More Thanksgiving Wine Picks
Ask any wine writer about Thanksgiving, and they'll groan, they'll roll their eyes, they'll complain until it's time to start whining about covering sparkling wine for New Year's Eve. And I used to be among them—I've been gathering recommendations for Thanksgiving wine for quite awhile now. But the truth is, as a wine writer and a food lover, Thanksgiving is my favorite time of year. And this year is my favorite of all Thanksgivings.
Because these wines rock.
The list you'll find below is the most delicious, remarkable, and fun collection of wines I've gotten to taste in a long time. They're yummy. They're full of character. They're surprising and crowd-pleasing. And most of them are pretty darn affordable, too. If you'd all come to my house for Thanksgiving, I'd need a much bigger house. But once that was taken care of, I'd be so, so excited to pour all of these wines for you, to gather around the table together and enjoy them with our turkey, stuffing, and everything else.
You can bring this list to your local wine shop, and even if the exact wine isn't stocked, they may be able to help you find something similar.
$16 and Under
Santa Tresa 2011 Cerasuolo di Vittoria Classico DOCG ($12) is a Sicilian wine made with 60% Nero d'Avola and 40% Frappato, made into wine separately and then blended together. It's packed full of dark pie-cherry fruit, juicy and round and easy-drinking, with a touch of violets and cocoa for interest. This crowd pleasing wine's right at home with pretty much every food on the Thanksgiving table.
Domaine de la Pépière 2011 Cuvée Granit ($15) is a fresh red blend from famous Muscadet producer Marc Ollivier, made mostly from Cabernet Franc but with a good bit of Merlot and Côt (that's Malbec in the rest of the world) smoothing things out. The wine is mineral and herbal without being gamey, full of tart cranberry and blackberry fruit, grounded with rosemary and brightened with mint, finished off with the snap of freshly cracked pepper. This stuff's a great value.
Pittnauer 2011 Burgenlander Rot is a blend of Zweigelt and Blaufränkisch plus St. Laurent from Austria available by the liter for just 16 bucks. It's a steal, full of refreshing tart plummy flavor. Made without oak, this food-friendly wine works like cranberry sauce to keep the meal from getting heavy.
$20 and Under
Jean Paul Brun L'Ancien Terres Dorées 2011 Vieilles Vignes Beaujolais ($17) isn't like every other Beaujolais on the shelf. Brun's wines (grown organically and made without adding cultivated yeast) aren't made with carbonic maceration. The result in this bottling from his oldest vines is elegant and smooth, with purple fruit and deep earthy flavors, more Burgundian, and less fruit-punch. It's stellar with a turkey drumstick and mushroom gravy; put lots of herbs in your stuffing and you'll be ready to crack open a second bottle of this wine.
Curious about Beaujolais? Check out the Serious Eats Guide to Cru Beaujolais here...
Jean-Maurice Raffault Chinon 2011 'Les Galuches'($18) Cabernet Franc loves herbs, mushrooms, and most autumnal foods, so we always stock up on Chinon (Cab Franc-based wines from France's Loire Valley) come November. Upon first sip, you might suspect they made this wine out of cranberries mixed with sage leaves and smoky Lapsang souchong tea. It's ideal with a Thanksgiving plate that's heavy on the stuffing.
Fanny Sabre Bourgogne Passetoutgrain 2011 ($20) is one of the most delicious wines you can buy for twenty bucks. It's a juicy blend of Gamay and Pinot Noir, made by a young winemaker who farms a small property in Côte de Beaune (Fanny trained starting at age 16 under famed natural winemaker Philippe Pacalet, who helped out at the Sabre winery after her father died.) This wine is fresh and light on its feet but offers enough stuffing (and bright blueberry-like fruit) to be paired with, well, stuffing. There's an earthy, rosemary-brushed undercurrent to this wine that asks you to pay attention: as chuggable as it is, this is a wine to enjoy slowly, too.
It's quite common to see recommendations for Gamay come Thanksgiving, but we urge you to look to Blaufränkisch too—the grape is a relative of Gamay and offers some similar pure-fruit expressions. Anita und Hans Nittnaus 2010 Blaufränkisch ($20) is peppery and fresh, with a core of tart black cherry and a mineral layer that is just right with herby stuffing and a salt-and-pepper rubbed bird.
