Wines for Thanksgiving

Matching wines for your family’s Thanksgiving dinner is really easier than you might think. Don’t get your head spinning by trying to match a wine with dishes as dissimilar as cranberry sauce, sausage stuffing, oyster dressing, Brussels sprouts, giblet gravy and creamed onions. Concentrate on the main course. Keep your mind on the bird — the glorious, American, roasted turkey. Also keep in mind that this is a holiday and a celebration, a time to simply have a drink and share in good cheer with the people whom we love. Wine snobbery should be forbidden on this day! Save those rare, old vintages for more intimate dinners.. this is the time for a fun and happy quaff!

Sparkling wine is a great way to start your celebration, since it doesn’t numb your palate the way a high-alcohol cocktail can, and because the clean, crisp acidity will make so many foods taste even better.! You can splurge on Champagne, or save a few dollars by considering a delicious alternative. Cava is one of those incredible bargains that Spain offers us, and will work wonderfully, as will a Prosecco from Italy. Make sure that either of these are either dry or off-dry. Our Australian friends love the combination of Sparkling Shiraz with roasted turkey and, though a bit skeptical at first, I have become a fan, too. For fun, a German sparkler, called Sekt, made from the aromatic Scheurebe grape, or the steely, mineral laden Elbling will have your guests asking for more. American Sparklers are becoming better by the year, and there are plenty of bubblies here that will shine on your table.

Beaujolais Nouveau, like the holiday itself, is a joyous celebration of the harvest. Released for sale the week before Thanksgiving, Beaujolais Nouveau is made from Gamay grapes harvested only a few weeks prior and makes an ideal choice for a family celebration. It’s fun, tasty, refreshing and inexpensive enough that everyone can enjoy it. Grown in the relatively cool climate of Burgundy, Beaujolais has enough crisp acidity to hold its own against the leg and thigh meat of turkey, yet is light enough that it will not mask the flavor of breast meat. The wine is dry, yet has plenty of fruit on the nose and will go well on a table filled with all of your favorite side dishes.even Aunt Millie’s sweet potatoes. Just remember to serve it chilled!

Riesling is the most versatile wine grape in the world, and the most “food friendly”. That’s why it is almost always the wine of choice when my Sommelier friends and I get together for a meal. For all the different flavors on your Thanksgiving dinner plate, a dry or slightly off-dry (halb-trocken) Riesling will make an excellent choice. Winemakers are creating excellent Rieslings in Germany, Austria, Oregon, Washington State, New York State and New Zealand.

If you must have Chardonnay, try to avoid the overly rich oak-y style wines. They simply don’t go well with most foods, and can be a disaster with many traditional Thanksgiving dishes. Oregon, Washington and New York’s Long Island are good sources for the lighter, drier style of wine. And to me, nothing can beat a white Burgundy, made solely from the noble Chardonnay grape. Clark Smith’s one-of-a-kind “Faux Chablis” is an absolutely brilliant wine, lean as a greyhound and more like a Burgundy than any other California Chardonnay I’ve tasted.

Zinfandel is often called a mystery grape because its history is so uncertain. It seems as if it originated in the Middle East, came to southern Italy where it is called Primitivo, and was brought to California, where we know it as Zinfandel. We also know that it grows better in California than anywhere else. For years it was a component of inexpensive “jug wines”, and is now appreciated by the top winemakers for its richness and depth of flavor. Zinfandel, red Zinfandel, not the pink “white Zin”, is another favorite of mine for Thanksgiving dinner. Look for “Old Vines” on the label: while fewer grapes grow on older vines, the flavors they produce are usually richer and more complex.

My own favorite wine for Thanksgiving is made from Pinot Noir. While Burgundy creates the most heavenly expression of this grape, the Carneros district, which covers part of the southern reaches of Napa and Sonoma, produces wonderful wines, as do Washington, Oregon and the Finger Lakes region of New York. Pinot Noir is notoriously difficult in the vineyard and in the wine makers cellar but, when handled well, makes a wine unlike any other for its contrasting delicacy and strength, its firm character and its soft flesh.

