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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!!

 

Wines for Thanksgiving, 2018

10 Nov

It’s that time of year. No, not the Christmas music I’m already hearing.

It’s time to prep for Thanksgiving!

 

Thanksgiving is one of the holidays that made me start this blog so many years ago. It was the time of year in which I’d get email after email, phone call after phone call asking me “What wine should I serve for this special meal?”

 

Over the years, I’ve provided options for a variety of situations. In 2010 I explained why I think four wines is the minimum for a large Thanksgiving dinner party.  Back in 2015 I wrote Thanksgiving Wine: Street Exchange with a Beer Drinker that has become more popular over time with the working stiff crowd, especially for those who are not as comfortable with serving wine and are really looking for ONE bottle for their family’s table. EDITOR’S ASIDE: (If this describes you this year, I DO have a pick for you: the 2017 Lange Twins Rosé of Sangiovese. At $15, it serves every need you might have, and is such a delight to drink, people will think you actually know wine. Just saying.)  Back to your scheduled oenophile content:  

But as a very proud American who is also an old-world wine lover and avowed Francophile, I feel very strongly that that this holiday should be celebrated with American wines. And my suggestions will continue to reflect that!

Something that hasn’t changed: with a) a large group of people and palates to please, and b) a series of dishes that vary wildly in flavor, texture, and temperature, I still like the idea of no less than four wines: a lighter white wine, a serious white,  a delicate red, and a full-bodied red.

So here are my 2018 Thanksgiving Wines: 

 

Viognier: In the past, I used Riesling as my go-to here. But Sue & Rodney Tipton at Acquiesce Winery make such a delightful Viognier- it’s a gently flavored white wine that will please any palate, and this is ideal for the non-drinker or the delicate flower in your group. For $26/bottle, I find this a massive bargain, and a great wine to start the meal with.

Chardonnay:  I’ve narrowed it down to two possible bottles in my cellar: Harney Lane’s 2017 Chardonnay from Lodi, or DuMOL’s 2016 Russian River Valley. The Harney Lane is a beautiful expression of the grape and a wonderful California chardonnay with an ideal balance of oak- not too much, nor too little- making a creamy and flavorful balance, savory with perfect fruit and acidity, with a SRP of $28. And California’s DuMOL might tell your mouth you’re knocking back a very pricey white Burgundy! It’s soft, balanced, simply gorgeous– and a little on the high side (over $50/bottle). The downside is you have to join a waitlist to buy direct, but their wines are available at Wine.com, Wine Library.com, Sokolin.com, and many other online retailers that ship across the USA, and even some local high end retailers who carry the best of California wines. Totally worth the weight. And if we bounce through one of these bottles, I’ll open the other. No problem!

Rosé (ok, actually two of them on my lineup this year):
a) Still Rosé:
Leah Jorgensen Rosé of Cabernet Franc. When I pour this $22 bottle, people lose themselves in ecstasy. I don’t know what she’s putting in the bottle beyond the grape juice, but the wine simply sings of pure fruit, delightful acidity, and beauty. Leah is a brilliant winemaker that you should be aware of, period!

b) Sparkling Rosé: The time I spent in Yakima recently certainly influenced this year’s Thanksgiving choices! I’ll be serving an $18 bottle of sparkling rosé from Treveri Cellars. The Treveri Sparkling rosé you can buy online is made of syrah and chardonnay and is a real crowd-pleaser, while my personal favorite is their tasting room rosé, which is only available in person at the tasting room. This is half pinot noir and half chardonnay and has an old-world charm that sings to me.


Sparkling Shiraz: The pièce de résistance this year might be this wine!
 Treveri Cellars also makes a $20 sparkling shiraz that has such vibrant notes of cranberry, I immediately knew I had to serve this for Thanksgiving! My gut is that it’s going to be a smashing success. But I’ve not actually tried this wine with a savory meal yet- so I’ll make sure to report back with my annual Thanksgiving Postmortem and let you know what my guests thought of this choice- and the others! I am SO excited to hear what my guests think of this wine with the main meal!

Cabernet Franc, for my annual ‘delicate red’ wine. Traditionally it would be a pinot noir -and there are plenty to choose from from the USA- for this old world Burgundy fan. But I’ve been absolutely blown away by the beauty of balance of the cabernet franc from Owen Roe winery. So I have one bottle of $28 Owen Roe’s Rosa Mystica, a wine that totally wrecked me -in a good way- and I plan on putting this on my Thanksgiving Table. This Yakima Valley red is really gorgeous and drinks like an old-world red – I simply can’t wait to try the pairing with turkey and gravy!

