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Thanksgiving Wines: Pairings for the Big Feast

White wine on the Thanksgiving table

There has been a distinct chill in the air and the east coast has already seen a significant snowstorm.  There’s no denying that winter, and the holidays, are fast approaching.  While I’m not necessarily looking forward to the biting cold days ahead, I’m eagerly awaiting the holiday season!  The next two months promise to be filled with plenty of feasting, celebration and a steady flow of delicious wine…merriment that will stave off winter’s hold for a while, at least.

With Thanksgiving just a few weeks away, family chefs across the nation have already begun planning their menus and experimenting with new recipes.  The beauty of Thanksgiving, the reason that it tops my list of favorite holidays, is that it is a celebration of food and family.  Not only does the holiday give gourmands more reason than ever to run wild in the kitchen, it is a welcome opportunity for oenophiles to show their stuff too.  The cooks are already ahead of the game.  It’s time for us wine lovers to plan our attack and seek out the very best wine pairings for the grandest of feasts.  So wine lovers, what will you bring to the Thanksgiving table this year?

Pairing wines with Thanksgiving dinner is easier than one might think.  The meal itself features abundant flavorful side dishes, all with a gorgeous, simply roasted turkey as the centerpiece.  One could argue that just about any wine can work with Thanksgiving, due to the vastness of the meal and diversity of flavors within, but there are certain wines that elevate this feast, bringing it to a whole new level.  Here are our suggestions for some truly knockout Thanksgiving wine pairings

Wine Pairings for Hors d’oeuvres and First Courses

The wine you choose for kicking-off your Thanksgiving feast should have some bubbles!  Champagne or sparkling wine makes an ideal pairing for hors d’oeuvres ranging from charcuterie and cheese plates, to soups and salads.  Cheese almost always makes its way into the appetizers for a large party and the refreshing acidity and bubbles in sparkling wine cut right through the richness and saltiness of any assortment of cheeses, from Brie to Stilton.  This Thanksgiving, we’ve selected several champagnes and domestic sparkling wines for Turkey Day pairings:

NV Henriot Brut Souverain ($50) – Recently awarded 93 points from Wine Spectator, this champagne has long been one of our favorites.  A blend of 50% Chardonnay from the Côte des Blancs and 50% Pinot Noir from Montagne de Reims, the Brut Souverain is aged in the quiet darkness of Champagne Henriot’s Gallo-Roman crayeres. These dramatic cellars, unique to the Champagne region, are carved out of chalk 60 feet underground and provide optimal aging conditions.  Upon release, the Brut Souverain has been aged to perfection. Its rich, elegant style is lovely as an aperitif or as an accompaniment to variety of dishes from hors d’oeuvres straight through to a fruit-based dessert.

NV Delamotte Brut Blanc de Blancs ($55) – This vivacious champagne, made from 100% Chardonnay, has satisfying richness while being exquisitely elegant at the same time.  Delamotte has been producing champagne since 1760 and is the sister house to renowned Champagne Salon.   Situated in the grand cru commune Mesnil-Sur-Oger amongst the finest Champagne producing vineyards, Champagne Delamotte is a reflection of this unique, exceptional terroir.  The style of this blanc de blancs is well suited to Thanksgiving festivities.

Look no further than New York State for some sensational sparkling wines that are wonderful for Thanksgiving and the holiday season.  The Chateau Frank sparkling wines are the very best in quality and offer enticing value as well.  For a truly American holiday like Thanksgiving, it is only fitting to show off some of our country’s finest wines…

2006 Chateau Frank Blanc de Blancs Finger Lakes ($29) – This blanc de blancs is one of our new favorite 100% Chardonnay sparkling wines from Finger Lakes producer Dr. Frank.  This bubbly has a sublime voluptuous froth, great complexity, elegant flavors of honeysuckle, citrus and ginger, all undercut with refreshing, zippy acidity that make it the ideal companion for appetizers and first courses.

NV Chateau Frank Célèbre Rosé Finger Lakes ($20) – The festive color of this sparkling rosé will look stunning on your Thanksgiving Day table and in the hands of your dinner guests.  Made from 100% estate grown Pinot Meunier grapes and crafted in the traditional French Crémant style, this sparkling rosé offers rich raspberry and strawberry aromas, lush cherry flavors and beautiful, delicate bubbles.

