Sometimes, just sometimes, big holiday celebrations can feel like a bit of a grind. Whoops, did we say that out loud? It's not that we don't love our families -- we do. But we suspect that you'd agree that occasionally these annual gatherings can feel like more of an obligation and less of a celebration. And if Thanksgiving isn't about celebrating, what is?
That's where wine comes in.
No one can deny that out of all of the season's soireés, Thanksgiving is the one that revolves almost exclusively around food. Given that, make it your mission this year to pour (or gift the host with) wines that feel more festive than forced. Because while there are all kinds of valid takes on how best to match wine with traditional Thanksgiving fare (go with all-American winemakers, and pour lots of pinot noir and riesling), this year we're thumbing our noses at convention in favor of fun. That's not to say that each of these five killer bottles won't drink like a charm with that turkey and all of its tablemates; they most assuredly will. What we are saying is that you'd be pleased as punch to drink any one of them while you're still cooking the damn dinner -- or rummaging around for leftovers this weekend.
Cleto Chiarli Vecchia Modena Lambrusco NV ($15): Hard to find more fun in a glass than this one -- just the sight of this bright-red bubbly will be enough to make even your crankiest cousin smile. Contrary to your suspicions, this fantastically fizzy offering is not the unctuously sweet lambrusco you might have sampled in the past. Nope, this one's refreshingly dry, with delightful bursts of sour cherry, raspberry and, we could swear, a hint of tangerine . And it most definitely would have been a qualifier to show up on last week's ode to bacon-loving wines if we weren't selfishly hoarding bottles of it to kick off our T-Day festivities with a bang.
Buil & Gine "Nosis" Verdejo 2010 ($17): We'd be lying if we said we drank much verdejo after the month of September; okay, maybe October, if there was some kind of heat wave in effect. But after our very first sip a few weeks ago of this 100 percent old-vine offering from the Rueda region of Spain, we could hardly wait to savor it on our favorite feast day. Not exactly familiar with this grape? Imagine a new-world sauvignon blanc, but one that's been kissed with more intriguing flavors of quince, kiwi and limestone. In a word, lip-smacking. Brilliant on its own, equally so when matched with starters like crab-and-avocado quesadillas or peel-and-eat shrimp.
Clos Le Vigneau Vouvray 2009 ($20): Vouvray sounds like a serious wine, and it is -- if you mean seriously good. Key points to remember: Vouvray is a place (a region in France's Loire Valley, to be precise), not a grape. The varietal here is actually chenin blanc, which might be one of the most fun grapes ever planted given its shape-shifting ability to morph into wines ranging in style from dry to sweet, sparkling to still. This is the wine to pour on Thursday for someone who asks for a glass of white with dinner; be sure to watch the expression on their face as they encounter this exquisite, mouth-filling gem that tastes of honey, dried peaches and hazelnuts, and then beg you to tell them what kind of special chardonnay it is. You'll probably have to share it with everyone else who clamors for a taste, so make sure to save yourself a glass (or three).
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Creekside Cellars Petit Verdot 2008 ($35): Reach for this one when it's time to move on to the reds -- or, hell, if you're having one of those "special" holiday meals with your family, you just might want to start here. To lighten the vibe, engage your guests in a scintillating conversation about the exciting wines produced in Colorado nowadays. Be sure to touch on the fact that this hard-to-find, even-harder-to-make-into-delicious-juice petit verdot varietal was coaxed into submission by an award-winning female winemaker, Michelle Cleveland. Discuss the vibrant, aromatic nose of ginger and exotic florals, then swoon over the rich blackberry and maple flavors. Suddenly, everyone's in a great mood.
Cesari Mara Valpolicella Superiore Ripasso 2009 ($18): Italians clearly know a thing or two about phenomenal food and wine; more important, they really know how to party. This is a wine that's tailor-made for celebration: It's simultaneously bright (thanks to plenty of juicy acidity), fruity (think dried cherry preserves), and full-bodied without being heavy. Like Vouvray, Valpolicella is the name of a place rather than a grape: in fact, a trio of rondinella, molinara and corvina varietals come together to make this supremely food-friendly blend. If you can't commit all of that to memory, don't fret. All you really need to know is that this might be the superstar wine of the day, thanks to its all-around drinkability.