Zinfandel: I have two bottles I am going to decide between: a rare and hard to gain Turley, of which I have ONE bottle (and it’s a hoarder bottle I’m loath to open) and my favorite Zin on the planet, Lizzy James OVZ again from Lodi’s Harney Lane. I could almost as easily choose their standard Zin, the Scottsboro Zin, or even their Syrah- but I am just in love with the gnarly, curled old vines and the magical fruit they produce. The wine is big, bold, yet refined and polarizing. Any time I have opened a bottle of the $36 Lizzy James, it has changed lives at the table. It’s a small price to pay, that’s all I’m saying.

 

So- let me know what you think about my picks, and what you plan to open for your Thanksgiving this year! 

 

à votre santé!

Letters from Readers: Thanksgiving Host/Gift Wines

17 Nov

It’s a popular time for questions from readers. Just after my last week’s post, an email arrived looking for the next step in Thanksgiving Wine:

 

“Hi JvB,

Enjoying your blog! We have tried a couple of the wines you reviewed and see why you like them so much.  I liked having my first rioja, and my wife loved the rosé you suggested.

This might be something you get asked a lot, but here’s a Thanksgiving wine question. What wine would you suggest to bring for the host, knowing the host might open it to serve with the Thanksgiving meal, or hold it as a gift and hopefully  appreciate at another time? With one son away this fall, there are three of us going, so I am willing to spend a little more than my normal  limit of  25 dollars a bottle. What can you suggest? “

 

Good question, TS.

 

You definitely want to make sure you have wine that would work with the meal, and that will also shine at another time. It’s quite smart to spend a touch more than usual, as this is a very special meal that families like to share people close to them.

Now… If you were a guest at my home, I’d be thrilled if you brought two bottles, a white (or pink) and a red. On my table this year, there will be a bottle of Jason Moore’s Modus Operandi Pinot Noir ($50) and a Modus Sauvignon Blanc ($35). Moore’s saingée rosé completely changed up my game and convinced me to add a killer, high-end rosé to my Thanksgiving wine list. People LOVE it. The sauvignon blanc has all the best features and none of the negative ones we associate with SB, and has an impressive pedigree- white wine drinkers will adore it. Likewise, the pinot is simply outstanding and pairs gorgeously with the entire meal.

And you can use this fun vision to remind you:

prepare

Because you love wine, you are intelligent and have a sense of humor. Come on, the image at least made you smile, right?

Now, you have options if Modus isn’t available and you aren’t a subscriber. But promise me here, keep the American Holiday with US wines. I was blown away by Lodi wines this summer which are such an easy, delicious, and reasonably priced option we’d be fools not to consider them.

Like me, you might love French, Italian, German, NZ, Australian, South American, and Spanish wines like I do. But we are taking a stand and we will use American wine for Thanksgiving. Americans don’t import rare European cranberries, or South American turkey for this meal. Similarly, we should use the beautiful wines from the USA! So I ask you to look at Lodi, Santa Barbara, Sonoma, Napa, Paso Robles, Walla Walla Washington, Willamette Valley, NY’s Finger Lakes or Charlottesville, Virginia.

You can easily find great wines from these regions to fit any of your Thanksgiving wine needs. I challenge you to join me and promise to serve American-made wines this holiday. And why not? We have killer values and just about every varietal you could ask for whether it is a bold cab, a citrusty sauvignon blanc, a traditional german varietal, a European classic. We’ve got them, and they are SO GOOD!

If you want to be a great guest, just remember that you don’t want to be super cheap on the bottle. I can tell you, I have pinot noir, cab franc, riesling, sauvignon blanc, and chardonnay all from the USA standing by in my cellar, from local regions like Yamhill County OR, Lodi, Napa, Sta Rita Hills CA. They are beautiful wines. And I have a stash of Modus, because any wine lover would be a fool to ignore the stunning quality available from the independent wine makers. These are small production, intense attention to detail, and beautiful wines, simply put.

 

In case you are not convinced you can find great, American wines if you only like European varietals, well, first you aren’t looking very hard. Go back to the wine store. Second, do a tiny bit of research. More than just Lodi… stunning versions of these grapes are grown right here in the states. There are classic, brilliant American wines that will impress the heck out of your holiday table. Here’s a brilliant piece by Maggie Hoffman showcasing some brilliant American Wine Options on Serious Eats:

I hope this gives you some food for thought. Feel free to email me at jvbuncorked@gmail.com, or @jvbuncorked on twitter if you want to discuss more.

And I hope you have a very happy, wonderful Thanksgiving! Make sure you tell me what you chose and how you like it!

 

à votre santé

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