My grandmother—my mother’s mother—often described herself as “an old East Texas farm lady.” She was that, for sure, but she was also an exceptionally fine cook, never better than when working with pastry. After my grandfather died, she bought the house next door to ours in the little town in which we lived and across the street from the elementary school where my mother taught third grade.
Mother-in-law next door! That might sound like an invitation to disaster, but she and my father got along well. He also greatly appreciated her skills in the kitchen! (My mother had very limited interest in the business of cooking. Her calling lay instead in the education and upbringing of the children of Cherokee County.)
My grandmother specialized in pies and cobblers of all sorts, best when filled with our native produce: pecans—we had venerable pecan trees in both front and back, offering shade from the Texas sun and providing a wealth of well-nigh perfect pecans—peaches, and blackberries. Grandma also did a marvelous chicken pot pie and, of course, outdid herself at Thanksgiving when Cousin Fred, himself a local farmer, invariably arrived at our door with one his prized hens, an homage to his beloved Aunt Al.
Cousin Fred’s gift was our joy and delectation, served with my grandmother’s perfectly rendered homemade dressing along with a gravy that featured fresh giblets—chopped chicken livers, hearts and gizzards.
A perfect meal it was too, save for one thing. There was no wine at table. Ours was a “Dry County” in the Deep, Baptist South.
I did not taste wine or spirits until I was an undergraduate at Rice. That was forty-odd years ago, and I have done everything I can to rectify that sad situation ever since.
Which brings us—you knew this was coming, didn’t you?—to Thanksgiving 2020, chez Anderson. There will only be four of us, and no fresh hen from Cousin Fred. But a roasted turkey, yes, and dressing and giblet gravy (with red wine and mushrooms). And much more.
I have yet to decide on our Thanksgiving wines, but here are wines that I’ve been drinking this fall that would more than suffice for the occasion.
For those of you—I hope I’m included in this list—starting out with shellfish or simply in need of an aperitif, the underrated and vastly underpriced dry white wines of the Loire come straight to mind.
The Domaine du Haut Bourg—imported by Polaner—offers an excellent $12 or so introduction to these wines with its 2019 Muscadet Côtes de Grandlieu “Sur Lie,” which is dry, clean and delicious. The fourth-generation owners, the Choblet brothers, make a point of holding back and only then marketing after considerable aging, their pièce de résistance, the Muscadet Côtes de Grandlieu “Sur Lie” Origine du Haut Bourg ($20-$25). The current vintage on offer is the 2009, but I still have a half-case left of the 2007. I love it! Dry, crisp, still fresh and youthful at age 13, light lemon in color, and long on the finish. It’s a very elegant wine—understated in its way, but very rewarding.
A big surprise and a real lesson came when I opened a bottle of 2012 Muscadet Sèvre et Maine “Sur Lie” from the Château de la Chesnaie located in the village of Basse-Goulaine. It was the last bottle on the shelf of a small local retailer, and it cost all of $13. I asked the co-owner, a tall friendly fellow named Tom, if it were still good. “Well, no one has complained—yet!” Tasted that night, the last bottle standing proved not a touch over the hill. Really quite enjoyable. The fruit had over time actually firmed-up in bottle. The color was still a fairly youthful lemon-yellow, no orange. Very tasty it was with the oysters too!
I greatly admire the wines of Alsace, not least for their variety. They are almost without exception “food friendly.” I am, however, seldom under the thrall of Pinot Blanc, yet there is one that towers above the others: That of the Domaine Weinbach. The 2017 example is certified as organic/biodynamic. Together with the acidity of the vintage and the fantastic Kayserberg soil—the Fallers own sites in four Grand Cru vineyards—this has resulted in a wine of an intensity seldom found in Pinot Blanc. This is, in short, super-duper Pinot Blanc. And great value at about $25 the bottle.
