Editor's Picks: American Wines for Thanksgiving
Winemakers all over the country have beautifully food-friendly wines to offer, but you have to know what to look for if you'd like to drink domestically (and deliciously) this Thanksgiving. In general, my advice is to skew away from high-alcohol wines, and lean toward red wines with bright, fresh acidity, and whites with a bit of richness (but not soaring alcohol.) Tell your local winemonger that you'd prefer to buy medium-bodied wines without an aggressive oak presence. Or hand them this list, and pour a few of our top picks in delicious American wine for your Turkey Day feast.
Wonderful American White Wine
White wine for Thanksgiving should be aromatic and sometimes rich, but not heavy. You're looking for wine that's refreshing, and never overly oaked. Luckily, there are options from all around the country that will help your Thanksgiving meal shine. Here are a few of our favorites.
The wines from Buty in Walla Walla are some of Washington State's most impressive. Their white blend, made from 61% Semillon, 21% Sauvignon Blanc, and 18% Muscadelle, has a scent that will make your mouth water (as if the turkey in the oven is doing that already.) This wine balances a luscious richness—like slightly smoky tea, apricot, and honeydew melon—with bright tart citrus flavors. Aged in concrete tanks and mature French oak barrels, it's a wine that refreshes, but can also hold up its end of the conversation, picking up the muskiness of dark meat turkey and gravy. Don't serve it too cold; the flavors come out as it warms slightly. (Around $24)
Minerally apple flavors, pretty floral character, and lipsmacking texture makes Broc Cellars' Vine Starr White one of my favorite white wines for Thanksgiving. It's a blend of stainless steel-aged Paso Robles chardonnay (from 35 year old vines) with picpoul and roussanne. (The roussanne was fermented with extended skin contact, which accounts for some of that texture.) It's a totally approachable, crowdpleasing wine that has enough going on to keep even the wine nerds' attention. It's filled with pleasant Asian pear and fennel flavors, and an acidity that's more green apple than lemon. It's dynamite with stuffing, but delicate enough for white meat turkey too. (Around $22)
Got your heart set on Chardonnay? Donkey and Goat's Improbable is made from rare old ungrafted Chardonnay vines (most grapevines in the US are grafted onto phylloxera-resistant rootstock.) The wine is unfiltered and rich, with hints of fresh corn that will plug into cornbread stuffing, plus notes of fennel, pear, and thyme. The acidity reminded us a bit of the lemon you might roast in the cavity of a chicken—half-savory, half-bright. (Around $33)
I'd be remiss if I didn't mention riesling as an excellent option for Thanksgiving—wines from this grape bring together refreshing acidity and minerality with the hint of sweetness that helps wine mesh well with all the different dishes on the Thanksgiving table. One of my favorite domestic bottles is a great value as well; Sheldrake Point's 2010 Finger Lakes Riesling runs about $15 and offers lots of tangy fresh acidity warmed up with crystallized ginger and pear flavors, hints of bay leaf, a meyer lemony floral quality, and a little calciumlike minerality on the tongue. This wine will make turkey shine, but also has the body to accompany richer dishes like mashed potatoes, corn pudding, and green bean casserole. Choose the regular riesling, not the dry version, which doesn't have the stuffing to stand up to stuffing. (Ahem.)
Thinking Red? Make it Mourvèdre
I wish more American vineyards grew Mourvèdre; it's such an underappreciated grape, with its spicy, plummy, earthiness. The pure flavors of the fruit come out beautifully in La Clarine Farm's 2010 Cedarville Mourvedre ($22), which never sees new oak. Tons of allspice, clove, lavender and violets swirl around a core of blueberry and stewed rhubarb in this Sierra Foothills wine; the spicy notes pick up the pepper, parsley, thyme, and sage in your stuffing, and the freshness of the fruit keeps things bright. One warning: this wine is so easy-drinking (and so delicious with turkey and stuffing) that you may find yourself refilling your plate and topping off your glass again and again. (If you're interested in the natural wine movement in America, this is a great wine to start with—here's some info on La Clarine Farm's philosophy.)
A red wine that's not too heavy and has a bright dollop of fresh acidity will do well at the Thanksgiving table. I often reach for Oregon Pinot Noir, though not all of these wines are light on their feet. St. Innocent Villages Cuvée (2009) is a solid entry-level bottle for around $25: a tart splash of cranberry brightens each mouthful, backed up with hints of dusty blackberry and cloves. Use a decanter on this wine, as it airs out, it opens up with pretty hints of violet and eucalyptus. In contrast, the Stoller SV Estate Dundee Hills Pinot Noir (2008, around $40) is weightier, smooth and earthy, with hints of roasted plums and cocoa. If you make your stuffing with mushrooms (especially wild mushrooms) and chestnuts, this could be the right wine for your table.
But my current favorite options in Oregon Pinot Noir are from Cristom and Montinore Estate. The 2009 Montinore Estate Reserve Pinot Noir (around $24) has a scent that reminded me of chocolate-covered cherry cordials, and lovely structure, full of sour-cranberry fruit, aromatic cinnamon, clove, and cracked black pepper. This is simply delicious wine, with a tartness that cuts through rich food and a dark mocha-raspberry earthiness that complements it. There's nothing overripe or over the top here, so you get to peek through the fruit to taste delicate floral/violet flavors. There's something a little stemmy and green, too, and I'm ok with that.
Cristom's 2009 Mt. Jefferson Cuvee (around $30) is a bit more polished and velvety, full of dark smoky chocolate and baked cherries. It's a bit more plush and concentrated than the Montinore, but still has the essential-for-Thanksgiving zingy cran-raspberry acidity, plus hints of coriander and mint, wrapped in earthy mushroom and dried-cherry notes. It's good stuff that will complement every element of your holiday meal.
Zinfandel is a Thanksgiving favorite for many, and we'd be remiss if we didn't mention a few of our favorite bottles. Though some Zins are hugely alcoholic and sweet-juice bombs, the good ones make a superlative match for Thanksgiving foods. The 2009 Nalle Sonoma County Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel is blended with a little Petite Sirah, Carignan, and Mourvedre for an earthy, satisfying mouthful that retains tart-cherry acidity despite its robust nature. It's deep with hints of dried cherries and dirt—in the most satisfying way. As we've mentioned before, Dashe Cellars and Quivira also make Zinfandel worth seeking out.
Don't Forget Bubbly
Sparkling wine isn't just for appetizers: refreshing bubbles are wonderfully food-friendly, and one of the best possible matches for turkey and mashed potatoes. We adore Champagne, but there are some great domestic options in sparkling wine as well. If you're in New England, check out Westport Rivers Vineyard and Winery in Massachusetts. We love both their brut and Blanc de Blancs bottlings. From California, consider the Blanc de Noirs from Schramsberg Vineyards, which has enough richness to be a good accompaniment to the entire meal (if you don't finish the bottle before the turkey has been carved.)
More Thanksgiving Drinks
Disclosure: All wines were received as samples for review consideration.