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Wines for a Thanksgiving Celebration

No doubt you have read countless ideas of what wines go best with Thanksgiving Turkey this year. American Zinfandel because it’s the only indigenous American grape; Napa Valley Cabernet because it’s American, Riesling because it’s versatile, etc. Those are great ideas and feel free to serve that with the Turkey. I am going to take a slightly broader approach and focus on the entire celebration on not just dinner. Here is how I feel an ideal Thanksgiving dinner should unfold.

To start things off I would serve a champagne or sparkling wine, country of your choice of course. I would serve a “Grower Champagne”, preferably a Blanc de Blanc which is always 100% Chardonnay from Larmandier or Diebolt-Vallois ($35-50). BdB’s are lighter and leaner than your average Champagne because the Chardonnay is typically blended with Pinot Noir and a small percentage of Pinot Meunier. BdB’s maybe leaner, but are intense in a different way. They scream minerality and purity in aroma and flavor with a beautiful pearl like texture thanks to the bubbles and vibrant acidity.

A Grower Champagne is from one of the small guys in Champagne. Not a Cliquot or Moet, the small growers only account for 22% of Champagne sales, 3% outside of Europe! The big guys only own 12% of the vineyards in Champagne yet account for 78% of sales. Most growers don’t make their own wine; they just sell it to the big houses. The big guys are great, not doubt I love my Feuillatte and Cliquot, but growers create individual wines full of character and personality because of their small size and unique vineyard sources.

Now if I were to single out a white grape to serve I would choose Viognier. The best from France and California will display notes of citrus and/or stone fruits, honey, floral aromas, an oily texture and refreshing minerality to complement the flavors. The floral aromas and the oily texture are hallmark notes for Viognier, flavors and aromas vary otherwise.

I consider Viognier a red wine drinker’s white wine. My favorites from California are the Alban Vineyards Central Coast Viognier ($20-25) and the Peay Vineyards Estate Viognier, Sonoma Coast ($30, hard to find but worth searching out).

In France Viognier’s home is in the northern Rhone village of Condrieu, but is also grown plentifully in the rest of the Rhone. Condrieu is located on the Rhone river and thus where the village and the vineyards take its name. The name Condrieu is derived from coin de ruisseau, which literally means ‘bend in the stream.’ Steep hillsides and scattered terraces define the vineyard appearance. Viognier that is not from Condrieu will be labeled Cote du Rhone or Vin de Pays and may contain 100% Viognier or be blended with Marsanne and/or Roussanne. A favorite of ours from France is the Domaine Miquel vin de pays d’oc which is 100% Viognier and priced nicely at about $15. The production in Condrieu is so small that only a few hundred cases each year make their way to the US so prices are a little higher in the $30-60 range. If you want to spend around $40-50 to taste the heights of what this grape can be, try a Guigal, M. Chapoutier, Jean-Luc Colombo or Rostaing Condrieu. If you can’t find my recommendations and come across Viognier in the $15-30 range try one. I would recommend you ask the salesperson first to check that the Viognier is a classically styled wine. Sometimes winemakers get to generous with the oak and that can mask the natural flavors and aromas.

Now onto a few red wine recommendations for Thanksgiving. For the meal, various wines will work just fine. However I think medium to lighter body reds pair best. If you want a more full bodied wine with dinner, maybe serve the lighter reds before dinner, alongside the Viognier and after the Champagne. This time of year is when the Gamay grape is in the spotlight because of the marketing campaign that pushes Beaujolais Nouveau to consumers. Beaujolais Nouveau is the first wine of the harvest to be put on the market from the 2007 vintage. The wines are simple, fruity quaffers made for immediate consumption. However, Cru Beaujolais is not a simple fruity quaffer. Cru Beaujolais, also made from Gamay but from 10 special Cru villages in the Beaujolais region, can age 10-30 years depending on the vintage! These are subtly complex wines deserving your attention. Most Cru bottles cost between $10-15, with the very best and rare only costing about $30. These are affordable to just about anyone! Gamay has very similar characteristics to Pinot Noir so if you like Pinot, you may like Gamay. In fact, the Beaujolais region is just south of Burgundy and has similar weather patterns and soils. In 1935 it was declared illegal to plant Gamay in Burgundy where it was planted along side Pinot Noir grapes.

Any Beaujolais from the ten Cru villages are considered the best that Beaujolais has to offer. The ten Cru villages are Brouilly, Chénas, Chiroubles, Côte de brouilly, Fleurie, Juliénas, Morgon, Moulin à Vent, Régnié, and Saint-Amour. My favorites usually are from Brouilly, Morgon and Moulin à Vent. Popular producers are George Deboeuf, Brun, Desvignes and Louis Jadot. My favorites this year so far were the 2005 Desvignes Morgon Javernieres and the 2005 Broilly Chateau Thivin.

If you desire a full bodied red wine with dinner your options are quite numerous. Red Zinfandel (not the pink stuff) has been quite popular for Thanksgiving because of its American roots. Most are relatively affordable and give you a lot for your dollar. The Seghesio Family Vineyards Zinfandel portfolio offers up a few different Zinfandels and are some of my favorites. The entry level bottle is about $15-18 and is called the “Sonoma County” bottling. The Sonoma County is one of my “go to” bottles and one of Lisa’s favorites. The Old Vine, Cortina, and Home Ranch are single vineyard Red Zinfandels that cost around $25-30 and are a step up in complexity and flavors. Another reason I recommend them as they are not the ultra-ripe, high octane alcohol fruit bombs that can sometimes be made when ripeness levels are pushed to the extreme which tends to happen a lot with Zinfandel.

Other than that, I leave it up to you the reader to decide what you want to drink with dinner. Maybe open up that special bottle or two you picked up at a winery you visited. Maybe you have a special magnum you have been saving for a special affair. Wine should not be about what you should have but what you want to have!

Cheers!

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