Thanksgiving Wines

Tips to selecting a great Thanksgiving dinner wine | By Kevin Pelley




Every year I find myself thinking about what wines to serve on Thanksgiving, during the months leading up to the big day. Thanksgiving represents an interesting challenge for pairing wines. Of course it depends upon what you serve, but most traditional meals are comprised of a turkey, either roasted, grilled or the increasingly popular deep fried, along with all the fixings. The drippings are collected and transformed into rich gravy. Often mashed potatoes are served accompanied by butter, gravy and a variety of side dishes including stuffing and casseroles. All this translates into a pretty hefty amount of fat and richness. The average American will consume more than 4,500 calories and 229 grams of fat on Thanksgiving Day, according to the Calorie Control Council. All this richness and unctuousness calls for wines high in acidity, low in tannins and that are made with a moderate amount of oak influence.


A wine’s acidity cuts through the fat and helps balance the meal. Wines that are high in acid are ‘food wines’ or wines that are meant to be served with a meal, rather than easy-drinking ‘cocktail’ style wines, that are low in acid and easy to drink on their own. High acid wines usually come from cool growing regions, or are made from grapes that are naturally high in acid. These high acid wines also pair well with sweet dishes and are palate-cleansing and refreshing. Examples of high acid wines include Champagne or sparkling wines, lightly oaked Chardonnay and Riesling.


Another important characteristic of ideal Thanksgiving wines are those with low tannins. Tannins are the bitter, astringent compounds found in food and wine that dry out your palate, specifically on the middle of your tongue. Tannins in wine come mostly from the grape seeds, grape skins and oak barrels, and though high tannin wines are great for a steak dinner, they are not such great choices for your Thanksgiving table. So tannic grape varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah and Nebbiolo are not recommended, instead look for wines with moderate to low tannins like Gamay (Beaujolais), Pinot Noir and Barbera. Turkey is unique in that it contains both white and dark meat, allowing for both white and red wines to be paired with the meal.


Here are a few wines to try this Thanksgiving that are sure to delight and impress your friends and family.

NV Albinea Canali Lambrusco $19.95 | Here is an exciting wine from Italy that has been relegated to Italian restaurants with red and white checkered tablecloths – Lambrusco! After a partial fermentation, the wine is bottled and undergoes a spontaneous secondary fermentation in the bottle, resulting in a bone dry style and leaving a deposit of spent yeast trapped inside the bottle. The light pink colored wine fools you upon first impression. The nose is fruity and juicy smelling, but the palate is bone dry with tart cranberry fruit flavors, aromas of bread crust and a crisp refreshing finish. Think of this as the cranberry sauce accompaniment to your Thanksgiving Dinner, but in liquid form.



2011 Shea Wine Cellars ‘Shea Vineyards’ Pinot Noir $42.95 | This might be the best Pinot Noir I have tasted all year. The 2011 vintage in Oregon was particularly cold resulting in challenges for winemakers, but Shea Wine Cellars nailed it with this wine. Elegant and restrained at 13 percent alcohol, yet it has ripe fruit flavors of black cherry, pomegranate and cranberry with earthy notes of forest floor, and a touch of mint lingering on the finish. Delicious.

2012 Mouton Noir ‘Oregogne’ Chardonnay $44.95 | André Hueston Mack is the brainchild behind his whimsical label – Mouton Noir, which translates to black sheep. This wine is clearly a nod to Burgundy, not only in name but in the style of the wine. Crisp, clean and mineral driven, this Willamette Valley Chardonnay possesses flavors of lemon zest, tart pears, toasted hazelnuts and baking spices. Try pouring this for your Francophile friends in a blind tasting and they will surely be surprised. Just 200 cases of this stunner were produced.


2011 George Descombes Brouilly $34.95 | Brouilly is one of the ten Crus or single sites in Beaujolais that produce special wines. Do not confuse this with Beaujolais Nouveau, the young wine that is released the third Thursday of each November. George Descombes is one of the leading producers in the Beaujolais region and this wine is packed with tart, red fruit flavors and rocky, stony mineral notes. This wine is produced from 100 percent Gamay, a grape with relative high acidity and low tannins making it an ideal match for your Thanksgiving dinner. 2012


Vietti ‘Tre Vigne’ Barbera d’Alba $25.95 | Barbera is a favorite recommendation with turkey because of Barbera’s natural high acidity and low tannin profile. Hailing from Italy’s Piedmont region, Barbera is not only a great wine with turkey, but a great wine with any food. Barbera offers an easy drinking style that, seemingly, everyone loves with flavors of red cherry, strawberry, violets, nutmeg and subtle vanilla. Barbera is also an excellent value and Vietti is a reliable and respected producer.  M


By Kevin Pelley, Certified Sommelier Wine Merchant: Bern’s Fine Wines & Spirits



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