Thanksgiving Wine Picks: Why Not Serve Pinot Noir with Turkey this Year?

Thanksgiving wine recommendationThis article originally appeared in the November issue of Austin Woman Magazine, and it looks way better in print.  Photo by Rudy Arocha; Platter, wine glasses and runner available at Breed & Company, 718 W. 29th St., 512.474.6679; Cheeses compliments of Antonelli’s Cheese Shop, 4220 Duval St., 512.53.9610; Wine available at Twin Liquors.

This year, Thanksgiving falls on the first day of Hanukkah. It’s hard enough to pick the perfect wine for Thanksgiving dinner, but for families celebrating both holidays, it’s even trickier. A surefire key to success is selecting more than one type of wine. Bubbles are a must on the table, and it is also a great idea to have an elegant, refined red wine. A complex menu like those served at traditional Thanksgiving and Hanukkah begs for versatile wines.

Sparkling wine is as adaptable as a little black dress during holiday party season. No matter what foods you serve with it, those festive bubbles perk up the palate and put you in a good mood. Sparkling wine also has high levels of acid that cut through any rich and fatty foods like mashed potatoes with gravy or fried latkes.

You might not think of red wine when you gaze at that succulent turkey breast, but pinot noir deserves a seat at your table. Its lush fruit, mild alcohol and soft tannins give it the versatility to pair well with not only turkey, but also with red meats and just about any dish. Pinot noir is the ultimate svelte, elegant, complex wine, and red Burgundy is the best there is in the category.

Similarly, the Syrah-driven wines of the Côtes du Rhône region of France are earthy, fruity and foodfriendly wines. Unlike some of your relatives, these wines won’t dominate the conversation—or the food. The subtle, medium-bodied wines go with white meat or a traditional Hanukkah brisket equally as well.

Whether you are cooking at home or attending dinner at a friend’s house, plan to have one bottle of each for every two people. As a guest, you might not need to supply all the wine, but you should always bring a bottle of something to augment the host’s supply. It’s a nice gift if it isn’t served.

Here are my bubbly and red recommendations for your holiday feast:

Bargain Bubbly: Gruet Brut Non Vintage French Champagne may be the standardbearer for sophisticated bubbles, but domestic bubbly typically delivers better value. Quality American sparkling wines are made in the traditional method in California, Oregon, Washington and even New Mexico. French Champagne maker Gilbert Gruet moved to New Mexico in the early 1980s to make Gruet sparkling wine. Gruet brut is bright with flavors of apple, grapefruit, a hint of lemon zest and an edge of stony minerals that make it a natural dance partner with any food. Pick it up at Twin Liquors for $15.

Splurge Bubbly: Marc Hébrart N.V. Premier Cru Brut Rosé, Mareuil-sur-Aÿ This Premier Cru rosé from the small French Champagne grower/producer Marc Hébrart is as refined and silky as you would expect from a Grand Cru. Its gorgeous salmon color and streaming bubbles are a delightful visual accompaniment to any table. It has a nice balance of fruit and earth with fresh apple, strawberries and funky goat-cheese scent. It finishes with crisp minerals and tart acidity. It’s a steal for $55, available by order at Austin Wine Merchant.

Bargain Red: Domaine d’Andezon Côtes du Rhône 2011 Domaine d’Andezon from the Southern Rhône tastes like a much more expensive wine made in one of the more prestigious regions to the North. This blend of mostly Syrah and Grenache has rich violet color and lush black fruit and wildflower aromas. The blackberry, licorice, herb and black-olive flavors are balanced with graphite minerality. It pairs well with duck, venison and brisket. It is available at Twin Liquors for about $15.

Splurge Red: Faiveley Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru “Clos des Issarts” 2010 The famed wine village of Gevrey-Chambertin in the Burgundy region of France produces some of the world’s most sought-after Premier and Grand Cru wines. The Faiveley has rich extraction, resulting in a dark ruby color. It has opulent, long-lasting scents of forests, fennel and ripe cherries. The well-balanced wine tastes of cherries, strawberries, mocha and dried mushroom. It has a silky texture, despite the racy acidity and firm tannins. It is elegance in a bottle for $95 at the Austin Wine Merchant.

What are you drinking?

Size Matters: How to Make an Impression at Holiday Parties

I’m a huge proponent of going to as many parties as possible during the holiday season, particularly the parties that have full, hosted bars. There are plenty of parties at friends’ homes to attend as well. When you attend a private party, you should always bring a bottle of something to augment the host’s supply, whether they need it or not. It’s a nice gift if it isn’t served.

