Next week, families from around the country will be gathering around the table for a tradition that we hope never dies. An activity we joined as children is now an activity we lead as adults – and it never stales. However easy it would be to contract the work to a third party, doing so would rob us of the joy we take in cooking for family and friends.
For more than 30 years we have been advising readers what to drink on Thanksgiving. While our cohorts come up with new twists that involve unusual grape varieties, we stick to the advice that always works for us. Other than cabernet sauvignon, almost any wine marries well with the traditional turkey dinner. And, to satisfy all palates, we put red and white wine on the table.
Thanksgiving is a special occasion because it is all-American and it draws family together around a festive table laboriously created by the host and hostess. Given that we are just off contentious mid-term elections, we suspect some family gatherings could be unnecessarily tense. Don’t let it be. Start your guests with some sparkling wine and find something agreeable to celebrate. Moet & Chandon makes a brut for $40 that is a good deal. Another reasonably priced French champagne is Jacquart Burt Mosaique ($45). If it’s American you want to pour, Gruet Brut from New Mexico is a steal at $15 a bottle.
Moderate the alcohol you serve. Don’t keep replacing those empty wine bottles and make sure everyone has water. Guests will stay as long as there is alcohol yet to consume. With that, here are some guidelines in choosing the wine.
First, focus on the entrée. It’s pretty tough finding a wine that perfectly matches everything from candied sweet potatoes to cranberry sauce. If it’s turkey that is your centerpiece, you can serve a light red wine (pinot noir, grenache, Beaujolais) or a white wine (chardonnay, pinot grigio, dry riesling). These wines will not interfere with the subtle flavors of a relatively neutral meat. If you intend to serve lamb or beef, go bold. Your best cabernet sauvignons, blends, and merlots with good body are appropriate.
Second, think of your guests. Not everyone likes red wine, so give them an alternative.
Finally, think cost. If you have a small gathering, open some nice wine if you can afford it. But if you have a crowd spread around the house for dinner, it is foolish to pour $50 wine that no one will recognize or appreciate. We have found that on occasions like the holidays, guests are more interested in conversation than they are the wine.
By the time the meal winds down, put away the wine and offer coffee. It’s a waste of money to serve sweet wine with dessert when most palates are fatigued.
Our final advice: if you are a guest, bring the hostess a nice bottle of wine to be opened later – don’t expect it to be poured at dinner that the cook has meticulously planned. A gift wine doesn’t have to be expensive, but try to find something unique – a wine from an area you or they recently visited, for instance, or a wine from an unusual grape variety.
Here are some chardonnays and pinot noirs we recently tasted that would do well with the Thanksgiving turkey:
Qupé Y Block Chardonnay 2016 ($22). Now under new ownership, this producer specializes in Rhone-style varieties. But we liked the balance fresh fruit character of this medium-body chardonnay that thankfully is not over-oaked. It has ample pear and apple flavors.
River Road Mills Cuvee Chardonnay 2016 ($30). From the Green Valley of Russian River Valley this complex chardonnay has elegance and richness with stone fruit flavors and a creamy, oaky finish.
Flora Springs Family Select Chardonnay 2017 ($35). This is an excellent Napa Valley wine for the price. Medium in body, it has apple and ripe melon flavors with hints of vanilla and cinnamon spice. Velvet mouthfeel and a long finish.
Fetzer Sundial Chardonnay 2017 ($10). Tropical fruit aromas and pear, pineapple flavors abound in this inexpensive chardonnay.
Bonterra Organic Vineyards Chardonnay 2016 ($14). A great chardonnay for the price – honey and tropical fruit aromas followed by rich, pineapple and citrus flavors.
Gehricke Russian River Chardonnay 2016 ($32). Great balance and layered tropical fruit flavors highlighted by pineapple and mango. Citrus aromas and soft finish.
Steele Parmalee Hill Chardonnay 2017 ($30). We liked the price of this generous chardonnay with tropical fruit flavors, bright acidity and concentration.
Ramey Russian River Valley Pinot Noir 2016 ($50). Fresh, red berry fruit with an austere character reminiscent of Burgundian pinot noirs. Silky tannins and long finish.
Imagery California Pinot Noir 2016 ($20). It isn’t easy finding a good pinot noir for under $50, which makes this a good value. Winemaker Jamie Benziger has created a simple yet tasty wine with bright cherry fruit flavors.
J. Lohr Falcon’s Perch Pinot Noir 2017 ($17). Always symbolizing value, J. Lohr’s Monterey pinot noir has generous strawberry flavors and soft tannins.
Noble Vines 667 Pinot Noir 2016 ($15). The finesse and balance of this Monterey County pinot noir make it an ideal match to turkey. Unlike the heavily extracted pinot noirs, this one exhibits a medium body with ripe plum and cherry notes with soft tannins.
Landmark Hop Kiln Estate Pinot Noir 2016 ($40). From great vineyards in the Russian River Valley, this luxurious and opulent pinot noir emits floral and dark fruit aromas with lively raspberry flavors with a dose of spice. Long in the finish.
Sokol Blosser Dundee Hills Estate Pinot Gris 2017 ($22). We liked the dry quality of this balanced pinot gris, a perfect and different match to turkey. Pure apple and citrus flavors with floral aromas and bright acidity with a dash of mineral.
FEL Savoy Vineyard Pinot Noir 2016 ($70). FEL purchased this vineyard in 2011 and everything has been golden since then. This Anderson Valley vineyard produces silky, medium-body pinot noirs with black cherry flavors, generous aromas and silky mouthfeel.
Kendall-Jackson Jackson Estate Outland Ridge Pinot Noir Anderson Valley 2014 ($35). This is a very pleasing, easy to grasp, pinot noir from a cool region of Mendocino County. A whole range of berry flavors are expressed in this complex mélange of scents and flavors. Ready to drink now.