Wine Pairings for Thanksgiving Dinner

Zinfandel

As I mentioned before, I’ve always thought it was nice to feature a few American wines at Thanksgiving. Red Zinfandel is the first wine that comes to mind, especially since it has an interesting immigration story of its own.  Let’s be clear, we are not talking about semi-sweet, pink-colored White Zinfandel, which has managed to disgrace the grape’s name.  In stark contrast, the Zinfandels that I adore are rich, robust, red wines that sing aromas of ripe briar fruit, dark cherries, currants and spice.  They are big, intense wines that pair well with a variety of foods.  These wines are akin to the gravy for your Thanksgiving bird.

The history of America’s Zinfandel can be traced to roots in Croatia, where it is named Crljenak Kaštelanski, then to Italy, where it is Primitivo.  The grape was brought to the Boston area in the early 19th century, by the Austrian Imperial Nursery, and named Zinfandel (a name whose origins are unclear).  By the mid 19th century, the grape had made its way to sunny California, where it was a popular table grape and dried for sweet raisins.  A few years later, California recognized Zin as viable for winemaking, and adopted the grape as a signature American varietal.

Zinfandel has extensive heritage in America, and an immigration story that reaches far beyond our borders.  The lush fruit character and versatility of these wines make them an ideal pairing for your turkey along with all the trimmings.

The Zinfandel to pour this Thanksgiving is the 2009 Ridge Vineyards Zinfandel Geyserville ($35). Wine Advocate critic Antonio Galloni praises this impressive wine, awarding it with an attractive score of 94 points.

“The 2009 Geyserville is a gorgeous wine. It shows expressive inner perfume, sweet black cherries, menthol and minerals. This is an understated, exceptionally elegant red endowed with considerable finesse and fabulous overall balance. A round, sensual finish makes it impossible to resist a second taste…” – Antonio Galloni

Pinot Noir

Pinot’s beautiful cherry fruit aromas and flavors, combined with its characteristic earthy quality, make it just perfect for Thanksgiving menus.  Harvest season ingredients such as butternut squash, sweet potatoes, brussel sprouts, mushrooms, roasted root veggies, nuts and dried berries are all accentuated by the character of Pinot Noir.  Those Pinots from the West Coast (California, Oregon and Washington State) tend to be more fruit-forward, which is a great complement for turkey meat.  Pinots from Burgundy are often lighter bodied with an earthy-minerally quality, quite similar to the character of the ingredients that show up on the Thanksgiving table.  Any of the Pinots listed below will work marvelously with your feast…

2009 Capiaux Cellars Pinot Noir Widdoes Vineyard Russian River Valley ($35) – A delicious and sweet-fruited single-vineyard Pinot Noir with lush berry flavors, earthy undertones, full juicy body and a smooth, rich texture. Sean Capiaux, owner and winemaker of Capiaux Cellars, is a Pinot Noir expert with an impressive winemaking resume, including Jordan, Pine Ridge and Peter Michael in California and Houghton Winery in Australia.

2008 Domaine Serene Pinot Noir Yamhill Cuvee Willamette Valley ($37) – With its dark fruit, black cherry, lively spice notes and impeccable structure, your bird is calling for the Yamhill Cuvee this Thanksgiving. Domaine Serene Winery and Vineyard was founded in 1989 by husband and wife team, Ken and Grace Evenstad.  The Evenstad’s are advocates for sustainable farming, practicing dry farming techniques on their vineyards, meaning that they never use artificial irrigation or tap into local rivers to water their vines.  Domaine Serene specializes in world class Pinot Noirs, while also producing excellent Chardonnay and Syrah.

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again, we can get enough of 2009 Burgundy.  They are simply irresistible.  Don’t feel guilty about uncorking them this Thanksgiving…even if their projected prime is still a few years away!

2009 Domaine Michel Magnien Bourgogne Rouge ($25) – Rich black cherry and blackcurrant aromas and flavors are dressed up with baking spices and subtle floral aromas.  You’ll hear, “Please pass the Burgundy” more than anything else with this stellar Pinot on the table.

2008 Domaine Bernard Moreau Bourgogne Rouge ($20) – This is exceptional red Burgundy for the price.  Lovely red cherry aromas give way to an earthy accent of briar patch.  The vibrant acidity and lengthy satisfying finish make this a superb choice for the Thanksgiving feast.

White Wine Options

Aromatic white wines work especially well with Thanksgiving dinner for several reasons.  Grapes such as Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer and Riesling can be vinified into dry wines that have slight amounts of residual sugar.  This hint of sweetness, combined with the fragrant and sometimes tropical aromas and flavors in the wine, pairs wonderfully with Thanksgiving Day spreads, which often incorporate sweet elements as well (think sweet potatoes and cranberry sauce).  Meanwhile, the naturally high acidity of these types of wine is the perfect foil for rich, hearty dishes.

