[Illustration: Robyn Lee]
The dishes we eat at Thanksgiving are delicious with white wine—the silky richness of Chenin Blanc, the mineral glint of Riesling—and they latch right in to the flavors of juicy reds. But if I were hosting Thanksgiving dinner on a desert island and could only pick one type of wine to arrive on the rescue boat, I'd go with Champagne.
Vintage Champagne, preferably, which tends to be more focused and rich, sometimes with a little nutty oxidative note that's amazing with food. Last year, one such bottle stole the Thanksgiving show: Champagne Hebrart Extra Brut 2006 Rive Gauche-Rive Droite, brought to our meal by Michael Mina sommelier Josiah Baldivino. It wasn't just an aperitif: the richness of the wine made it the best thing possible to drink with mashed potatoes and gravy, turkey and stuffing.
Unfortunately, there's bad news. That bottle clocks in at more than 125 bucks. So we set out to find other sparklers that might work well for a lot less cash. Along the way, we came across some delicious sparkling wines at way less than half the price of vintage Champagne. Here are some fun sparkling alternatives (and one nonvintage Champagne we love)—eight bottles you should seek out for Thanksgiving.
Want to make wine shopping more convenient? You'll notice buttons that take you over to the wine app Delectable to help you purchase the wines we tasted and selected—even the harder-to-find bottles. Delectable works with winemakers and retailers to have these wines shipped right to your doorstep.*
[Photo: Maggie Hoffman]
This is one of our favorite discoveries of the season. Domaine Brazilier Methode Trad Brut ($15) is made with 50% Chenin Blanc and 50% Pineau d'Aunis, made using the Champagne method. It smells 100% delicious, like caramel apples and croissant dough. This is a luscious sparkler that's rich enough for your whole meal, so there's no need to relegate it to the aperitif hour. It's full of fruit—apples and quince—and a touch of clovey, nutmeggy spice. A killer deal, and a wine we definitely plan to have on hand through the holiday season.
Domaine de Viking Vouvray Brut ($17) is perfect for an oyster stew or cold shrimp or crabmeat starter, if you swing that way on Thanksgiving, but it'll carry you through the meal, too. It's lovely with stuffing stirred with chopped apples and mushrooms. This great-value sparkler made from Chenin Blanc planted on chalky silex soils tastes like crisp Asian pears and creamy almonds, filled out with yeasty bread and spicy apple butter, with a steely, clean finish and a cutting spritz of lime.
If you're craving something new, I know of no sparkling wine that's much more fun that Kevin Kelley's Salinia 25 Reasons ($22), a lightly sparkling skin-fermented Sauvignon Blanc made Petillant Naturel-style from organic Mendocino grapes. It smells like guava and tastes like a wacky mix of fresh pineapple juice and apricot nectar, hard cider, beer, and bubbly. It can handle any food you throw at it, from shrimp appetizers to sweet potato gratin.
François Pinon NV Vouvray Brut ($23) smells rich, like salted caramel drizzled over a pear tart. The delicately frothy wine is nutty, fruity, herbal, and a little truffley—it's ready for your dark meat turkey and your stuffing too, especially if you stir almonds, mushrooms, and apples into the stuffing. (Even more so if you add the turkey liver like my mother in law does.) This is a festive wine that's totally ready for food, and it's organic to boot. If you have leftover bottles after Thanksgiving, serve 'em with a porchetta and be wowed.
Ronco Calino Franciacorta Brut Satèn ($28) is made with 100% Chardonnay from Lombardy, Italy, aged on the lees 24 months during secondary fermentation in the bottle before disgorgement. The scent is fresh apples and fragrant jasmine, and the texture is quite smooth, perhaps the result of bottling with 5 atmospheres of pressure rather than the usual 6. This is delicious wine, with the richness to see you through from appetizers through turkey, chestnut stuffing, and loads of gravy. It would be quite a challenge to find blanc de blancs Champagne this good at this price.
Bella Vista Franciacorta Gran Cuvée 2007 ($45) is an intense, fragrant vintage blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Blanc, with the power and focus to shine even at a table stacked with rich gravy and stuffing, mashed potatoes and crisp-skinned turkey. It's full of fruit (think yellow dehydrated pears and apricots, with all their flavor condensed), and laced with honey and gathered wildflowers and herbs (with the earth still on the roots), plus the yeasty richness of steaming just-baked bread. Bold and focused vintage bubbly for the price of NV Champagne.
Larmandier-Bernier Latitude Blanc de Blancs Extra Brut NV ($52) is made from biodynamically farmed Chardonnay grown on chalk and limestone soils. (The name comes from the fact that the grapes are all grown at sites around the same latitude, south of the village of Vertus in Champagne.) The wine is fresh and bright, gleaming like the first snowfall, with vibrant flavors recalling crunchy pears sprinkled with lemon zest, plus a delicate floral addition that makes for a festive start to Thanksgiving.
If you're torn between red wine and bubbly for pairing with the Thanksgiving meal, why not try red bubbly? If your crowd is open to experimenting, try adding a Lambrusco to your wine lineup. Tenuta Pederzana 2011 Lambrusco Grasparossa di Castelvetro ($20) pours a ruby color and offers a lovely nutty-fruity flavor that's awesome with pre-dinner tapenade toasts and killer with rich, savory stuffing. It's a bit like your cranberry sauce got into bed with brandied cocktail cherries and got carbonated, but the wine is actually pretty dry, finishing with a savory flavor of prunes and cured olives. It's cool stuff, and a fun change of pace for the holiday.
What's your favorite sparkling wine for Thanksgiving?
About the Author: Maggie Hoffman is a Senior Editor at Serious Eats, based in San Francisco. She founded Serious Eats: Drinks in 2011. You can follow her on Twitter @maggiejane. Wine tasting samples provided for review consideration.
*Sadly, due to a whole mess of laws and restrictions, wine shipping isn't available to all states. At this time, shipment for these wines isn't possible to Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Montana, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, and Utah.