Thanksgiving wine guide: Perfect pairings for morning, noon and night

I love Thanksgiving. It’s a fantastic day to enjoy the company of family and friends, reflect on the best parts of our lives, and break out bottle after bottle of delicious wine.

With a complex meal (and a long day of gluttony), Thanksgiving offers the perfect opportunity to open lots of wines to pair with different dishes and please plenty of palates. Follow this schedule and you are sure to have a fantastic wine day.

Murphy-Goode ChardonnayLate morning
Chardonnay. Meal prep will be in full swing, and it is simply impossible to cook without wine. A dash for the dish, a swig for you. The Detroit Lions vs. Chicago Bears game kicks off at 11:30 am, and that game certainly could use liquid accompaniment to make it more interesting.

Why Chardonnay? Because it’s versatile with almost any food on the Thanksgiving table, it’s easy to find at fine wine shops and corner stores alike, and your mother-in-law and great uncle love it. Give your relatives a reason to be thankful by serving a wine they will recognize early in the day.

Try Murphy-Goode 2013 Single Deck Chardonnay. This single vineyard Russian River wine has ripe pear, tropical fruit and vanilla flavors. Keep a few extra bottles on hand to make sure you have some left to serve at dinner. It will pair well with the turkey. You can find Murphy-Goode wines at Twin Liquors. The Single Deck Chardonnay goes for $30 a bottle online.

Mid-afternoon  
Sparkling wine. Dinner is almost ready. The savory aroma of turkey is the kitchen’s siren song, tempting you to spoil your appetite by binging on snacks. It’s better to satiate that desire with crisp, frolicking bubbly rather than eating tons of Chex mix. The Dallas Cowboys vs. Philadelphia Eagles game kicks off at 3:30 pm and America’s Team deserves a toast with sparkling wine.

Why bubbles? Because nothing screams holiday celebration like sparkling wine. It’s hard for your significant other to be mad at you for stealing bites of the turkey skin before dinner when you hand over a gorgeous flute of bubbles. Whether you pick Champagne, Cava, U.S. sparkling wine, Sekt or Prosecco, bubbles give everyone a grin. Buy a double-bottle magnum or two so you have plenty of sparkling to last the afternoon and to serve at dinner.

Try Argyle Vintage Brut 2011. This Oregon stunner is easy to find, reasonably priced and packs zillions of tiny bubbles bursting with apple blossom, lemon zest, toasted almond and pear flavors. Argyle will have your cousin raising a glass to toast everyone in the room. Spec’s sells it for $22 a bottle. A magnum will set you back $60.

Scacciadiavoli Sagrantino di Montefalco 2007Dinner time
Italian red. The table is loaded with an incredible array of foods from creamy green bean casserole and buttery mashed potatoes to savory stuffing and the luscious turkey. Make sure you put the Chardonnay and sparkling wine on the table, but red wine needs a spot too.

Why Italian red? Because you’ve served Pinot Noir at Thanksgiving for the past 10 years straight and it’s time to have a little fun. Italian red wine with fresh acidity loves the rich fat of dark meat and gravy. The bold wines from the town of Montefalco in the Umbria region pack a punch for a decent price. The earthy, spicy wines won’t get lost in the cacophony of flavors in the feast.

Try Scacciadiavoli Sagrantino di Montefalco 2007. Made with the Sagrantino grape, this wine has bold scents of graphite, dried lavender, cranberry and lovely raspberry and red plum flavors with aromatic herbs. It’s well balanced with bright acidity and firm tannins giving it a long spicy finish. It sells for $37 at East End Wines.

Chateau du Tariquet VS ClassiqueEvening
Armagnac. After you’ve managed to kill an entire pecan pie and half a pumpkin pie by yourself, the only thing to do is to kick back on the couch next to the fire with a glass of Armagnac.

Why Armagnac? Because this French brandy from the small region of Gascony is less expensive yet every bit as good as its more recognizable cousin, cognac. It’s also a bit fuller figured than cognac, which is completely fitting on Thanksgiving. It is made with distilled white wine grapes and then aged in local black oak casks. It hides its brawny 80 proof alcohol in velvet, so sip it slowly.

Try Chateau du Tariquet VS Classique. Produced at the estate which has been family run since 1912, Chateau du Tariquet has the elegance and finesse that is a hallmark of the Bas-Armagnac appellation in the far north of Armagnac. The “VS” on the bottle means it has been aged a minimum of two years, leaving it with a light golden color.

