Holiday Wine: Thinking Outside the Beaujolais Box For Thanksgiving

photo by Andrew Morrell
photo by Andrew Morrell

Thanksgiving wine pairings are daunting. Everything on the plate seems to call for a different match. Turkey is subtle, but gravy is salty and intensely flavored; Yams are generally sweet and mellow while cranberry sauce demands high acid. Thanksgiving also comes around the same time of year as the annual Beaujolais craze, and that is a wonderful pairing in itself. Still, Thanksgiving is a distinctly American holiday. As the person charged with picking wine for my family, and writing about it for this website (ahem), this is a conundrum but also an exciting opportunity to take some chances. Thanksgiving is about celebrating being with people we love and gorging. It's also the perfect occasion to push the envelope a little wine wise. Moreover, I like to use it as a holiday to support American wineries that are experimenting with what can be done with new world terroir.

My first move was to look for Marsanne /Roussane whites. There are so many fantastic small plots of these white Rhône varietals up and down the west coast. Their medium body and gentle perfume is a great match for turkey and highlights some of the more subtle flavors in gravy and stuffing. After tasting a few bottles, I found the 2013 Waters Winery “Prelude”, a Roussane / Viognier Blend from Columbia Valley, Washington. Prelude is strikingly flavorful without being flabby or candied the way some domestic expressions of Viogniers can be. I was also struck by the 2013 Cade Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc. Admittedly, Sauvignon Blanc in Napa Valley is hardy an experiment anymore. I have included it because Cade winemaker Danielle Cyrot blends in small amounts of Viognier, Semillon and Sauvignon Musque, and ages the cuvée partially in concrete eggs. The result is a unique and delicious wine that takes advantage of Napa’s unique terroir and nods to an elegant Bordeaux Blanc style of wine.

cade-2013-sauvignon-blanc-napa-valley
cade-2013-sauvignon-blanc-napa-valley

Down in Arroyo Grande on the Central Coast, Master Sommelier William Sherer overseas the production of the Iberian Remix wines. His tastefully herbaceous 2013 Albariño is an easy drink with a fascinating orange twist note that lends itself very nicely to the combination of stuffing and cranberry sauce. The Tempranillo balances textbook California fruitiness with a dry, dusty minerality indicative of a well-managed Tempranillo. There are also small amounts of Cariñena and Garnacha, presumably to tweak the body and acidity to Sherer’s liking.

If you are looking for a more esoteric wine to take up conversation space, I would try to track down a bottle of the 2013 La Follette Van der Kamp Pinot Meunier from Sonoma. This is the only still Pinot Meunier that I have ever run into, and it is both puzzling and fantastic. It bursts with tart fruit on the front palate, much like a Gamay, but the mid palate and finish have more structure and earthier undertones. It is delicious and, I imagine, very complicated to produce, as there is not very much information about growing and fermenting Pinot Meunier for still wines.

Equally as unique is the 2012 Salinia Sun Hawk Farms Red Field Blend. This is a Biodynamic co-fermented field blend of Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre, Counoise, Cabernet Sauvignon, Marsanne, Roussanne, Viognier, Picpoul and Muscat. If that seems like a mouthful to you, it is. The wine is fantastically complex. The most notable aspect to me is how intensely resinous and spicy it is, perfect for gravies with lots of thyme and rosemary.

Lieb Cellars 2009 Blanc de Blancs
Lieb Cellars 2009 Blanc de Blancs

There is also a lot of great wine for Thanksgiving being produced in the northeast. My favorite current release is the 2011 Swedish Hill Cabernet Franc(NY Cab Franc of the year, 2014 NY International Wine Competition). New York Cabernet Franc is still a little bit unpredictable, but the Swedish Hill is produced with patience and precision. The result is a medium bodied, rounder expression of NY Cabernet Franc that was aged appropriately before release. Moreover, it is a great value for a large Thanksgiving group. I also always enjoy the Lieb Cellars Blanc de Blanc(silver medal, 2013 NYIWC). I believe it to be the most consistent of the Long Island sparkling wines that have recently made their way onto many restaurant lists.

My favorite part of Thanksgiving wine is that there are so many great options and the stakes are low. I will be drinking the Cade Sauvignon Blanc and the Salinia Sun Hawk Farm, but I will also probably have some bourbon! I hope that this article has provided a few exciting, off-the-beaten path options… and Happy Thanksgiving, all!