Chaos ensues as soon as the platter, laden with all manner of carved turkey, hits the table with a loud “thunk.”
Chairs immediately start scrapping the floor as family and guests start jockeying for position — either closer to the food or further from Uncle Bennie.
This was a typical Thanksgiving dinner at our home when I was growing up. We routinely had 45 to 50 people crowd — and I mean crowd — into our modest home for an evening of warmth, boisterous laughter and gluttony. Most were family, but many were friends and friends of friends that my parents somehow collected along the way leading up to the big night.
And dinner always ended the same way each year, with groans of “no more,” and the top button of pants being discreetly undone to make room for dessert.
Oddly, the one thing missing from my childhood table during this wonderful feast was wine. I cannot ever recall seeing a single bottle of wine on the table. Not that there were not wine drinkers in the mix, it’s just that I think the idea of trying to find a wine to please everyone — particularly with such an assortment of people — was simply more than my parents wanted to deal with.
Now my wife and I have our own Thanksgiving gathering and we, ironically, also experience the same crisis. It has nothing to do with who we invite, or which guest will sit next to whom, or even what size turkey to buy, but rather what wine to serve. It’s a big deal.
Let’s face it, all of the wonderful food on Thanksgiving can cause a little heartburn when it comes to selecting the right wine to enjoy with dinner. The traditional Thanksgiving meal includes so many different types of dishes that they sometimes end up competing for space on both your plate and your palate.
From tart cranberries to sweet potatoes, there is a plethora of complex flavors that makes picking the right wine on Thanksgiving a genuine challenge. It is almost impossible to find one single wine that will match up with each course or appeal to all of the guests seated around the table. It’s even tough for us — arguably seasoned veterans — to agree on the right wine to serve.
So several years ago, my wife and I began our own tradition of employing a “tasting menu” approach, where we open several different types of wine to enjoy with a particular dish or two. That way, guests can grab a glass of this or that, depending on their preference. It has made our Thanksgiving gatherings much more enjoyable and almost stress-free. But we still have to figure out where to put Uncle Bennie.
Nothing begins any holiday meal better than bubbles.
The sparkling wine we’re serving this year is both affordable and American. The 2014 Argyle Vintage Brut hails from the Willamette Valley region of Oregon. Pinot Noir is the dominant player in this blend, with supporting roles played by chardonnay and Pinot Meunier. It is crisp and refreshing and definitely the right way to get the evening started on a festive note. The wine expresses generous aromas of red apple, apricot and candied orange rind, with scents of graham cracker. Lush flavors coat the palate with cantaloupe, peach, a hint of vanilla and roasted almonds. The crisp acidity gives way to a floral, honeyed finish. $25
I’m always surprised that people don’t drink more pinot blanc, particularly at Thanksgiving. Pinot Blanc, a mutation of Pinot Gris, was first discovered in Burgundy, but today it is mainly associated with the Alsace region in France. However, the grape is gaining some popularity in the New World, where a small handful of high-end California and Oregon producers are making some expressive and interesting wines. I sure hope that the 2015 St. Innocent Freedom Hill Vineyard Pinot Blanc from the Willamette Valley finds its way onto your Thanksgiving table.
Fragrant aromas of white peach, ripe pear and gardenia flowers are simply captivating. I don’t know whether I want to drink this wine or dab it behind my ears. The flavors are extremely well delineated and precise, featuring notes of white stone fruit, lychee, and candied orange rind. The finish is beautifully balanced with acidity that keeps the palate cleansed and ready for the next sip of wine or bite of food. It is an extremely versatile and food friendly wine and any turkey would be happy to have along for the culinary ride. $22
Of course, no decent Thanksgiving dinner would be well dressed without a versatile pinot noir. The elegant and charming 2015 Cambria “Julia’s Vineyard” Pinot Noir hails from the Santa Maria Valley, located in the Central Coast region of California. This classic Pinot has it all: a nose bursting with aromas of baked raspberries and pomegranate fruit and a richly textured mouthfeel that offers up plenty of gorgeous red strawberries, ripe blueberry and hints of cranberry and clove on the elegant finish. Pretty and refined, the polished tannins and fresh acidity provide a long, generous finish. $25
Lastly, if you have to please the big red wine drinker at the table, try 2016 The Prisoner Wine Company Saldo, a California red wine made predominantly with Zinfandel grapes sourced from Dry Creek, Lodi, and Amador valley which combine to create a powerful expression of Zinfandel. It is balanced out with the addition of small amounts of Petite Sirah and Syrah. This big bold wine shows a complex nose of ripe blackberry, baked boysenberry and whispers of underbrush and leather. It delivers full-throttled flavors of black cherries and raspberries, ripe plums and a plush, peppery finish. As an added bonus, it pairs exceptionally well with cranberry sauce. $32
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