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For Thanksgiving, a cornucopia of red wines

From delicate to bold, TODAY wine columnist Edward Deitch rounds up top reds to please any palate this Thanksgiving.
/ Source: TODAY

We turned our house into a Thanksgiving test kitchen this past weekend with the aim of finding red wines that might make good matches for the holiday feast. We found many possibilities, and the need to be a little cautious about some of our favorites.

To approximate our Thanksgiving meal, we went out and bought a couple of chickens, filled them with stuffing and cooked up a bunch of side dishes, including roasted sliced sweet potatoes and carrots and steamed brussels sprouts with maple syrup.

One of our friends, summing up the confusion, year after year, on what to drink, asked in frustration, “Every Thanksgiving comes around and what do you have for the wine?” We focused on American reds, starting with some pinot noirs, then moved to some other possibilities, including a couple of European wines. (Last week we explored some Thanksgiving whites.)

Pinot noirs: Delicate and subtle
The great thing about pinot noirs is their delicate and subtle tastes. We tried three of them, all somewhat different in style but all delicious. The first was from California, the 2006 Aries Pinot Noir from Robert Sinskey Vineyards in the Carneros area of the Napa Valley ($24). Made from organically grown grapes, its aromas and tastes were lovely and pure, mainly ripe strawberry, spice and earth notes.

Next we tried the 2006 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir from the Montinore Estate in Oregon. Like the Aries, this $18 wine was light in color but packed with flavor, blending raspberry, peppery notes and what I tasted as a hint of eucalyptus that made it fascinating and nuanced.

The third wine, and the most fruit forward of the three, was another California wine, the 2005 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir from the Merry Edwards winery at about $33. This gorgeous wine was the biggest of the pinots we tasted, packed with bright cherry and notes of lemon and orange, vanilla and spice.

If there is a slight caveat to pinot noir, it’s this: Those same delicate qualities that make it so interesting might be overpowered by some of the bolder tastes of Thanksgiving, such as a fig and ginger preserve that my wife used to create a fruit glaze on the chickens and which found its way into the drippings and gravy. But I suspect that most people will be roasting turkey more simply, and that in most cases pinot noir will be just fine and, in fact, delicious.

Bigger, more aggressive redsThat said, if you prefer bigger, more aggressive reds, here are a few possibilities: The 2005 Santa Barbara County Syrah from the Ojai Vineyard ($22) has ripe black cherry and blueberry notes and is notable for its elegance; also from California, the 2004 Merlot from Alhona Vineyards in the Carmel Valley of Mendocino County is a superb example of this sometimes maligned variety —bright, well-structured and balanced with plum, blackberry and earth notes.  It’s $25 and available from the winery at

From France, so-called Beaujolais nouveau, the first pressing of this year’s gamay harvest from that region, is about to hit our shores with the usual marketing fanfare. Served chilled, the grapey nouveau wines are bold and refreshing, if not nuanced, and they’ll wash down just about anything. You should also consider Beaujolais with a bit of age, such as the delightful 2006 Beaujolais “Old Vines” from Jean-Paul Brun, which is a bargain at $14.

You won’t go wrong either with another favorite inexpensive red I wrote about a while back, the 2006 Barbera d’Alba from Giacomo Borgogno in Italy’s Piedmont, with its bright acidity, red berry fruit and notes of cedar. It, too, is $14. Indeed, when it comes to Thanksgiving wines, whether white or red, the possibilities are as endless as all the trimmings. Enjoy the holiday!

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