The holiday season is upon us! It's once again that time of year where you agonize over which bottles to pair with your holiday meals. You're probably asking yourself: Should I start with bubbles or an aperitif? How many different reds or whites do I serve? Do I stick to dry or should I have something off dry or sweet? I'm joking of course, as my wife likes to remind me that most people do not plan their meals with the emphasis on wine that I do.
Yet with the care that many people take on the rest of the Thanksgiving preparation - from turkey cooking method to secret ingredients in the stuffing to old family recipes for sweet potatoes - why would you sprint through the wine selection process? Fortunately you have your trusted sommelier who will give you a tour of his Thanksgiving selections. Not only will I show you what I will be pouring, but suggestions that you can use as you pick out your bottles.
Preheating the Oven
While preparing the meal with my siblings, I like to have a nice bottle open that we can enjoy progressively. I picked up a 2002 Lopez de Heredia "Viña Tondonia" Reserva Rioja and it will not disappoint. A characteristic Rioja, this is mainly tempranillo with three other grapes making the blend. This has been barrel aged for 6 years and will have a good amount of non-fruit character - leather, game, spices, smoke, chamomile - while being rounded out with ripe red cherry. When I start in on bottles with over 10 years of age, I like to think back to what I was doing in that year. Consider it a bit of time travel in a glass.
Whenever it's a special gathering, I start with something sparkling for dual function: to open the palate and to get everyone loosened up. This year I am going with 2011 Schramsberg North Coast Brut Blanc de Blancs from Schramsberg Vineyards in Calistoga, California. As you might remember from my earlier piece on Calistoga, this is one of my year after year favorites.
During the appetizers, where I typically see cheeses, fresh vegetables, and dips/spreads, I wanted to go with wines that would be light but not overwhelmed. The red is 2013 Stoller Family Estate Dundee Hills Pinot Noir from the Willamette Valley in Oregon. Melissa Burr and the winemaking team at Stoller do an incredible job and this wine is some of the best quality for $20 from that region. With depth of red fruits such as cherry, strawberry, and raspberry, and a long, elegant finish, it's no wonder why I regularly stock and open wines from Stoller. The white is 2014 Pascal Janvier "Cuvée Silex" Jasnieres from France in the Loire Valley near Vouvray. This wine from the chenin blanc grape is crisp with fragrant tropical pineapple, ripe lemon, and tart green apple. The minerality and acid in this wine makes it perfect for a range of foods, specifically cheeses or cream/oil based dishes.
The Bird is the Word
Then you have the star attraction: the Thanksgiving turkey! As family and friends surround the table, they'll (hopefully) be raising a glass to health and happiness. We have to make sure the glasses are filled with something with toasting. The past few years I have served bottlings from La Rioja Alta and this year is no different. The 2005 La Rioja Alta "Vina Ardanza" Rioja Reserva is mainly tempranillo with about 20% garnacha (grenache). This wine has a lot of depth and character coming from 3 years of aging on American oak allowing the flavors of dried red fruit, baking spices, vanilla, and tobacco to meld with the mellow tannin and acidity. An overall terrific wine that will benefit from some decanting before serving. Getting a well made, delicious, 10 year old Rioja from a quality producer for under $30 makes this a great value. Like the red, the white wine offering is also a Wine Spectator Top 100 bottle: 2014 Jean-Marc Brocard "Ste. Claire" Chablis. This chardonnay from northern Burgundy is full of bright tart citrus, ripe green apple, and stone minerality that creates a rich experience with a long finish. Both of these wines will pair very well with the turkey, fats in the gravy, butter and starches, and vegetable sides.
Save Room for Dessert
A Thanksgiving meal would not be complete without dessert. Much like the sweets, the wine options range from classic to creative. For those who want something not overall sweet, I have the 2013 St.Urbans-Hof "Ockfener Bockstein" Mosel Riesling Kabinett. While being considered off dry, this wine is as close to semi-sweet as you can get. It has all the flavors I enjoy in a fall dessert: spice, ginger, baked apple, with a juicy feel. This should be a definite crowd pleaser. On the other end of the spectrum is something more traditional. The Rare Wine Company New York Malmsey Madeira is a great example of sweeter Madeira. We will go into more depth on Maderia another time, but here are the quick facts: 1) This bottle will last a very long time once opened (I've enjoyed one over months), 2) It should be poured half the amount of a typical glass of wine, 3) The flavors are round and full with coffee, toffee, and brown sugar. At the end of my Thanksgiving meal, this is exactly the dessert I will be sipping. Perhaps I'll even go back for seconds!
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