Chardonnay is another excellent option for Thanksgiving and a classic pairing for roasted turkey.  You can go with either a white Burgundy or a new world Chardonnay with subtle oak influence.

2009 Breggo Cellars Pinot Gris Wiley Vineyard Anderson Valley ($27) Located in Northern California’s rustic, pastoral Anderson Valley, Breggo Cellars specializes in stunning wines from Alsatian varietals – Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer and Riesling.  Breggo means “sheep” in the local dialect, homage to the area’s native population of sheep. The winery property, a 203-acre farm, was one of the first sheep ranches in Anderson Valley. This small production (only 350 cases produced), single-vineyard Pinot Gris offers delightful notes of pear, baked apple and honey, with a touch of candied lemon peel. Rich and medium-bodied, flavors of apricot preserves, melon and Meyer lemon dance on the palate.

2009 Breggo Cellars Gewurztraminer Anderson Valley ($27) – This exotic and enticing wine shows opulent aromas of orange zest, lychee, honeysuckle and rose, enhanced by notes of sweet lemon and apricot. Elegant and refreshing on the palate, bright tropical flavors mingle with zippy acidity and a long, lovely finish. Only 398 cases made.

2009 Francois Chidaine Vouvray Clos Baudoin ($25) – Crafted in a range of styles from bone dry to sweet, François Chidaine’s Chenin Blancs share an ethereal quality and great complexity. A brilliant wine with aromas of lemon rind, honey suckle, citrus blossom and white pepper; on the palate, the tangy character is accompanied by honeyed citrus flavors, with hints of bitter almond skin. The finish lingers gracefully.  A truly exceptional wine with the resounding acidity and brightness needed to emphasize the elements of Thanksgiving’s banquet.

2008 Ramey Wine Cellars Chardonnay Russian River Valley ($28) – “Bright yellow. Precise, mineral-driven aromas of pear, spicecake, iodine and wet concrete, along with a sexy floral aspect. At once tactile and fine-grained, with subtle smokiness giving depth to the flavors of Meyer lemon, minerals and candied ginger. Tightens up toward the back, finishing quite suave, with strong lift and cut to its ginger-laced orchard fruit flavors.” – Stephen Tanzer’s International Wine Cellar, 91 pts

2008 Domaine Bouchard Père et Fils Meursault Genevrières ($85) “As it almost always is, here the nose is spicier still and more refined as well with striking complexity adding compelling interest to the floral, citrus and white fruit aromas. The rich, concentrated and classy flavors possess plenty of extract that confers a seductive texture that carries over to the impressively long and harmonious finish. This is unmistakably at another level, at least at this early juncture.” – Burghound, 92 pts

Rosé

Rosé is one of my favorite wines to pair with Thanksgiving dinner.  Not only is the wine’s color cheerful and festive, the characteristic red berry flavors make it the ideal choice for Thanksgiving.  Incredibly food friendly, Rosé provides the best of both worlds, combining the brisk acidity and refreshing quality of a white wine with the body and structure of a red wine, making it compatible with a range of dishes.  To quote Julia Child, “Rosés can be served with anything.”  The versatility of the wines below make them perfect pairings for Thanksgiving’s bounty, complimenting everything from the mashed yams to the stuffing.

Steal! 2010 Mulderbosch Vineyards Rose Stellenbosch ($12) – This is a dark cranberry-colored, robust and refreshing rosé made from Cabernet Sauvignon, showcasing complex aromas and flavors of rose petals, lime zest and wild strawberry.

2010 Prieure de Montezargues Tavel Rosé ($21) – Enticing style and finesse, showcasing raspberry and subtle peach aromas.  On the palate, red berry flavors mingle with Provencal herbs and spices, resounding in the full-body, freshness and length of this gorgeous wine.

2010 Bieler Pere et Fils Sabine Rose Coteaux d’Aix-en-Provence ($14) – Aromas and flavors of raspberry, cherry and wild strawberry shine, along with racy minerality and bright, food friendly acidity. Charles Bieler has been crafting his delicious Provençal rosé, Bieler Père et Fils Sabine, for the last 5 years. Named for his daughter, Sabine, who was born the same year as the wine’s first vintage, this rosé honors Charles’ father, Philippe, who introduced he and his sister to the wine business. This rosé continues the Bieler family reputation that was built over 13 years at Chateau Routas and the last three years with Three Thieves.

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Fall Wines: What to Pour through Harvest Season

Glasses of red wine for a chilly fall day.

