysters in the stuffing or sautéed broccoli rabe, which, I recall, once provoked a slightly irritated, “What’s that?” I believe most people, though, would welcome the chance to mix up the Thanksgiving meal a little.
The same, I think, is true of the wine. At a French “Thanksgiving” dinner for wine writers at the New York restaurant D’Artagnan this fall, the theme was reds of the Loire Valley, where the signature grape is the Cabernet Franc. These lighter wines — we tasted examples from Saumur Champigny and Chinon that evening — were delightful with the rustic French interpretation of a turkey dinner.
The point is there is no “correct” Thanksgiving wine, although the Zinfandel and perhaps Chardonnay lobbies would have us believe otherwise. Some people prefer American wine on this quintessentially American holiday, while others may have a specific wine or two in mind, whether from this county or elsewhere. If you prefer reds, as a growing number of people do on Thanksgiving, the possibilities are almost endless. Whites will certainly work as well, or you can serve a white with a first course and move on to red for the main event. The key is to choose wines that will hold up to and complement the mosaic of foods and myriad tastes of Thanksgiving.
With that in mind, I decided to assemble my own Thanksgiving wine list by looking over the wines I wrote about in the last year, as well as some I hadn’t reviewed. I found quite a few — red and white — that I would serve with confidence at a Thanksgiving feast. Definitive? Hardly. But hopefully it will give you some new ideas about Thanksgiving wine.
L de Lyeth Cabernet Sauvignon 2001: A California Cab so good and so cheap that a case might be in order. Jammy with blackberry and plum (Sonoma County, $10).
RBJ Vox Populi 2000: A lovely, fruity 100 percent Grenache from 30- to 40-year-old vines with raspberry and cocoa notes (Barossa Valley, South Australia, $10).
Rock River Zinfandel 2001: This second label from a well-known producer is a delicious, lighter zinfandel that won’t overpower dinner or your budget (California, $11).
Potel-Aviron Moulin-à-Vent 2000: Fabulous berry fruit in a “grownup” Gamay from a top Beaujolais producer (Beaujolais, France, $17).
Archery Summit Pinot Noir Premier Cuvée 2001: Opulent, elegant, concentrated fruit and layers of complexity. Will make a statement (Willamette Valley, Oregon, $37).
Nora 2002: A lively and accessible dry wine from the Albariòo grape that explodes with pear, lime and pineapple and is crisply acidic (Rias Baixas, Spain, $12).
Domaine Lafond Lirac 2002: Seductive, unusual blend of Viognier and Roussanne with notes of pear, banana, honey and orange rind (Rhône Valley, France, $12).
Salomon-Undhof Grüner Veltliner “Hochterrassen” 2002: A lean and elegant Grüner Veltliner with tastes of peach, pear, lemon and spice (Austria, $13).
Sokol-Blosser “Evolution” (non-vintage): Nine varieties, from Chardonnay to Gewürztraminer, are combined in a fragrant, highly versatile food wine (Oregon, $15).
Bonny Doon “The Heart Has Its Rieslings” (non-vintage): A superb, beautiful American Riesling that starts off sweet and finishes dry with bright acidity (California, $15).