Serve it neat at room temperature in a brandy snifter or a tulip-shaped glass. Swirl it to let the full aroma of the heady vapors release. It fills the nose with racy spice, butterscotch and cinnamon, but don’t sniff too deeply or the 40 percent alcohol will singe your nostrils. Let the first sip wash across your tongue to take in the raisin, roasted apple and caramel flavors finishing with a sweet kiss of chocolate and liquorice. It’s love in a glass.

Don’t worry if you don’t have enough guests to finish the whole bottle. Armagnac doesn’t go bad after you’ve opened it. It will be good to drink next Thanksgiving. Pick it up for $35 at the Austin Wine Merchant.

This story was originally published on CultureMap

Disclosure: sample wines were provided by Murphy-Goode, Scacciadiavoli and  Chateau du Tariquet. 

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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.

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A Traditional Thanksgiving with Biltmore Estate Sparkling Wine

Biltmore Estate Blanc de BlancsOh man, I just love Thanksgiving because it is distinctly American in so many ways. I can think of no better way to honor our early American settlers than by serving a completely traditional meal with an all domestic menu, including American wine.

This year I’m celebrating exactly like the Puritans did in the first Harvest Feast in 1621. I’m taking a cue from none other than the grand-daddy of all pilgrims, George Vanderbilt, who established Thanksgiving by pouring Jeroboams of Biltmore Estates sparkling wines for his guests from India at his palatial manor in Asheville, North Carolina.

OK, so I’m not exactly an expert on all things antiquity. Never the less, I’m good enough at geometry to know that North Carolina is part of New England on the east coast next to Plymouth Rock. Like me, what you might not have known is that there are excellent wines made in the Thanksgiving state of North Carolina. Living in another non-traditional wine growing state, Texas, I’m completely not surprised by it though.

I had a little chat with Sharon Fenchak, the winemaker at the Biltmore Winery, to learn about the wine industry in North Carolina and about the wine she makes. Wine has been made in the state since the 17th century and there are now more than 100 wineries and more than 400 vineyards. There are diverse and distinct growing regions in the North Carolina with mountain and coastal areas as well as three American Viticultural Areas (AVAs).

Growing vinifera grapes in the North Carolina climate can be tricky business. Fenchak explained, “Our vineyards were originally planted in 1971 and the present vineyard was planted in 1985. The life of a vine in North Carolina is around 20 years and our harsh winters impact their longevity. The weather also dictates what grows. Viognier grows well here in some years and not in other years. We wouldn’t plant Pinot Noir here because it would fall apart in the humidity. Last year was a dry year which is great for the grapes and drove the sugar up to make bold red wine.”

Biltmore Estate has 80 acres of vineyards in the mountains with a humid, rainy and cool climate well suited for growing Chardonnay and Cabernet Franc. The area sees wide swings in temperatures from day and to night that gives the wine zippy acidity. In addition to growing its own grapes, the winery buys grapes from other North Carolina appellations, like Viognier from the southern part of the state. It also gets about 25 percent of its fruit from California to round out its needs.

Fenchak was fascinated by science and fermentation at an early age. She tried making her first wine when she was 9 years old, and as expected it was horrible. She later lived in Vicenza, Italy while in the military and fell in love with wine and food pairings and the romance of wine making. She pursued her passion by earning a food science degree with research in wine for her Master’s thesis. “I fell in love with the idea of winemaking and then realize how hard the work is and how dirty you get,” she said.

Biltmore has only had three winemakers since it opened in the early 1970s. That longevity leads to consistency in the style of wine. It’s also lead to steady growth. The winery is expanding from 90,000 cases made per year to 170,000 cases. It is now sold in several states and they plan to go national soon.

Fenchak shares winemaking responsibility with Bernard Delille, who joined the winery in 1986. She described the synergy in their working relationship, “Bernard is French and I’m from Pennsylvania. He has a European palate and I have an American palate. We have different approach to wine, but we have been working together for so long we have agreements on styles of wine. We think about what the consumer wants and make wine that is ready to drink and taste good right away and for the next couple of years.”

Making wine from all North Carolina fruit is both challenging and rewarding. Fenchak believes that making wine with grapes from different areas has made her a better wine maker. “What’s going on in Monterey is not the same as what’s going on in Sonoma and definitely not what’s going on in NC. Making an American appellation is fun.”

The sparkling wine that I’m having with my Thanksgiving dinner is made with Chardonnay grapes grown in the Russian River Valley of California. This elegant wine is fermented in stainless steel tanks, and then it undergoes a second fermentation in the bottle. Here is what it’s like.