As summer draws to a close, my feelings are bittersweet. As in years past, I’ve begun to reflect on all that I’ve done for the past few months, all of the fresh produce that I’ve had on the dinner table and of course, all of the delightful, refreshing wine that I’ve consumed.  There was no shortage of rosé this summer and I’ve added some newly discovered pink wines to my repertoire that are sure to be go-tos for years to come. Bieler Père et Fils Sabine Rosé from Coteaux d’Aix-en-Provence, Mulderbosch Vineyards Rosé from Stellenbosch, and Prieuré de Montezargues Rosé of Tavel AC, just to name a few.  I always have a hard time parting with the summer, yet my sentiments are sweetened by the prospect of a new season and all that it holds in store.

The daylight hours are gradually growing shorter and the nights cooler.  The first hints of fall can be detected in the air and my taste is slowly beginning to favor red wines over whites and rosés.  As autumn approaches, I’ve begun to formulate my list of favorite wines for fall, choices which are influenced partially by the cooling weather and largely by the produce that appears at this time of year, the bounty of the harvest.  Rich butternut squash soups, savory mushroom ragùs and apple desserts are the first dishes that come to mind, along with hearty stews, roasted vegetables and pumpkin breads.  So, what will I be drinking this fall?

Syrahs for Sweater Weather

On chilly autumn nights, I tend to crave a rich, robust red wine with spicy, earthy qualities…bring on the Syrah!  The red wines of the Northern Rhône Valley certainly fit the bill here, embodying the full-bodied, warming spicy character that takes the chill off.  The wines of Crozes Hermitage offer some of the best values from the region, especially those from renowned producers such as Paul Jaboulet, E. Guigal and Maison Chapoutier.

A few to try include 2007 Paul Jaboulet Aine Crozes Hermitage Domaine de Thalabert ($50, IWC – 92 pts), 2007 E. Guigal Crozes Hermitage Rouge ($22, WA – 88 pts) and 2007 Maison Chapoutier Crozes Hermitage Les Varonnieres ($48, IWC – 90-93 pts).

For a special occasion, an early fall harvest celebration or, dare I say it, for your Thanksgiving wine (it will be here before we know it!), try a Syrah from Côte Rôtie or Hermitage.  The 2003 Domaine Delas Freres Côte Rôtie la Landonne ($167, WA – 96 pts) and 2004 Maison Chapoutier Ermitage Le Meal ($99, WA – 90+) are excellent choices in the splurge category.

Fall Wines from the Rhône Valley

Grenache-Syrah blends from the Southern Rhône Valley, with their irresistible lushness and jammy quality, are ideal for taking the chill off of autumn evenings.  Wines that catch my fancy at this time of year come from the appellations of Châteauneuf du Pape, Vacqueyras and Gigondas, and reputable producers such as Chateau de Beaucastel, Domaine du Pégau and Clos des Papes.  This fall, cozy up with the 1998 Chateau de Beaucastel Châteauneuf du Pape ($125), the 2000 Domaine du Pégau Châteauneuf du Pape Cuvée Reservée ($85) or the 2004 Clos des Papes Châteauneuf du Pape ($75).

Rhône Rangers

Don’t forget the Rhône Rangers when making your fall wine selections!  Producers in California’s Central Coast have been key advocates of Rhône grape varietals outside of the Rhône Valley.  “Rhône Rangers” is not just a cute moniker, this is an actual non-profit organization that promotes Rhône style wines in the Golden State.  We are big fans of their efforts and would drink these yummy single-varietal wines and blends ‘til the cows come home (if it weren’t for certain other responsibilities).  Our favorite Rhône Ranger wines include the 2009 Jaffurs Syrah Santa Barbara ($30, WA – 92 pts) and the 2008 Tablas Creek Vineyard Esprit de Beaucastel Rouge Paso Robles ($43).

Italian Wines for Fall

Each fall, I find my mind drifts toward Italian wines, especially those of Northern Italy.  Many of Piedmont’s wines, whether from Nebbiolo, Barbera or Dolcetto grapes, tend to possess an appealing layer of earthiness, reminiscent of a berry patch or the forest floor.  Italian cuisine from this region offers that same earthy quality, pronounced by the use of wild mushrooms and game meats.  Italy works magic with foods of the fall forage!  These Northern Italian foods and wines are a match made in heaven and it’s no wonder that they have such an appeal during the autumn season, when we start to crave heartier fare and more robust wines.

