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Don't Forget the Wine This Thanksgiving

by The Wine Guys, Tom Marquardt and Patrick Darr

We cannot remember a time when a Thanksgiving has been haunted by a double dose of unimaginable challenges. A raging virus coupled with divisive politics threatens to spoil many gatherings unless we take a collective breath and remember what the holiday is about: family, gratitude and harmony.

Many families have chosen not to travel for fear of contracting the worsening virus, and that alone sets a somber tone to the otherwise joyous holiday. The absence of live gatherings will leave stranded family exchanging virtual greetings, a distant alternative to sharing hugs and laughs around a table. These are indeed strange times.

Whether you are still able to gather with friends and families or celebrating alone, you shouldn’t let these mentally exhausting times spoil the traditions you have religiously preserved over the years. Keeping them brings a bit of normalcy and stability to our lives. Plunge headlong into a Thanksgiving feast – and don’t forget the wine.

The classic holiday dinner of turkey makes the choice as easy as apple pie. Because turkey is a relatively neutral meat, you won’t go wrong with light red wine or almost any white or rosé. And, best of all, you don’t need to spend a lot of money.

We like to start our family feasts with champagne or sparkling wine because there’s something about the bubbles that strikes a celebratory tone. It’s a versatile drink to share with appetizers as guests absorb the aromas wafting from the kitchen or when the chef can finally relax. There are inexpensive champagnes from Pommery, Nicolas-Feuillatte, Moet Chandon, Pierre Peters and other French producers. If you would rather honor U.S. producers on this American holiday, consider Argyle, Domaine Carneros, Roederer Estate and Schramsberg.

For the feast, we like to put both red and white wine on the table to satisfy everyone’s preferences. Although the classic side dishes – gravy, cranberry sauce, potatoes and dressing -- can take the choice in different directions, just concentrate on the entrée. If you prefer to serve ham, you should consider a light red or a white with some acidity to offset the salt flavors. Lamb and beef call for serious cabernet sauvignons.

We like chardonnay and pinot noir for the turkey dinner, but we also have enjoyed riesling, beaujolais, sauvignon blanc and even syrah. The apple and tropical fruit flavors of chardonnay, especially those which are unoaked, complement turkey and texturally is a good match to gravy. Pinot noir is simply a versatile wine that won’t overwhelm a simple dish.

For chardonnay, consider Ramey, Ram’s Gate, Morgan, MacRostie and the reasonably priced Chateau Ste Michelle from Washington.

As for pinot noirs, we like the inexpensive Hahn, Landmark, La Crema and Olema.

One outlier to consider is an off-dry riesling, such as Chateau Ste Michelle’s Eroica, that can match cranberry sauce as well as turkey.

Perhaps the most versatile wine to serve both before and during the meal is rosé. There are plenty of versions – several from southern France – that cost less than $20. The acidity and fruit are good foils to most simple foods. We like Whispering Angel, Miraval and Domaine Ott “By Ott.”

Please look at the bright side, count your blessings and drink responsibly.

Sauvignon blanc

It doesn’t have to be summer to enjoy sauvignon blanc. The grapefruit, citrus character of this grape variety make it a refreshing aperitif and it complements fish with citrus sauces, chicken and even pasta. Here are a few we recently enjoyed:

  • Matanzas Creek Sauvignon Blanc Alexander Valley 2018 ($15-20). This is a lovely quaffable sauvignon blanc from a long-time quality producer. Peach and apple notes dominate with a background of herbal notes.

  • Flora Springs Estate Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley 2018 ($30). Fig, melon and a nice floral component adds interest. Crisp at first sip, this sauvignon blanc ends with a smooth creamy finish.

  • Gamble Family Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc 2019 ($28). This delicious and fresh sauvignon blanc benefits from the musque clone that broadens the flavor profile with softly textured, tropical fruit notes. Grapefruit and citrus notes provide the more classic flavors. One of our perennial favorites for sauvignon blanc.

  • Ritual Sauvignon Blanc 2018 ($20). There are layers of fruit flavors in this Chilean wine because the producer combines cement eggs, oak barrels and stainless steel for fermentation. We loved the wine’s floral notes and lush stone fruit flavors.

Wine picks

  • Stags’ Leap Winery Block 20 Merlot 2017 ($70). Using the best grapes from one block, Stag’s Leap has a colossal merlot with plum and clove aromas. The full-bodied palate is of rich and silky raspberry and cherry flavors with hints of cocoa and spice.

  • Los Moradas de San Martin Senda 2017 ($13). We can’t remember the last time we fell in love with a wine so much that we ordered a case online. Unable to find it in local stores, we had to pay shipping fees, which raised the price to $15 a bottle – but it’s still a great bargain. From the Madrid side of the Gredos range of hills in Spain, this producer is focused on old vine garnacha. The depth, texture and tannins in this wine suggested a cost of $40 or more. Generous aromas with plum and black cherry flavors, a bit of minerality and vanilla. We also tasted the producer’s 2013 Initio garnacha and it too was showing beautifully.

  • Four Vines The Kinker Cabernet Sauvignon 2018 ($18). Petite sirah and grenache is added to this Paso Robles cabernet sauvignon to give it more color and broader flavors. Ripe dark fruit aromas with fruit-forward flavors of currants, plum, cassis.

  • De Vinosalvo “Auspicium” Montecucco Rosso 2016 ($25). From Tuscany, this sangiovese/syrah blend has rich and ripe cherry and cassis flavors.

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