"OK, smart guy," the email began, "Nice suggestions for wines to bring to someone's house -- but what would you suggest for the actual meal? You know, the whole reason that everyone gathers in the first place?"
A challenge I'm more than happy to meet head on, thank you very much.
While there are always countless gatherings and parties through the months of November and December, there's something about Thanksgiving that brings out the madness in everyone. Financial stress, family stress, travel stress -- you name it, and this long weekend's got it.
Because of all this, Thanksgiving dinner simply begs for wine. So does Thanksgiving dinner prep, and Thanksgiving dinner cleanup, and football, and...well...you get the idea.
The trick, I've found, is to stay flexible. (At least when it comes to choosing your wines.) You're usually going to be drinking much more than normal, for all the reasons I've mentioned, so I think it's best to have some wines that not only will complement the meal you're having, but will be good enough to have on their own, and not so expensive that they're going to break the bank. After all, you're probably going to be topping off the recycling bin when all is said and done.
You're not going to find a "perfect" wine to have with dinner. There are usually too many flavors laid out in front of you: meat, sweet, wine-killing vegetables, starches of various sorts. In my opinion, your best bet is to find reasonably food friendly wines that people will enjoy on their own. Don't worry too much about the pairings. After the first couple of glasses, no one's going to care much, anyway.
So, here's what's going to be uncorked around VineLand for the feast:
Whites: I decided to go with a double-barrel of Washingtonian goodness. Chateau St. Michelle has long been a solid "when in doubt" fallback for me, and I've got enough folks around the table this year who like wines on the slightly sweet side that I figure I can't go wrong either way. Both CSM's 2007 Riesling ($7-9) and 2007 Gewurztraminer ($8-10) are excellent, food friendly selections. The Riesling is a classic Washington Riesling, full of apples and honey. The Gewurz has a little more residual sugar than many others, but I think, especially for wine novices or folks who just want more in their glass, that it runs a strong middle-of-the road path. There may be more interesting Gewurz's out there, but for the value and for the overall quality, it'll do just fine.
Rosé: Thanksgiving dinner just isn't thanksgiving dinner at our place without a dry rosé on the table. I went through several tests before settling on the Juno 2007 Cape Maidens Rosé. ($8-10) This wine is South African, made from a blend of 50% Syrah and 50% Pinotage. The resulting wine is a fruity concoction with a full, floral nose and flavors of cherry and green apple. The finish is crisp and dry. (I honestly wish I'd discovered this wine in the summer -- it would have been fabulous with salads and such.) I think it's one of the more interesting rosés at this price point. I also think it will be a great conversation starter thanks to the myriad angles one can use to look at the movie of the same name. However, I take no responsibility for any unplanned pregnancies after overconsumption of this wine.
Red: This year, it's going to be Zinfandel. Specifically, De Loach 2005 Zinfandel. ($9-11) I think this is a really interesting wine. It's a "bridge Zin," in my opinion. The Sweet Partner in Crime said that it "could pass for a big pinot." It's not as big, inky, or powerful as a lot of Zins. What it is -- fruity without being cloying and big without being overwhelming. Lots of cherry and blackberry flavors on both the nose and body, with a slightly smoky finish. I found this wine on sale locally. At $9, it's a bargain. At the $7 I found it for, it's stealing.
If you haven't noticed, there's a "cherry" theme to these wines -- which I'm banking on complementing the cherries we harvested this summer. We're going to use those cherries in sauces for roast turkey and pork and in desserts inspired by our cross-alley neighbor, Christine (the Pie Queen). I'll let you know how it all turns out...
Feel free to share in the comments what you're planning to open when the family walks through the door. I'd enjoy comparing notes with you. And Vine recommendations are always free.
In the meantime, prepare for eating, drinking, and merrymaking; do your best to stay reasonably sane; and remember -- there's always another bottle somewhere...or at least there should be.