Every year at about this time, my email and text message in-boxes blow up with pleas for my picks on what to pour at Thanksgiving dinner. And every year, I struggle with how to respond. You see, trying to answer this question "correctly" is about as easy as finding a heritage, organic, free-range turkey on a buy-one-get-one-free sale: it ain't gonna happen.
That's because there's more than one way to skin that...er, grape. Traditionalists clamor for wines made right here in the good ol' U. S. of A -- the better to pair with the all-American menu that most of us will chow down on Thursday, right? Sommeliers and chefs tend to stick with old world selections, knowing that the brighter acidity and lower alcohol levels typical of French and Italian wines are generally far better suited to support the wildly disparate buffet of flavors (Fried turkey! Sage-infused gravy! Cranberry sauce! Oyster dressing!) that in any other universe would never meet on the same plate.
As for me? I've traveled down both of those wine-soaked roads. And what I've discovered after all these years of trying not only to get the pairing magic right, but attempting to predict what will please what might just be the most challenging set of palates any somm can run up against (ahem: your cherished family and closest friends) is nothing short of folly. So this year, I've given up on the aforementioned tried-and-true formulas and embraced a far less scientific -- but infinitely more satisfying -- approach to Thanksgiving wine selection: I'm pouring wines that I'm grateful for. That's what this holiday is all about, isn't it? Read on for four of the wines I drank in 2014 that surprised, delighted and moved me -- and that I think you'll be grateful you tried, too.
Bottex Vin du Bugey-Cerdon "La Cueille" Sparkling Gamay ($24) Nothing starts a meal (or day, frankly) better than a glass of gorgeous, pink bubbly. This wine scored major points with me because I'd never before tried a sparkling gamay (which you may have consumed last week in a bottle of Beaujolais Nouveau -- its more widely recognized manifestation). But leaving novelty aside, the wine simply made me smile. It features all the hallmarks of a quality sparkler: hand-harvested grapes, méthode ancestrale production -- believed to pre-date even méthode champenoise, refreshing acidity, plus tangy-sweet flavors of ripe strawberry and cranberry. You'd be hard-pressed to keep yourself from drinking this throughout the meal.
Trimbach Pinot Blanc 2012 ($18) It would amaze you to know how many people tell me that they all but stop drinking white wine once the weather turns chilly. And those are the people for whom I pour glasses of pinot blanc. Neither simple nor lightweight, pinot blanc wines from Alsace are renowned for their lush, round mouthfeel along with gorgeous stone fruit and floral aromas. I'd long been a fan, but my admiration spiraled to new heights after meeting Anne Trimbach, who matter-of-factly informed me and everyone else at the table that this wine, despite its stunning elegance, is really just a "house wine." That revelation will become apparent to you, too, as you sip it and realize it is simultaneously dry and supple, refreshing yet satisfying. In a word: versatile. Exactly as a "house wine" should be.
Johan Vineyards Estate Blaufränkisch 2012 ($30) You know those random bottles wines that you just *happen* to stumble upon? That turn out to be so freaking fantastic that you're surreptitiously photographing label shots to Instagram before you've even finished your first, incredulous swallow? This is one of those bottles. I did a double-take after discovering it on a Bay Area wine list, not only because this indigenous Central European variety isn't exactly common, but finding a blaufränkisch from Oregon's Willamette Valley (made by a native Norwegian, no less) is practically unheard of. So work your way past its tricky-looking pronunciation and see your way to scooping up several bottles of this juicy, cherry-jam flavored little number that will equally charm the pinot noir and syrah drinkers in your crew.
Vallin Syrah 'Sans Soufre' 2012 ($35) True story: I don't often drink new world syrah. While I adore the grape, my palate prefers a style more synonymous to the food-friendly wines of France's northern Rhône Valley -- brooding berry notes, mouth-watering acidity, and a spice-tinged, game-meat-y element that makes me crave a steak. Imagine then my surprise to sample this wine - a passion project for a trio of extraordinarily talented sommeliers (Dustin Wilson, Brian McClintic, and Eric Railsback) - and become instantly obsessed with it. Each and every one of my old world sensibilities was tickled by this fruit-forward, perfectly balanced wine that practically sang me a lullaby after 15 minutes of breathing time. But the nuance that struck me - and lingered with me for days afterward - was that extra, elusive ingredient all wine should possess: love. Because that, paired with a little gratitude makes it an ideal bottle for your Thanksgiving celebration, no matter what (or whom) you drink it with.
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