The crus of Beaujolais figure prominently in my everyday drinking. Two such wines, both imported by Kermit Lynch, and both priced around $20-$25, would go splendidly with The Bird. Domaine Chignard makes a very characteristic Juliénas “Beauvernay,” from vines planted in 1946, that is all minerals and earthiness, plus a twist of acidity and a slight dry sherry-like flavor. Good as this is, it pales alongside the old vine fruit of the Fleurie “Les Moriers,” from perhaps the finest plot in the commune. Both are from the somewhat variable 2017 vintage—though there is nothing at all “variable” about either of these wines! The “Moriers”—the fruit comes from old vines, including some that are 100 years old—is flowery, elegant and absolutely luscious on the palate. I adore it.
The 2015 Fleurie Clos de la Roilette Griffe du Marquis “Vin Issu de Vielles Vignes de 1930,” about $40 the bottle, is no bargain, but it is pretty darned amazing and worth every dime of the price. The now 90-year-old, pre-World War II vines have produced a concentrated example that shows us just how high the best of the Beaujolais crus can aspire, especially in such a great vintage as this. Tasted over four nights, the wine only got better with each new approach. Layers and layers of ripe fruit, perfectly balanced with acidity. A wine to ponder as you drink it. Hats off to the late Joe Dressner and his team at Louis/Dressner for bringing in this beautiful wine!
Many of us wouldn’t think of carving into a turkey without a good bottle of red Bordeaux at hand, but, let’s face it, between raging worldwide demand and the Trump Tariff, the price of cru classé Bordeaux and equivalent Pomerols has gone through the roof. If you must have claret—and, god knows, my early wine explorations were devoted largely to Bordeaux, red, white and sweet—here are some ideas.
One strategy which I regularly practice is to buy Cru Bourgeois châteaux from good vintages and exceptional producers. I can hear Michael Apstein’s voice in my head as I write this: Producer, Producer, Producer! But it’s true. A perfect example is the 2016 Château Haut-Vigneau rouge from the Perrin family of the celebrated Pessac-Léognan Cru Classé (en blanc et rouge) Carbonnieux. The vines are still relatively young, but the location is excellent, between Carbonnieux in Léognan and Martillac, the village in which Haut-Vigneau is located. At around $20-$25 the bottle, the 2016 is a steal, with all the silkiness of Pessac-Léognan together with
those characteristic soft red fruit flavors.
The 2016 Château Ferran, another Pessac-Léognan rouge, also from Martillac, and selling for more or less the same price (about $25), makes for an interesting pairing with the Haut-Vigneau. The owners, the Béraud-Sudreau family, don’t own a famous cru classé like Carbonnieux, but they’ve been at this estate since the late 19th century. Quality, as Stephen Brook has noted, has certainly picked up over the past 20 years. Unusually, the blend features a whopping 67% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon and 3% Cabernet Franc. (Haut-Vigneau is the exact opposite: 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot.) The soil, nevertheless, speaks, even with the large proportion of Merlot. The wine is fresh, minerally, herbaceous (in a good sense) and red-fruit driven. Very Pessac-Léognan in character. And very 2016, with all the vivacity of the vintage. In that sense, it reminds me of the 2010 red Burgundies, which were all about elegance, purity of fruit, and exquisite balance.
I drank my last bottle of this wine a couple weeks ago, but I can heartily recommend the 2010 Dry Creek Vineyard Dry Creek Valley Red Wine Meritage “The Mariner” if ever it comes your way. The blend is classic: 41% Cabernet Sauvignon; 41% Merlot; 6% Cabernet Franc and 5% Petit Verdot; with a somewhat unusual 7% of that old Bordeaux-cum-Andean varietal, Malbec. The wine is just a bit “hot” at 14.5% stated alcohol, but it’s also understated and classy. A very restrained kind of California red, evidence of good soil and good winemaking.
I will raise a toast to my grandmother’s cooking this Thanksgiving—and I will remember the warmth and pleasure of sitting at the kitchen table, listening to her tales of a bygone era. All the while immersed in those wonderful smells coming from stove and oven. And you wonder why I associate such joy with food—and wine?