As always, we reject the idea of precise pairing of wines with the Thanksgiving feast. There is too much going on at the holiday table – textures, aromas, colors and flavors from subtle to spicy. No one wine or pair of white and red wines will harmonize perfectly with everything, so don’t waste your time trying.
Aside from the prime directive – drink what you like – there are no hard-and-fast rules. But a few general guidelines can help narrow your choices.
2. Second, stick with wines that have some acidity – a little tartness in the taste – which helps complement food. Even before dinner is served, there tend to be cheeses, appetizers and munchies all around the Thanksgiving gathering. So even as an aperitif, food-friendly wine is your best bet.
3. Third, since the Thanksgiving feast often lasts most of the day in many households, your wine should be relatively low in alcohol. You’re likely to be sipping all day long, and you don’t want to fall asleep until after the Lions kick-off. (That line worked for a dozen years, but now the 6-3 Lions have made their Thanksgiving Day matchup with the Super Bowl Champion Packers potentially worth watching!) About 10 to 12 percent alcohol by volume (ABV on the label) is about right for whites and 13 to 14 percent for reds. You probably want to avoid the 16- to 17-percent California zinfandels.
4. And most importantly, though you may want to splurge on a special bottle for this once-a-year occasion, most Thanksgiving gatherings attract a full house. So you’ll want copious quantities of good wine to please the crowd without breaking the bank. So as always, our Thanksgiving recommendations focus on inexpensive wines – but ones that should impress your dinner guests nonetheless.
Below are some general suggestions on types of wines. In subsequent columns starting tomorrow we’ll offer some specific bottles in each of these categories below that are good buys and worth seeking out for your holiday table (or countertop, in the case of the 3-liter boxes we’ll recommend). Any and all of these fit the criteria above. We’d suggest mixing and matching at least one white and one red, according to your tastes.
More on these underappreciated wines tomorrow. (David McIntyre’s column in yesterday’s Washington Post takes his annual look at Beaujolais, but he recommends mostly pricey bottles that you may not want to buy by the case or six pack for Thanksgiving.) But suffice it to say that these wines from the southern-most part of Burgundy made from the gamay grape generally brim with ripe, red fruit flavors – berries or cherries – and have a tart or mineral finish that makes them very versatile with food. Look for wines labeled with the name of a specific Beaujolais village – Brouilly, Chénas, Chiroubles, Côte de Brouilly, Fleurie, Juliénas, Morgon, Moulin-à-Vent, Régnié or Saint-Amour.
Look for almost any of the many bottlings from our favorite virtual winery, Castle Rock (see this slideshow for representative pricing and availability) or this ubiquitous Chilean wine, Cono Sur (see this slideshow), or even the grocery-store brand, Concannon, that are all widely available at stock-up prices. One of our favorites is Mark West Pinot Noir California, but its price ranges from as little at $8 a bottle to nearly $20 in some Montgomery County wine shops.
Spain’s indigenous tempranillo grape makes a great Thanksgiving red, at least when it doesn’t spend two years aged in oak barrels like the Reservas and Gran Reservas from Rioja. The crianzas – aged just one year in oak – or the even more youthful wines labeled just “Rioja” or “joven” (literally “young” in Spanish) offer bright, fresh fruit and a good match for Thanksgiving dinner. So does Spain’s interpretation of garnacha – the Spanish name for grenache grape made famous in the wines of France’s Rhone Valley. Yet unlike the French, who generally blend grenache with juice from the dark and brooding syrah, among other grapes, Spanish winemakers are fond of 100 percent garnacha. Still others blend it with tempranillo, producing an even softer wine that should be a crowd pleaser for the holiday.
And just in time for the holiday, the latest vintage of just such a blend – that happens to be one of our all-time favorites – Borsao 2010 from Bodegas Borsao, is going to be on sale, for one day only this Saturday, for about the lowest price in the country (or that we’ve ever seen for this wine). The Fresh Market in Vienna will be selling Borsao, a delicious blend of 85 percent garnacha and 15 tempranillo, for $5.99 a bottle. That price could have you confusing Borsao with its inexpensive little brother Viña Borgia, a garnacha from the same maker that sells for $5 a bottle at Total Wine and even less sometimes. But it is a stunning $10 wine that often sells for $7 or $8 a bottle on sale. At $6 it’s a wine to buy by the case.
Any of the wines on our Top 5 Spanish red wines would do the trick on Thanksgiving.
And the No. 1 wine on the recently released Wine Enthusiast Top 100 Best Buys of 2011 is just such a riesling, from Washington state’s Columbia Valley. Pacific Rim 2010 Riesling is widely available around town for between $9 and $13 a bottle. They make both a sweet and dry version, along with the plain old Pacific Rim Riesling that was WE’s top choice, and it strikes a nice balance between the two. “Right on the borderline between dry and sweet, this richly fruity Riesling is packed with flavors of peach, apricot, pear, a hint of mint, and a streak of wet stone,” according to the magazine. “There is a lot going on for such an inexpensive wine.” Yet the ABV is a mere 11.5 percent.
We’ve been beating the drum lately for the great values that come from the southern Burgundy district known as the Mâconnais and belie white Burgundy’s reputation as among the most expensive white wines in the world. Deals are still out there on this one and on this one (but not necessarily this one). Check out this slideshow for one of the most widely available examples, which is also on sale this month at Montgomery County Liquor stores, so even Marylanders can enjoy. And at $8.49 a bottle by the case, this one if perfect if you’re expecting a Thanksgiving house-full.
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