The most important thing to remember is this: enjoy yourself. Have a good time. Be thankful for the year that we’ve had, for the life that we live, for the gifts we’ve been given, for the friends and the family whom we love and who love us. Don’t worry about the wine you’re pouring. pour it with love and in a spirit of joy and generosity and I’m sure it will taste great.

Have a wonderful holiday.

A few more Thanksgiving Dinner favorites:

Prejean Winery, Marechal Foch Some of us want to drink red wine, no matter what we’re eating. and this is a red that will go perfectly with everything on your Thanksgiving menu! Marechal Foch (mah re shall fowsh) is a French-American hybrid developed in New York State over 100 years ago in a quest to find a grape hardy enough to grow in the Finger Lakes area, yet producing a richly flavored wine. Blackberry, currant, vanilla and cocoa flavors in abundance!

Gruet, NV Brut My favorite American bubbly! Great to sip with hors d’oeuvres or with dinner, Gruet is a true Brut: bone dry and delicious! Serve it to your guests with hors d’oeuvres, and let the party begin! Pour it at dinner, or sip “as is” and watch the stars in the Autumn sky.

Here are Darrin’s Thanksgiving Picks!

Paringa, Sparkling Shiraz

Our Australian friends are simply mad about Sparkling Shiraz with roasted turkey… and we’re sure that you’ll taste why with the first sip. It’s dark, rich and juicy: full of fruit flavor and bubbles. It is gorgeous to look at and surprisingly complex and stunning to drink. $10.95

Siben, Riesling Kabinett Halbtrocken, Pfalz

Our good friend Willie Gluckstern is our “go-to-guy” for German wines, and this little winner from his portfolio is our choice for Thanksgiving. Loads of ripe fruit aromas fill the glass. Lively, brightly flavored, lots of mineral notes on the palate and just a slight touch of sweetness (just enough to make your dinner taste even better!) and 100% delicious! Classic Riesling! $11.95

Pennyfarthing, Cabernet Franc

One of the noble red grapes of Bordeaux, Cabernet franc is a perfect turkey Red, ad this one, from wine maker Clark Smith, brings it all together at a bargain price! Smoother and more refined in taste that Cabernet Sauvignon yet more structured than Merlot, this one is “just right” for your holiday table, no matter what you’re serving. Your guests will love this one. $10.95

Ca’lem, 10 yr. Tawny Porto

What better and more traditional way to end your Thanksgiving feast than with a glass of fine Port? I bought a huge amount of Calem Ports to get a great price, so you should get this one while you can! Deep and richly flavored with notes of honey, toffee, cocoa and blackberry, a glass of port makes a cheese course seem oh, so sophisticated . . . and makes all your holiday desserts even more delicious! $19.95

Buy Darrin’s Thanksgiving 4 Pack ad Save 10% $48.42

Darrin’s “Find of the Month”

Katharina & Helmut Gangl, Zewigelt Simply open a bottle of this lip-smacking red with your Thanksgiving dinner and your guests will be so impressed, they’ll think that you’ve become a wine genius! Simply put, this is one of the best red wines anywhere to serve with a roasted turkey holiday dinner. Raise your glass and inhale the heady, slightly rustic aromas of cherry, blackberry and peppercorns. Rich and creamy on the palate, elegant in character with delicate, layered flavors of sour-cherry, rose petal, plums, caramel and spices. Powerful structure with a perfect balance of fruit, bright and lively acidity and smooth-as-silk soft tannins with a smooth, fine finish that lingers on and on. A definite sense of terroir adds to the overall complexity of this wine. Zweigelt, a cross of St. Laurent and Blaufrankish, has become the most widely planted red grape in Austria! So… do you want your friends to think you’re a wine genius or don’t you?

Katharina & Helmut Gangl, Zeigelt $18.95