Posted by: David Stewart | November 25, 2014

Thanksgiving Wines 2014

The tradition of celebrating Thanksgiving might seem a uniquely North American tradition, though it is celebrated at a different time in the US and Canada. I was surprised to learn last year that the tradition of insane shopping on the day after, known as “Black Friday” has become a global phenomenon. I was sitting in a dark pub in Bucharest, having dinner with some young friends when I learned of this. My reaction went something like this:

“Hang on, Black Friday? You guys don’t celebrate Thanksgiving, right? Then why on earth do you have Black Friday?”

It turns out that global commercialism has propagated the Black Friday tradition in Europe at least and probably elsewhere. Why not invent a holiday to train shoppers to spend money?

Fortunately we Americans can stand down for at least one day, focus on gratitude and peace, and enjoy a traditional meal together. If you celebrate it, my hope is that this year’s feast will be a fun time for you, filled with laughter and joy.

Food and wine blogs are filled with recommendations for libations of all kinds for the day. Here are a few of my suggestions for the day.

An essential Thanksgiving toolbox

I think a great Thanksgiving meal should be built around the following:

  • Sparkling wine for appetizers. Nothing says celebration like a sparkler! The only beverage which can legally bear the name “champagne” is made in that region in France, but there are many interesting options from elsewhere. For top dollar / best reputation, champagne might be the only reasonable choice. However there are many pleasing options ranging from Spanish Cava, Italian Prosecco or less pricy options from the Loire region of France (specifically Vouvray).
  • Red and white for the main meal. You can’t go wrong with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, respectively. A California Zinfandel is a nice option for both value and flavor flexibility. I would stay away from a Cabernet just because the more delicate flavors of poultry don’t stand up well to the intensity of the wine.
  • A desert wine. Port is an outstanding option, since wonderful options exist throughout the price spectrum.
  • Safety / sobriety. Always be sensitive to those who don’t drink, whether because of medical, legal or moral reasons. Those who have to drive after the meal should not put people’s safety at risk. Having wonderful non-alcoholic options is really critical. One of the winners for me over the years is a sparkling apple cider from Martinelli’s. Also having plenty of water to drink is important as well.

Hosting a crowd

One of the most important roles for a host where alcohol is served is to be sure that designated drivers are identified and kept safe and sober. Don’t even risk this. Identify the DD, monitor their consumption and push non-impairing options. If it seems that they are over the limit, spring for a taxi.

Unless you know that most of your guests have fairly developed taste in wine, I wouldn’t recommend getting too fancy with the pours. All options should be considered with an eye towards purchasing multiple bottles at a price which won’t kill the budget.

That said, there is nothing quite like pouring from a magnum or larger bottle for a crowd. I noticed that this year, our local Costco is carrying several magnums at quite reasonable prices.

Cava or prosecco are wonderful sparkling options, and can be obtained and kept cool relatively easy in an ice chest.

For red, here’s a secret – California’s J. Lohr has a terrific Zinfandel called Painter Bridge, which is at a sub-$10 price point and is quite good. I have had friends prefer it to more expensive reds in side-by-side tasting.

For desert, I like Graham’s Six Grapes Port. Usually available for under $20 in grocery shops, it’s an excellent value for a special bottle.

I have also been impressed by the appearance of Sauternes in our local grocery stores at a reasonable price – meaning under $15 for half-sized bottles. If you are unfamiliar with it, Sauternes is a region of Bordeaux which produces a lovely honey-colored sweet wine which is balanced by acidity and usually doesn’t have a high load of alcohol. Of course, you can spring for a Chateau Y’Quem for over $1000 per bottle, but I wouldn’t advise it. (Or if you do, can you please invite me over?)

Visiting someone else’s house

If you are bringing over a gift bottle as a house-warmer, This could be the chance to share something special with your discerning friends. However, unless there are many good wines being brought, I would not recommend it. Most of the time the “something special” could get lost in the crowd and you might feel like your gift was dishonored. Better to bring a desert wine like the Graham’s Six Grapes or Sauternes.

On the other hand, if you are the designated supplier of wine to the party, consider options which will be widely popular and appreciated by the specific group. My usual rule of thumb is to supply one bottle for every two people. This really should allow for non-drinkers, those who only drink a little and still have some left over at the end of the meal.

A small, private gathering

That’s what we’re having this year at our house – just my wife and I plus our two adult daughters. Here are my picks from the cellar:

  • Sparkling: NV Bodega Cruzat Brut – This is a delightful everyday sparkler from a high-altitude region in Argentina. I obtained it from the good folks at Garagiste, and have been very happy with it.
  • Red: 2006 Belle Pente Estate Reserve Pinot Noir. This is a reprise from our 2011 Thanksgiving, and is an excellent Willamette Valley wine from the Yamhill-Carlton AVA. The owner / winemaker at Belle Pente suggests that this wine is probably not going to improve any more with age, so it’s time to drink up.
  • White: I might skip the white this year. I’m not sure anyone will drink it, although we have plenty of good options to choose from.
  • Desert: This one is a puzzler. I have several port options in the wine rack to chose from. I really like local Oregon winemaker Coehlo, whose tasting room is in Amity. They have a number of excellent port options, and I have one I could pull out. On the other hand, I did get a Sauternes from a famous producer, so I might pull out one of those.

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