Biltmore Estate Blanc de Blancs, Methode Champenoise Brut, 2008    

Look This star-bright, pale yellow wine is almost liquid platinum in the glass with an inverted shower of bubbles frothing into an ample mousse. It shimmers like a holiday.
Smell The Blanc de Blancs has a delicate scent of bread dough, green apples and nuts.
Taste Made with all Chardonnay grapes, it has apple blossom, green apple, lemon zest and tart Bartlett pear flavors. It has racy acidity and a lively mouth feel. The acidity and lively fruit make it versatile enough to pair with anything you serve in a traditional Thanksgiving dinner from green bean casserole to smoked turkey to oyster dressing.
Price $25

 

2012 Christmas at Biltmore Wine While I joked about the origins of Thanksgiving tied to George Biltmore, legend has it that Mr. Vanderbilt first opened the doors to the amazing estate on Christmas Eve, 1895. The dude threw down with a bad-ass party with tons of  holiday foods and sick amounts fine wines. Today the winery commemorates that bash by releasing The Christmas at Biltmore, a limited release wine. This aromatic blend of California Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Muscat Canelli, Muscat Orange and Chenin Blanc is slightly sweet to pair well with holiday dinner classics like roasted turkey, baked ham and pumpkin pie.  I’ve got a bottle tucked away in my stocking ready for Christmas dinner.

Whether you choose a white blend, Pinot Noir or sparkling wine to enjoy with your holiday meal, consider buying a domestic wine from an up and coming region like North Carolina. Just make sure you have enough on hand to satisfy your thirsty guests. If you serve them enough, maybe they’ll start to believe silly stories about the origin of Thanksgiving.

Biltmore provided samples of the wine for review.  

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Picking the Right Wine for Thanksgiving Dinner: Shea Wine Cellars 2006 Wädenswil Clone Willamette Valley Pinot Noir

Selecting the perfect wine for Thanksgiving dinner means picking more than one wine. Bubbles are a must on the table, and after that it is a great idea to have an elegant, refined red wine. Try and keep the number of varietals served down to four: sparkling wine, red wine, white wine and desert wine. Also consider keeping the same wine for each varietal so you don’t introduce further chaos to your taste buds. That said; don’t be afraid of selecting too many bottles to have at the ready. Lots of alcohol can be good should you encounter:

Mom: “Do you remember when you were six and you recreated the first Thanksgiving using tooth picks and gum drops? So clever.”

You: “Yeah, you told that story 10 minutes ago. And last year. And the year before that. It wasn’t all that clever. We all learned it in kindergarten art class.”

Mom: “You were so bright. You had so much potential. I suppose if you hadn’t married beneath you, things may have turned out differently.”

Don’t let that dominate the evening. It’s your responsibility as host to keep the conversation flowing in a genial and entertaining way. It’s no secret that alcohol is the key to unlocking the creative story telling generator in your brain. Use it wisely.

A complex menu like what you’ll serve at Thanksgiving calls for a versatile wine. Pinot Noir fits the bill as it pairs well with so many different types of food. Its lush fruit, mild alcohol and soft tannins give it the versatility to pair with red or white meats, and just about any dish you can think of. It is a complicated and sensitive varietal. Don’t be surprised if you find a bottle of your favorite Pinot nestled away in a darkened bedroom, smoking cloves cigarettes, wearing a velvet robe, listening to Passion Pit and reading Anna Karenina by candlelight.

There are only two regions in the world that produce worthy Pinot Noir. Yes, I’m biased. Deal with it. The revered Burgundy region of France produces the standard-bearer wines and for that, they command a king’s ransom for the prestige. The second region is the Willamette Valley of Oregon. Talented winemakers have been producing brilliant Pinot’s in the hills and valleys of Oregon for more than 40 years. The Willamette Valley shares several ties with Burgundy. The both lie at the same latitude, Oregon wine makers select Burgundian Pinot root stock clones and several French houses have set up operations in Oregon.

Many award winning wines from producers such as Beaux Freres, Ken Wright, Bergstrom, Penner Ash, and Raptor Ridge made from grapes grown in the Shea Vineyards typify the Oregon Pinot Noir; bold, spicy and rich with fruit. This has become one of the region’s premier vineyards under the direction of Dick Shea. That’s true for the vineyard’s namesake Shea Wine Cellars, founded in 1996. Not only do the Shea’s have exacting control over the fruit, but they also have a unique method for creating the wine. Rather than using stainless steel, Shea Wine Cellars uses of neutral wooden fermenters, which smooths out the tannins for a longer finish. Wine made in wooden fermenter is rounder and softer than wine fermented in stainless steel.

