2020 Wines for Thanksgiving

18 Nov

2020 has been an “interesting” year so far. Thanksgiving also looks to be “interesting”. Smaller groups, probably the same people you’ve been quarantined with since March. Maybe a Zoom dimmer with friends?

As our gatherings are smaller, so will be my suggestions!
As far as wine goes, I’m changing up my game. I suggest you do, too! We’re going to think and drink globally

White Wines: Albariño and Rhône white blends!


Whether you pull a wine from the Iberian peninsula (Albariño) or the south of France (Rhône), you will have superb results with Thanksgiving dinner. I find the Rhône blends more savory, but both of these styles will be able to handle anything from appetizers to soup to salad to shellfish to the main dinner, and be a total success with turkey and pork, providing a zesty and fresh palate after every sip.

 

If you are asking, “What’s Albariño, JvB?” Here’s the quick answer: from Spain’s Rias Baixas wine region, these are dry white wines, lighter in body, with excellent acidity. Common flavor profiles include lemon, grapefruit, nectarine, and melon. It’s your hip wine alternative to Sauvignon Blanc, and it has a huge bang for the buck, and prices usually range from $12-20/bottle. 

Typical examples of Rias Baixas Albariño. Tremendous flavor and value! 

 

If you are wondering “Rhône who?” it takes a little more work, as there are a bunch of awesome white wine grapes that are unique to France’s Rhône valley and they can be a little confusing. My choice is Acquiesce Winery’s Clairette Blanche (13.5% ABV. $28/bottle SRP), a wine that is actually made in California but uses Rhône grape varieties. It has a similar high acidity, but gentle fruit balance of peach, pear, and a hint of fennel, with a gorgeous floral nose, and a savory body. This is the rounder, fuller wine that is your alt-chardonnay choice and is a huge secret weapon for both crowd-pleasing and palate-pleasing skills. 

 

Whether single variety like this Clairette, or a blend of Rhône grapes-
the wine inside is even more beautiful than the lovely bottle and label seen here. Acquiesce Winery, Lodi California. 
 

 

Rhône grape types often sound exotic and may be challenging for some Americans to pronounce: bourboulenc, clairette blanc, grenache blanc, marsanne, muscat blanc à petits grains, pinardin, picpoul blanc, roussanne, ugni blanc. While you can search to find some single vineyard wines that are stunning, many of the wines that arrive in the USA are blends that showcase the best of the region, and can be found in the $10-20 range. The high end summits with rare vintages of J.L. Chave Hermitage Blanc, so be wary if your browser search sorts with “price high/low” and don’t be frightened off by the sticker shock! There are amazing values to be found from bottles with exquisite expression and flavors. If Acquiesce is a little above your price range, the most easily found white Rhône blends are Famille Perrin Côtes du Rhône 2019 Blanc Reserve or Guigal Côte du Rhône 2018 Blanc, which both have shockingly low street prices right now, in the $10-15 range.  

 

OK, Ready for Red? 

 

Red Wines: Cru Beaujolais and Pinot Noir!


“What’s a Cru Beau?” You may be thinking. Here’s the scoop: 

Think of the red wines of Beaujolais in three tiers: Entry Level (Beaujolais Nouveau), Mid-Level (Beaujolais Village) and Top Tier (Cru Beaujolais). The good news is you can find excellent top tier bottles in the twenties and thirties in terms of cost, while the Nouveau is in the teens, and Village bottle cost spreads across the middle range.  

Buying tips for Cru Beaujolais: there are ten designations  based on and named by their region, you can click the link and do a deep dive, or take the fast lane: ask your local wine store clerk to point them out. The three I see most often in both online and brick-and-mortar stores are:  Morgon, Fleurie, and Moulin-à-Vent. I find these wines to be so beautiful, bright, fruity, and acidic, perfect matches for the cranberry sauce, with enough acid to work with a roast or to tame heavy gravy or a bitter vegetable side dish. The quality and balance of these wines are a tremendous value in the under $40/bottle range, while the same quality in Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, or Bordeaux blend will tend to cost more in local wine stores. 

