The default recommendation of many experts points to Beaujolais, a French wine, as the perfect complement to the Thanksgiving feast. That may be true, yet there is a case to be made that serving domestic wines on this uniquely American holiday can be every bit as satisfying.
Not only that, it can be economical as well. For inspiration, I consulted my notes from the 2019 Critics Challenge International wine competition. The wines at Critics Challenge are evaluated by prominent wine journalists from across the United States and the results are typically consumer friendly. I combed the awards specifically looking for domestic wines awarded platinum or gold medals with a suggested retail price tag of $25 or less.
There were a remarkable number of excellent options that would suit the demands of the Thanksgiving feast, with its array of both sweet and savory flavors and aromas. Although making the cut was difficult, I finally settled upon 15 wines diverse enough to handle the job without busting the budget.
I am confident there is something here for every stage of the Thanksgiving meal.
In alphabetical order:
Alexander Valley Vineyards 2018 Gewurz, Mendocino County ($15) was a gold medal winner at the Critics Challenge. Gewurztraminer is extremely versatile and can be served both as an aperitif or with the main course.
Barboursville 2017 Vermentino Reserve, Virginia ($22.99) scored a platinum award for this top-notch Virginia winery. Beautifully balanced and smooth, it makes an exceptional aperitif.
Benziger 2017 Chardonnay, Sonoma County ($16.99) avoids the pitfall of oak and alcohol that can render chardonnay heavy and ponderous. This gold-medal winner is great match with turkey at a great price.
Charles Smith 2016 The Velvet Devil Merlot, Washington ($12.99) delivers exceptional quality at an exceptional price. A gold-medal merlot from Washington should surprise no one.
Eberle 2018 Muscat Canelli, Estate Vineyard, Paso Robles ($22) is a medium-sweet dessert wine, a gold-medal winner and a spectacular match with pumpkin pie!
J Vineyards CA Cuvee Brut, California ($25) is a new product from J and it’s off to a great start with a platinum award from the critics. If you want to greet your guests with a glass of great bubbly at a great price, this is the ticket.
Jeff Runquist 2018 Viognier, River Junction ($23) is another platinum winner and it’s a beauty. It has the essence of sweetness without being sweet, making it an inviting companion at the Thanksgiving table.
Kenwood 2018 Rose of Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast ($22) is another versatile gold-medal winner. Great as an aperitif, but also beautiful with the roasted bird.
Louis M. Martini 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon, Sonoma County ($20) is smooth and supple with excellent depth for a cabernet at such a modest price. I don’t usually recommend cabernet for Thanksgiving, but this gold-medal winner is suave enough to rule the day.
Navarro 2017 Barbera, Mendocino ($25) is a gold-medal winning red that will add a touch of spice to your feast. Navarro is so renowned for its stunning white wines that its exceptional reds are sometimes overlooked and under-priced.
Peju 2018 Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley ($25) took a platinum award at the 2019 Critics Challenge, outperforming the winery’s big, bold reds for a change. It’s a beautiful expression of Napa Valley sauvignon and extremely versatile. Serve it as an aperitif or with the main event. You will love it either way.
Rodney Strong 2016 Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley ($25) scored a platinum award from the critics and it’s bound to dazzle you as well. This is just another example of a Rodney Strong wine that over-delivers. Serve it up with the main event and savor the great price.
Tangent 2017 Albarino, Paragon Vineyard, Edna Valley ($17) earned gold from the critics. It’s safe to say Tangent helped popularize domestic albarino from California and that success has inspired many other vintners to plant this native Spanish grape variety. It is without a doubt one of my favorite aperitif whites.
Trefethen 2018 Dry Riesling, Estate Grown, Oak Knoll District ($25) scored platinum at Critics Challenge, surprising no one because it has long been one of the finest dry rieslings from California. This is a white that can do the heavy lifting of a red and should be served with the main course, though hardly anyone would complain if served as an aperitif.
Wagner Vineyards 2017 Dry Riesling, Finger Lakes ($14.99) is a gold-medal winning wine that demonstrates both the high quality and tremendous value of riesling from New York’s Finger Lakes region.
Follow Robert on Twitter at @wineguru.