Halloween revelry is in the books and darkness now sets upon happy hour. Snow has been teasing, and the lifts crank in just over two weeks during the Thanksgiving weekend, which comes early this year. Time to put some thoughts toward Thanksgiving and wine.
Every year wine marketers push the idea of what you should be drinking with the turkey and trimmings. The traditional fall day of feast is a huge day for wine sales in the U.S., the biggest of the year, racking up more than $800 million in sales.
We’re often told that we must drink riesling or gewurztraminer, though in truth the trends and statistics don’t support that reasoning. Food & Wine Magazine reports that of the 63 percent of households that choose wine (over beer, cider or liquor/spirits) as their drink of choice on T-Day, roughly half make it red.
I don’t fall for gimmicks. I love riesling; it’s among my favorite wine experiences. In the right situation, I can also fall in love with a gewurztraminer. Both of these make me think of a delightful Asian-inspired tableau. If it’s Vietnamese, all the better.
I like focus, and Thanksgiving is anything but. Loads of cooking, relatives streaming in and out, kids running around, not to mention all of the travel fatigue and football distractions. Once the meal is set and served, there is so much happening and so many people at the table that wines of character tend to get blurred in the mix. My formula for a large gathering is to trust wines that feature solid consistency and versatility.
This year, I’m falling back (time-reference pun intended) on the two easiest wines to push (and pair) for the Thanksgiving holiday table: California chardonnay and pinot noir. The acid, weight and flavors of both varietals are usually well-equipped to balance any foods that you serve. The brightness, zest, myriad-fruit quality and spice palate of chardonnay is a sure bet to not only pair with a roasted bird, gravy and a good stuffing, but with the usual side dishes as well. Similarly, a graceful pinot noir is gentle with the bird, when other wines like syrah or cabernet can be as bristly and edgy as a grumpy feather-ruffling relative.
I’ve got a few wines to dote upon, which happen to be classic and (mostly) fall nicely into the $40-and-under range.
David Ramey learned to love French wine as a student of the classics during college. Soon after he sought work as a winemaker, making a career out of it and eventually steering an entire industry in the process. From his early days at Petrus in Bordeaux, to Napa’s Dominus, before starting his own label, Ramey’s technical advancements (especially his relationship with yeast and lees) have driven the California chardonnay industry to new heights over the past three decades. The 2015 Ramey Russian River Chardonnay ($34.99) is zesty, fruit-driven and complex, sourced from vineyards farmed by the Dutton and Rochioli families – Sonoma County chardonnay-growing royalty. Expect exotic lemon, quince, pear and apple flavors set against a lightly oak-grained backdrop with supple structure and a long-lasting, acid-driven finish. It’s ridiculously good for the price.
Rolando Herrera earned his place in winemaking through hard work and a bit of old-time good fortune: During his teens, the Mexican-born youth washed dishes at the Auberge du Soleil in Napa Valley and worked landscape construction. Herrera’s work ethic caught the eye of Warren Winiarski, founder of Stag’s Leap Cellars, which led to an apprenticeship and eventually his own label: Mi Sueno, “My Dream” in Spanish. His is an amazing story that includes Mi Sueno’s chardonnay being poured in the White House in 1999. Even better, the honor was bestowed upon Mi Sueno twice more (in 2008 and 2010), making it the only chardonnay to be poured at the White House multiple times. Climate-dictated low yields give the 2015 Mi Sueno Los Carneros Napa Valley Chardonnay ($41.99) depth, richness and a custard-like creaminess. Pear, pineapple and vanilla flavors are perfect for T-Day.
Legendary Santa Barbara County winemakers Greg Brewer and Steve Clifton are master craftsmen and stewards of the land and have been making critically acclaimed estate wines since the mid-1990s. The 2015 Brewer-Clifton Santa Rita Hills Pinot Noir ($38.99) is blended from three sites and stuns throughout with fresh strawberry, slate, pepper and anise cookies on the nose, while in the mouth its palate is bright with tart cherries, ripe cranberries and pomegranate. The confident feel leads to an enduring finish of juniper berry, pine and menthol. Couldn’t sound more Thanksgiving-like.
Canadian construction magnate Cliff Lede makes exquisite wines from Bordeaux varietals in Napa, along with (the former Breggo’s) Burgundian wines from Mendocino’s Anderson Valley. A few years ago he sold Breggo and started FEL Wines, named for his mother (and winemaking influence) Florence Elsie Lede. FEL uses the same Breggo sources for pinot noir, chardonnay and pinot gris. The big change is that Lede purchased the sacred dirt of the Savoy Vineyard in 2011. The cool-climate site (surrounded by the pennyroyal herb) near Philo in the western end of the Anderson Valley – one of California’s most impressive sites – provides the template for wines that are both bright and refreshing, yet rich and spice-driven. The 2015 FEL Pinot Noir Savoy Vineyard Anderson Valley ($74.99) is replete with vivid tones that dress to impress with a jet stream of strawberry, raspberry and Red Zinger tea, plus a Gucci handbag worth of spices and a finish that will outlast dessert and the game.
Cheers! Remember: Wine reveals truth.
Drew Stofflet lives in Carbondale. Correspond with him at firstname.lastname@example.org