 

Left & Middle are Cru Beaujolais, on the right is a quality Village-level wine by a 3rd generation winemaker.  

 

Pinot Noir: In this day and age, you MUST know about Pinot Noir by now. Even if you never saw “Sideways”, you probably know that pinot noir is a delicate grape, requires so much more than simply the labor of love to produce a formidable wine. Pinot is the opposite of the hearty cabernet sauvignon grape. When cab is a Fastback Mustang, pinot noir is the Ferrari Dino 246. It’s the Pappy Van Winkle of the wine world. If Cabernet is Travis Scott, then Pinot Noir is Marvin Gaye. 

More importantly, while the powerful cabernet sauvignon is a go-to for steak, pinot noir’s delicacy and bright fruit are a no-brainer for the Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday meals. Pairing is not only easy, it’s perfect.  


As an admitted French wine snob, yes, I love my Burgundy as well as great American and New Zealand pinot noir. There is an abundance of great pinot noir in the $25-$50 range, and stellar quality in the $50 and up range, with some awesome values in the under $25 range. But there are so many great buys in pinot noir around the world, and the wine pairs beautifully with a holiday meal. You can find truly stunning pinot noir wines from California, Oregon, and France across the spectrum. While I may lean towards the $50+ bottles, I have my share of $9-15 as well. Everyone needs a weekly bottle, a special event bottle, a birthday bottle. 

The best regions in the USA for pinot noir are: the  Willamette Valley in Oregon (and it’s six sub AVAs) and from California: Anderson Valley, Russian River Valley, Santa Lucia Highlands, Santa Rita Hills, and Sonoma Coast. Or you can hop off the American continent to visit New Zealand’s Central Otago and Marlborough regions. Or yet another option:  Do Not Pass Go, Do Not Collect $200 and head straight to Burgundy! Much depends on the size of your table and your budget. But know you can find excellent bottles from all of these regions. Here’s an example or two…

 

Some great examples of tremendous value in Pinot Noir

Take advantage of the killer values offered by these: 2017 McIntyre Pinot Noir  from Santa Lucia Highlands, Domaine Boussey Volnay 1er Cru,  and District 7    Estate Grown Pinot Noir which has been an editor’s choice year after year; I fell in love with it doing the pandemic. These punch well above their weight classes and each shows something different about how sexy and precise pinot noir can really be. 

If you want to change it up, you can look at these awesome selections from Ken Wright  or Evesham Wood  from Oregon, or the delicious, glamorous flavors of Gary Farrell  from the Russian River Valley. If you want to Go Big or Go Home, see if your local wine store carries Merry Edwards 2017 Meredith Estate Pinot Noir   from the Russian River Valley in Sonoma- I’ve had an ounce of this stunning  wine and am trying to get my hands on a bottle. 

 

If you’re worried that you might be all by yourself (and depressed as hell) on Thanksgiving, I STILL have a pinot noir to treat yourself for the holiday! Crémant d’Alsace Brut Rosé from Lucien Albrecht  is a sparkling rosé of pinot noir that is unrelentingly delicious.  

 

SRP is $20 and I’ve seen from $14-22 in stores. It always over-performs and is simply delicious.
So put that in your back pocket, it’s an Ace in the hole! 
Better yet,  you can easily find this bottle at
Total Wine, Costco, and many of your local wine stores. 

 

 

Last but not least- 
Should you or your holiday table prefer a more powerful style of red wine, then ask your local wine store for a great bottle of Carmenere, Rioja, or Old Vine Zinfandel. Each of these wines are powerful food-pairing options, and you can find older bottles that drink beautifully at reasonable prices. 

 

 

 

Have you noticed what everything has in common? Brighter fruit and higher acidity, which is a great match for Thanksgiving because it’s still getting the best out of late summer and early fall. This combination just works, much like the afternoon sun with a fall chill in the air gives us perfect sweater weather. 

So, get out of your comfort zone and try something new. Please reply below, and let me know what you do!
I promise I’ll do my post-mortem on what I drank on Thanksgiving, as always! 


#WIYG? 

 


à votre santé!!

 

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