For Thanksgiving, you have to bust out the 2006 Wädenswil Clone Willamette Valley Pinot Noir. This is Shea Vineyards signature clone. It is a blend of wines made from grapes grown in three blocks of the Shea Vineyards. After the wine is fermented in wood, it is aged 10 months in mix of new and old Burgundian oak barrels. Just enough time to impart a toastiness, but not so much as to overpower the delicious fruit.

Look The envy of a brandy-braised cranberry sauce. If only it could look as rich, deep and dazzling as a Willamette Valley Pinot in full resplendence.
Smell Don’t worry about the glorious smell of roast turkey overcoming this wine. It has an intensity that can take on the most fragrant dish on your Thanksgiving table. As complex as your meal, it has scents of the Oregon hills, lavender, spice, black coffee, molasses and black cherry.
Taste The 2006 Wadenswil is as complex as your Thanksgiving dinner. The first course is an orgy of black cherry, blackberries and plum entwined in lusty embrace with clove, cinnamon and spicy cedar smoke. The second course is the creamy, velvety round mouth feel. And the third course lingers for an incredibly long finish of soft tannins and dark chocolate.
Price $52

Like a catchy song that gets stuck in your head, this wine will wedge itself deep in the folds of your cerebral cortex. You’ll never know what will trigger it, but sooner or later this wine will come back and grab you. The next time you smell the woody earth of wild mushrooms sautéing in Irish butter, you will get a phantom taste of blackberries and spice that could only be the Wadenswil. You’ve been warned. Drink it with your Thanksgiving dinner, and dream about it the rest of the year.

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Picking the Right Wine for Thanksgiving Dinner: Godmé Père et Fils NV Brut Réserve Premier Cru

Some people get all stressed out about Thanksgiving. First there are the dysfunctional family issues. I’m not getting into that mess. Next there is the obvious challenge of preparing all of those courses of difficult recipes and getting them on the table at the same time. Worrying about over cooking turkey is enough to spike your blood pressure all by itself. And finally the challenge of pairing the right wines with all of those crazy foods is bound to give you an aneurism. What wine goes with Jell-O ambrosia, sweet potatoes, turkey and gravy all in the same meal? Chill out. I’ve got some ideas for you.

In the next few posts I’ll review a few wines that are sure-fire wins for the Thanksgiving table. I won’t cover everything, but will get you started in the right direction. There are plenty of varietals to choose from in red, white, rosé and sparkling categories.  Think of wines that are versatile, not too powerful in either flavor or alcohol and higher in acidity to cut through the fatty foods.

Bubbles, Bubbles, Bubbles

First and foremost no holiday meal is complete without sparkling wine. If you host a meal without it, you should have your hospitality license revoked. At least do me the courtesy of leaving me off of your guest list. Shame on you! Whether it’s Champagne, Prosecco, Cava or good sparkling wine from any region is up to you. I’m a fan of serving sparkling wine from the U.S. because it’s an American holiday, but you can never go wrong with good Champagne.  

If you’re inclined to go with the French stuff, try Godmé Père et Fils NV Brut Réserve Premier Cru.  Godmé is a small producer based in Verzenay, a grand cru classified city since 1895, on the slopes of the Montagne de Reims in Champagne France. The Godmé family founded the Champagne house in 1930 and produces eight sparkling wines in three classifications from grapes grown on 27 acres. They consider their wines Champagne for food.

Buying non-vintage (NV) Champagne is a good way to get quality juice without the destroying your wine budget.  Champagne houses shoot for consistent quality and taste year after year by making a base wine that is a blend from multiple years.  In the case of the Godmé Père et Fils NV Brut Réserve Premier Cru, 50 percent of the base wines are at least three years old. The Godmé NV Brut assemblage is: 50 percent Chardonnay, 15 percent Pinot noir and 35 percent Pinot Meunier. They let the brightness of the fruit shine through by fermenting in steal and aging 10 percent in old oak barrels. The result is a lean, dry, gorgeous, concentrated and exceptionally polished wine.

Look The jewel of your Thanksgiving table, sparkling like a lemon chiffon diamond.  
Smell Pear butter spread on a fresh-baked baguette.
Taste This wine has considerable complexity. It opens up with floral hints and moves to a round taste that is both rich and crisp at the same time with apple, ripe pears, apricots and buttered fresh bread. It finishes long, with sweet and gentle smokiness. It is firmly structured with energetic, yet soft effervescence and a creamy mouse. This can take on Waldorf salad and fried turkey with both stems tied behind its back.
Price $45

Don’t get worked into a tizzy when selecting wine for Thanksgiving dinner. Champagne is a sure bet with high levels of acidity and a trifling amount of sugar. These two elements make it the magical match for almost any food that you could dream of serving at the holidays. Now that’s something to be thankful for.

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