This holiday season, why not make a positive impression by bringing an over-sized bottle of wine to your next party? The holidays are all about excess and I know you are in the holiday spirit, so go for it.  Stand out by presenting your host with a Magnum, Jeroboam or even a Rehoboam or festive Champagne or red wine. You can’t go wrong.

There are several sizes of wine bottles. There is absolutely no reason to bring an ordinary bottle to a festive event when you can do more. Here’s a handy reference guide for you.  

Volume (liters) Ratio (bottles) Name What it means
0.1875 0.25 Piccolo It means “small” in Italian, and is also known as a quarter bottle, pony, snipe or split. It is the common size served when you order bubbly by the glass. To me this is just a novelty. Why in the hell would anyone embarrass a perfectly good wine by putting it in something so unfulfilling? The only reason to take these to a party is if you have a car-load of ‘em and you’re using them as stocking stuffers.
0.375 0.5 Demi It means “half” in French., so its cleverly known as a half bottle or split. It is a reasonable size if you want a little wine with dinner by yourself. These are completely useless at a party and will no doubt cause you to be seen as “half” a guest.
0.750 1 Standard This is your normal bottle that you see everywhere. Legend has it that the size was based on the amount an average Frenchman could consume at lunch without being too impaired to return to work. If you are absolutely common and ordinary in every way, bring this size bottle. “Oh look honey, Mr. Average is here to bore the hell out of us.”
1.5 2 Magnum The double bottle. These are relatively easy to find and affordable. It’s just big enough to make a good impression when you walk into a party. It says, “I’m not messin around here.”
3.0 4 Jeroboam Oh yeah, the “Double Magnum.” It is named for a Biblical king and has kingly dimensions. If you tote this bad boy into a party, you’ll definitely get invited back next year (unless you sleep with the host’s significant other).
4.5 6 Rehoboam This beast is about as big as you can get and still feasibly carry it to a party and pour from it without making an atrocious mess. We’re talking about an entire ½ case of wine in one bottle here. It’s also named for a Biblical king. Walk into a party with this, and you’ll be king.

There are several other sizes of wine bottles going all the way up to the 40 bottle Melchizedek. You’re not going to find the ultra-large size bottles unless you special order them. These are the bottles you see as ornamentation at fine restaurants and wine shops. Call your favorite wine shop ahead of time to see what they have on hand in a large format bottle. Your friends will love you for it.

I recently did this with a Magnum of Domaine de Mourchon 2006 “Grande Reserve” Cotes du Rhone Villages. The winery is on top of a hill in the village of Provencal Seguret, located in southern Cotes du Rhone. It’s a fairly new winery, founded in 1998 with existing vineyards. They make three lines of wine, and the “Grand Reserve” is a blend of Grenache and Syrah from old vines.

Here is what you can expect.

Look The rich purple of an advent candle burning for Christmas.
Smell The makings a fine fruit cake with nutmeg, toasty cinnamon, fennel, raspberries and plums simmering on the stove.
Taste This wine is a holiday feast of jammy black cherries, currant, white pepper and carpaccio. Its medium body moves from fruit to earth before a mid-length finish of smooth tannins.
Price $38 (or $20 for a standard 750 ml)

This is a respectable wine and downright jolly in a large format bottle. So what’s it going to be? Will you be remembered as the guest that brought the huge bottle of fantastic wine? Or will you be forgotten?

What are you drinking?

Biting into a Fleshy Grenache

Oh boy I love a good Rhone. The juicy gush of fruit flowing from the mainstay grape, the delectable Grenache, tempered by its sassy, spicy cousins,  Syrah and Mourvèdre make for a glass of Nirvana (um, not the grungy band). Tonight I’m going for a Southern Rhone from the village of Plan de Dieu, a 2007 Côtes du Rhône, Domaine de l’Espigouette, from Bernard Latour.   

Damned nice wine. Turns out that 2007 was a pretty good vintage for the good people at Domaine de l’Espigouette. A vigorous swirl of the glass kicked off scents of ripe cherry, coffee and provincial spice. I think I drooled a little. Remember that moment when you finally got to kiss Bethany inside the huge tractor tire on the playground after school in 5th grade? Remember how your lips tingled with the sweet narcotic of her soft lips? Well I do. Anyway, the first sip of this wine was just as intoxicating. A big mouthful of dark cherry, liquorice and raspberry with whispers of saline blood, vanilla and coffee. The Finnish was as meaty as a New York strip, slightly smokey and rich. I could have chewed that bitch.

Sounds expensive, doesn’t it. Nope. This baby’s a steal at about $13 a bottle. You really outa get some of it. Deelish.