Thanksgiving is one of my favorite major holidays for one simple reason: It’s the only one that’s purely food-focused. Yes, there are some fantastic culinary treats associated with Christmas and Easter, but there’s also the somewhat distracting matter of Jesus’ birth/horrific death/resurrection to contend with. That sort of thing can make a person feel guilty for dwelling on selfish, earthly delights like gingerbread, baked ham and chocolate eggs.
That’s not to say that we’re completely off the hook at Thanksgiving. While there isn’t really an overtly religious element to the holiday, there is the matter of being thankful. Before we can lunge at the table laden with roast turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing and five different types of pie, we must spend a few minutes expressing gratitude for the good things in our lives. And for me, many of those “good things” involve food and wine.
With that gluttonous thought in mind, I’d like to take time out to acknowledge some of the many wines that I’m thankful for. I’m not necessarily talking about the ones that I consider to be “the best,” but rather, the ones that I’m just plain happy to have around throughout the year. Some of them I love for nostalgic reasons. Others I appreciate for their reliability and value. And some are just damned delicious.
With the exception of the Sagrantino, which is too tannic to pair with turkey-day vittles, each of the following wines would be a great complement to your Thanksgiving feast -- and mine.
Sagrantino di Montefalco: I first tasted this wine in the Italian hill town of Montefalco, in Umbria, where my then-boyfriend (now husband) asked me to marry him. The town is famous for this unique red wine, which is made from 100% Sagrantino grapes in both dry (secco) and slightly sweet (passito) styles. I’m more a fan of the dry version, which has a deep purple color, dark fruit character and a big tannic structure -- a perfect wine for red meat, or for pasta topped with a meaty ragú. (Because of the wine’s structure, it’s best after five or more years of aging.) I don’t drink Sagrantino often -- it’s not all that easy to find -- but it always brings back happy and tasty memories of Italy. Producers to check out include Arnaldo Caprai and Lungarotti.
Robert Sinskey Vineyards Vin Gris of Pinot Noir: A sommelier/wine writer friend, Chris Sawyer, introduced me to this pale salmon-colored beauty a few years ago, and it has become my absolute summertime favorite. I gravitate toward dry rosè wines that are more about delicate fruit and elegance than concentration and power, and the Sinskey hasn’t let me down yet. It has lovely strawberry and citrus flavors, and its acidity makes it super food-friendly. My only issue with this wine is that it sometimes sells out before I can get my hands on it.
Roederer Estate Brut NV: When I worked for Roederer Estate’s marketing company more than a decade ago, every employee in our office received a quarterly half-case allocation of this delicious California bubbly. (For a wine-loving, income-challenged 20-something, that was like winning the lottery.) I’ve since moved on to other jobs and have enjoyed many other sparklers, but this is the one I always go back to. I love its combination of slight toastiness and fresh green apple and citrus flavors. And you can usually find it for under $20.
Iniskillin Ice Wines: For as much as I rave about ice wine – that heavenly sweet nectar made from aromatic grapes frozen on the vines -- I don’t drink it nearly enough. Among the highest-rated wines I reviewed for WRO last year were Iniskillin’s ice wines, including the Canadian producer’s Vidal Sparkling Icewine 2005 (score: 93) and Vidal "Gold" Icewine 2006 (score: 92). There’s just something about the luscious apricot-scented aromas, honeyed sweetness and balancing acidity of these wines that gets me rhapsodizing in a way that table wines seldom do. If you want to serve something really special with dessert -- or as dessert -- this Thanksgiving, this is the stuff to seek out.
Geyser Peak Sauvignon Blanc: While it’s fun to discover new favorites, I can always count on Geyser Peak to deliver a crisp, tasty SB at a good price -- usually around $10. It has a refreshing grapefruit-y character, but it’s not so astringent that I feel like the enamel is being eroded from my teeth. The wine is consistently tasty in a tumultuous world.
Bien Nacido Vineyards Pinot Noir: The Pinot Noir wines made from the fruit of this top-notch Santa Maria Valley vineyard are right up my alley: elegant and a little earthy, with red fruit and spice character. They’re full of flavor and personality, but not at all overpowering, which makes them more than fit for the dinner table. (My pet peeve: When I can’t tell someone’s Pinot from a Syrah.) Wines made from Bien Nacido’s Pinot grapes tend to be more “feminine” in style -- and that’s just the way I like it. Multiple wineries make vineyard-designated wines from Bien Nacido’s fruit, and you can hardly go wrong in choosing one. Some of my favorites include the Pinots from Byron, Au Bon Climat and Qupé.
White Zin, Gewurztraminer and Merlot (in that order): Go ahead and scoff, but these were the “gateway wines” that led me out of Boone’s Farm Tickle Pink darkness. Maybe you were weaned on First-Growth Bordeaux wines, but my path to wine appreciation was strewn with bottles of sweet, accessible, easy-drinkin’ wine. Had they not been there to bridge the gap, I might still be combing the local liquor store for berry-flavored “wine” coolers!