Keep in mind that wines from the slow-ripening Nebbiolo varietal, renowned for its extremely powerful tannins, can age for decades, so best to go for one that has had some time in the cellar.  Both Barolo and Barbaresco, Piedmont’s most prestigious appellations, are made from 100% Nebbiolo.  Signature qualities of Barolo wines include red fruit character, floral aromas of rose or violet, and hints of tar, mushrooms and leather.  Barbaresco is the not as powerful and concentrated as Barolo, but shares many of the same enchanting characteristics.

Many Barberas offer a great value from the region, typically showcasing lively cherry flavors, wonderful, food-friendly acidity and the underlying earthiness that I’m after in the fall.  Dolcetto, the “little sweet one”, is another great value from Northern Italy.  In general, Dolcettos are supple, fruit-forward wines with sweet plum aromas and flavors, delicate tannins and soft acidity.  Barbera and Dolcetto are both easy to drink, palate pleasers in a nutshell!

Here are some of Northern Italy’s finest from renowned producers:

2005 Azelia Barolo Bricco Fiasco ($62)

2004 Domenico Clerico Barolo Pajana ($87)

2006 Elio Grasso Barolo Gavarini Vigna Chiniera ($75)

2004 Alfredo Prunotto Barolo Bussia ($70)

2007 Bruno Giacosa Barbaresco Asili ($149)

2008 Ca Rome Barbaresco Chiaramanti ($69)

2007 La Spinetta Barbera d’Asti Ca’ di Pian ($24)

2009 Moccagatta Barbera d’Alba ($19)

Cabernets for Coat Season

As temperatures continue to drop and we start donning our jackets more frequently, rich, full-bodied Cabernet Sauvignons have a definite appeal.  The Cabernet Sauvignon grape has a far-reaching reputation and is widely planted throughout the world’s wine regions from Bordeaux to Australia.  Well-loved by grape growers, for its resistance to disease, and wine lovers, for its satisfying richness and tannic structure, Cabernet Sauvignon is just the thing for a chilly late-fall evening.

When it comes to Cabernet Sauvignons for the fall and winter season, California is often my go-to region.  Stellar California producers that are sure to quench my thirst this fall include Ramey Wine Cellars and Altamura Vineyards.

Founded by David and Carla Ramey, Ramey Wine Cellars is located in the charming town of Healdsburg, in the heart of Sonoma County.  David Ramey is one of California’s leading winemakers, recognized for contributing innovative techniques to New World winemaking, while staying true to Old World traditions.  David has a graduate degree in winemaking from the University of California at Davis and began his career working at the legendary Chateau Pétrus in Bordeaux, where he was exposed to the great French winemaking traditions.  Back home in California, he went on to make wine at Chalk Hill, Matanzas Creek, Dominus Estate and Rudd Estate, helping to establish these well known wineries.  David’s work, pioneering the use of native yeasts, as well as malolactic and barrel fermentation, has successfully created a luxuriant wine style that has garnered acclaim the world over.

Ramey Wine Cellars specializes in Cabernet blends, Chardonnay and Syrah, and crafts both a single-vineyard series, as well as an appellation series.  Ramey’s Cabernets are spectacular expressions of Napa terrior.  The 2006 Ramey Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley ($40) and single-vineyard 2008 Ramey Wine Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Pedregal Vineyard ($149) are both excellent and fitting choices for the fall season.

Well off the beaten path in Napa Valley, Altamura Vineyards and Winery is the only winery located in Wooden Valley, situated high amidst pastoral, rolling hills. Frank and Karen Altamura established the winery in 1985 and practice a careful, hands-on approach to grape growing and winemaking. Frank’s passion for winemaking is clear in each bottle of the winery’s highly collectible wines.  The 2007 Altamura Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley ($99) is highly rated by both the Wine Advocate and Wine Spectator and one need only have a sip to become a devotee of this exceptional winery.

Finally, the 2007 Faust Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley ($42) is a wine of outstanding quality and value.  This decadent wine, offering lavish layers of black currant and dark chocolate, is the archetypal Napa Valley Cabernet, with all of its seductive charm and power.  There is no doubt that it will keep you warm and fuzzy as the temperatures drop this fall and winter.

Faust Cabernet Sauvignon is the inspired project of Agustin Huneeus, owner of the renowned fine wine estates Quintessa, in Napa Valley, and Veramonte, in Chile’s Casablanca Valley. Ten years after Quintessa’s first release, temptation knocked on Agustin’s door, luring him to create a wine dedicated not to Napa’s terroir, but to majestic Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa’s reigning grape varietal, and we couldn’t be more grateful!

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