Produttori del Barbaresco Nebbiolo Langhe 2011 ($20) is made with 100% Nebbiolo from a cooperative with 52 members—mostly using the young vines they've decided not to include in their upmarket Barbaresco. This wine is fermented in stainless steel and aged for six months in large casks for a lighter, easy-drinking result. The result is herbal and pretty, with dried cherry flavors and a lovely eucalyptus side once it gets enough air. (Pour it in a decanter or pitcher 30 minutes before dinner for best results.) This'll latch right into your mushroom, thyme, and sage stuffing (especially the crispy bits), work well with the toasted nuts on your salad, and it's still delicate enough in flavor to let the turkey shine.
$28 and Under
Domaine Chignard 2012 Juliénas Beauvernay ($24) is serious Cru Beaujolais, sourced from a granite hillside vineyard with sixty year old vines. It's focused and powerful, with potent fruit shot through with spice, reminiscent of a sauce made with cherry and chipotle. If you think you can't be wowed by gamay, this wine will prove you wrong.
Division Willamette Valley Méthode Carbonique Pinot Noir 'Quatre' ($25) is made with mostly whole-cluster pinot noir grapes which undergo carbonic maceration and fermentation in cement vats. The wine is aged 5 months in neutral French oak barrels. The result is fun: fresh, bright cran-blueberry flavors are shot through with a peppery stemmy quality. Grind a little pepper in your stuffing as you mix it, and be sure to get a handful of bottles of this, since it'll disappear fast.
Jean-Louis Dutraive 2012 Fleurie ($27) is a wine that will brighten your meal. Because 2012 was a small vintage in Beaujolais, the winemaker, who farms organically and uses zero sulfur, declassified his top parcels and made a single Fleurie cuvée. Grown on pink granite soil, the delicate wine is framed in herbs and moss, spiced with clove and pencil lead, with a gorgeous waterfall of bright fruit in the center. If you have a taste for acidity and minerality in your red wines, you'll like this.
Julien Sunier 2012 Fleurie ($28) Can you tell we have a thing for Fleurie? This gamay, best served with a light chill and decanted to pick up a little air, is as herbal as it is fruity at first, but opens to juicy raspberry and orange peel, spiced with black pepper, sage, and tea. After a bit of world traveling (surfboard in hand), this young winemaker worked for awhile for negociant, but launched his own project in 2008, farming a small set of vineyards organically. The wine gets your mouth watering, with a bright pinch of mint and juicy fruit.
Bow + Arrow 2012 Rhinestones ($28) is made with 60% Pinot Noir and 40% Gamay in Oregon's Willamette Valley. The wine tastes like a basket piled high with juicy blueberries and blackberries, garnished with peppercorns and juniper berries. It's a crowd pleaser, for sure—it's a great option if you feel like buying a case to carry you through the winter holidays.
Great Gifts: $45 and Under
If you're attending Thanksgiving as a guest, it's not nice to show up empty handed. These two bottles are our top picks for bringing along: they're gorgeous wines with an element of surprise.
Nebbiolo from California? Who knew? Clendenen Family Vineyards 2005 "Bricco Buon Natale" Santa Maria Valley Nebbiolo ($35) is a surprising, delightful example of what California can do—and it might convince you that it's time to reconsider wine from the Golden State. Jim Clendenen of Au Bon Climat makes this wine from vines he planted in 1994. It's all dried cherry and clove, violets and dust, with a fresh blast of menthol on the finish. Be sure to decant a bit before the meal. I know of a few Italian-American families who serve a lasagna alongside their Thanksgiving turkey. This gorgeous wine is for them, and anyone whose stuffing is studded with wild mushrooms and sausage.
Big Table Farm 2011 Sunnyside Vineyard Pinot Noir ($45) All of Big Table Farm's pinot noirs are silky and smooth (and pleasantly low in alcohol), but we fell hard for this one. This single-vineyard Pinot Noir from Oregon's Willamette Valley lights up in your mouth, wrapping fresh cherry and cranberry with a lovely warm orange oil flavor, like a candied orange twist dropped into a luscious cocktail. There's spice too: subtle cinnamon and clove, star anise and sugared ginger. It's just really delicious stuff, and the handmade letterpress label (each of their vineyards gets a different animal!) makes this wine an especially lovely gift for your Thanksgiving host.