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My Thanksgiving Wine Picks

November 15, 2010

After writing about how to select appropriate wines for Thanksgiving, I thought it might be helpful to see what I’m bringing to the table.

First, I only barely mentioned sparkling wine in that last post, but I’m definitely bringing a bottle. There’s no better way to start the night. Sparkling wine goes great with appetizers, puts us in a festive mood, and if there’s any left it’s a great accompaniment to the first course.

I’ll be having a superb blanc de blanc value from the south of France from Varichon & Clerk. It’s crisp, has wonderful fruit and is made in the traditional method, just like Champagne but for far less money. Yes, it’s available at the Canal’s where I now work (Canal’s Bottle Stop, 10 W Route 70 in Marlton NJ, just east of the intersection with Route 73). It’s all of $9.99, a fantastic steal at this price.

Next up are  a couple of white wines. Personally, I like a couple of glasses of white wine before moving on to reds. With all of that good food, it would be a shame to pass up on good whites, though for some people it’s only red wines once the weather gets cold. Does this sound like anyone at your Thanksgiving table? Pour them a small glass of good white wine and gently nudge them into trying it with their meal. Yeah, I’m that kind of wine geek, I love to push people out of their wine ‘comfort zones.’

Which leads me to wine number 2. I need to bring some Chateau Ste. Michelle sauvignon blanc for one of my sisters. It’s her comfort zone wine, just about all she’ll drink. But I have introduced her to some alternatives like Argentine torrontés. So maybe I can get her to try my wine #3, a German riesling that’s just a little bit off dry. I haven’t selected one yet, but it will likely be an off-dry Kabinett or possibly a Spatlese, somewhere around $15. (Quick primer: Those German wine terms refer to when the grapes were harvested. Kabinett designates grapes that are fully ripe when harvested, and Spatlese means that the grapes were left to ripen longer, gaining more flavor and sugars in the process.)

Wine #4 has to be a crowd pleaser, so I’m going with one that was in the portfolio of the distributor for whom I sold. It’s no accident that where I work now carries it, a Melville chardonnay from Santa Barbara, California. It’s deliciously clean, not oaky or buttery, though if that’s your style of chardonnay it would go fine with the meal. For me, the Melville’s minerally style with tangy citrus on the palate is right on target.

Now for the reds. This meal, to me, wants some good lighter bodied reds.

Last year I brought an interesting German red made from a grape called Dornfelder. It’s an alternative to more usual light reds like gamay (from the Beaujolais region of France). This year I’m going with a pinot noir from Etude, a producer of big New World pinots from Carneros in Napa Valley. It’s a bigger wine than some of the people there might appreciate, so I’m breaking one of my own rules here. Why pop this $40 bottle for a crowd that would be just as happy with a $12 cab? Why not?! As the family’s wine geek, there are several people who look to me to bring something special each year, so the Melville and this Etude will satisfy that demand.

Another good bet is a zinfandel, and I’m interested in trying out one called Jelly Jar from California. It’s a uniquely American kind of wine for a uniquely American holiday, and the big, jammy fruit flavors are sure to make this bottle a hit with the family. What I look for is one that isn’t over 15% alcohol.

To round out the selections I’ll break another rule that I wrote about earlier. The typical Thanksgiving meal is not the best partner for big cabernet sauvignons, but there will be guests there who will want nothing but. So, in order to please the crowd, I’ll grab a couple of cabs. I’ve narrowed the choices down to a couple of Washington state wines, since the cabernet sauvignons from there tend to be just a touch lighter than the typical California cabs.

I hope my classes and writing have inspired you to be bold and experiment a little, though I do understand not wanting to make a mistake and bring a wine that disappoints. For an occasion where the wine choice matters, it’s definitely best to try anything new ahead of time; you can always go back to the store for more or opt for a safer bet if the first wine you tried doesn’t work for you.

I’ll do my best to help with other suggestions, too. So if you’re not coming out to my new post in Marlton, drop me a line with any questions at

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