Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Thanksgiving wine -- bottles to carve by

Ah, Thanksgiving. A time when families gather to give voice to their collective baggage, travelers delayed in airports scream at underpaid gate employees, highway traffic floods to a crawl, and somewhere in this madhouse of activity…dinner gets cooked.

Pairing a wine with a traditional Thanksgiving dinner can be a challenge. A big red won't work. The tannins will overwhelm most foods on your table. A usual white, like a chardonnay, usually doesn't have the strength to stand up with the oils in a turkey or pair with the variety of foods on the table -- from cranberries to stuffing to sweet potatoes. What do you want?

You want something that won't break the bank. You generally don't want anything too complex, as such a wine will usually be wasted as everyone gorges and then prepares for a long afternoon nap. So, where to go?

I've picked a few examples of varietals that tend to go well with a Thanksgiving (or other big cooking holiday of your choice) meal. This, of course, is not an exhaustive list, Vine readers should share their holiday wine faves in the comments for everyone to read.

Also, if you're hosting the meal, I recommend storing a small flask of Maker's Mark inconspicuously in the kitchen. For use in the sweet potatoes, of course…

Ca' del Solo 2005 Big House Pink -- Rosés are an excellent choice when you're entertaining for a number of folks. That is, once you get past the fear of pink. Rosés, as I've mentioned before, are extremely flexible, food friendly wines. A rosé generally has a little more body than a white, so it can go with heartier stuffings -- but the acidity that it brings to the table will cut through sauces and sweeter foods nicely. Turkey is a classic rose pairing. This entry from Ca' del Solo -- an alternate label of Bonny Doon Vineyard that produces some excellent, inexpensive blends -- will fill the bill at any such gathering. Remember, though, roses are best when not served ice-cold. You want to at least let it warm to 50 degrees or so. Once you unscrew this rose (and I'm going to do a feature on screwcaps a little down the line -- don't be afraid of them, either…) and pour a glass, you'll be greeted with a light, tropical fruit nose (I get pineapple from it). This wine has a nice "weight" in your mouth and has a well-balanced fruit flavor -- a little strawberry and a little grapefruit. The finish is tart and crisp. The Big House Pink is about $8-9 a bottle. If you have guests that can't decide between red and white, pour them this one. They'll appreciate you.

Covey Run 2005 Columbia Valley Riesling -- Thanksgiving dinner is about options. White meat or dark? Beans or greens? Stuffing or bread? Red or White? You're going to want flexibility, and there's no more flexible white than a decent Riesling. I focused on Riesling once before as a crowd pleaser -- and I'd hold to that if you're looking for a safe bet for your holiday table. For this particular selection -- Covey Run is a winery in Washington. Over the last ten years, Washington and Oregon have become major players in the American wine market, and their wines are some of the best values you'll see in domestic wines. The climate in Washington's Columbia Valley mirrors that of the Saar region in Germany. Some of the best Rieslings in the world are produced there. This wine certainly echoes its heritage. Covey Run's Riesling starts you with a fruity nose of apricots and peaches. This wine would not be considered a "dry" Riesling by any stretch. It's somewhat sweet, but there's a nice tartness that runs through the body of the wine. The finish is gentle and citrusy. This wine has enough interesting fruit flavor to satisfy any corkheads that may be at the table, while it's easy-drinking enough for your everyday guest. At $7-10, it's a great value.

Camelot 2005 Pinot Noir -- Pinot noir is a traditional Thanksgiving wine -- generally because it's a lighter, food friendly red that people can quaff without too much consideration. For a big meal, most folks will, again, generally be fine with a "mainline" pinot. (Personal note -- after the Santa Barbara jaunt, tasting inexpensive pinots was a bit of a shock to the system…) Camelot, although often shelved next to domestic pinot noirs, is actually French wine. It's certainly nowhere near the quality of red Burgundy (most of which are pinots) -- but for our purposes, it'll work. The Camelot has a light nose of cherries and herbs. It's a medium to light bodied pinot with a very nice, dark strawberry taste that slides into a long, semi-dry finish. There's nothing complicated about this wine -- it's just an easy drinking, well-balanced red that will pair with most anything you might have on the table. At $8-9, you can certainly leave a few bottles of this open on the table for copious consumption.

Il Faggeto 2005 Prosecco Veneto -- As I was putting this entry together, my sweet partner in crime asked me, "So, what would you drink with dessert?" Since I don't put The Vine together to discuss Alka-Seltzer, I needed to find something that would go with a pumpkin pie. A little looking around netted me a Prosecco. Prosecco is an Italian sparkling wine. Don't confuse it with champagne -- it's not nearly as carbonated or dry. Prosecco tends to be semi-dry and slightly fruity. As you may have noticed, I don't taste a lot of sparkling wine -- because, honestly, I don’t know the best way to really "taste" them. I see most sparklers as for…well…straight-up drinking. (Sparklers have their uses, which I'll get to at a later date.) Il Faggetto Prosecco is a fun wine. The carbonation gives it an interesting flavor -- there's more fruit pushed to your tongue than you would find in your average champagne. While it's a bit sweet initially, the finish slides towards dry. Why would this be a good wine with pumpkin pie? At the end of the meal, you need something that will a) cleanse your palate and b) not be too heavy. Il Faggetto fills the bill. The bubbles will cut through the numerous spices of said pie, while the fruit adds a nice complementary taste. In addition, you could also serve this as a aperitif (WineSpeak for "wine before you eat anything") since it's relatively low in alcohol and pairs nicely with cheeses and fruit. Best of all, you can find this for $8-10, so you can either get your guests warmed up or cooled down without worry.

By the way -- for the other traditional Thanksgiving dessert, pecan pie, there's only one proper pairing. Single-barrel Kentucky whiskey. I recommend Blanton's or Baker's bourbon, or Bernheim's single-barrel wheat whiskey. Accept no substitutes.

Until next time…save me the drumstick.


Sean Carter said...

Hey thanks for the post...found it very resourceful....well a grand dinner without the perfect wine is not complete....thanks again will surely share this with my friends...and hey i also posted a little something on Thanksgiving wine at my Thanksgiving Blog do check it out sometime.....have a great Thanksgiving!!!!

JettieSatellite, The_Wizard of Covington said...

Hey...What kind of grapes does Bourbon come from?

The Naked Vine said...

The fruit of the winter wheat tree, of course...

Anonymous said...

This has been most helpful! I was doing some thinking earlier tonight about what to get for that fine meal -- you've definitely given me some direction. As always, thanks :)

Anonymous said...

Well done, Mikey. I pulled up your post when in a liquor store in the Great White North and was able to find the Covey Run Riesling. It worked great with our Thanksgiving dinner. Can't tell you if it pairs with rutabagas, though it works well with lefse and duck rice (all traditions at the inlaws' dinners).

BTW, if you want a good seasonal beer recommendation, I tried Full Sail Wassail over the weekend. One of the most complex beers I've ever had. Very tasty.