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The Six Wines I’m Bringing to Thanksgiving Dinner

There’s a lot of hoohaw every year over which wines pair well with Thanksgiving dinner. Personally, I don’t worry about it too much. With the extreme range of foods served, five  conversations going onsimultaneously, football broadcasts in the background and packs of wild children running about, nobody is going to be magically transported by the way some Grand Cru Burgundy echoes the pancetta in Auntie’s Brussels sprouts.

Instead, here’s what I look for in wines for Thanksgiving:

Wines that are good, but not too fussy. Precise control over serving temperature, gentle pours and counseling guests about what not to eat with a wine are not in the cards for Thanksgiving.

Wines that are moderately bold. They need to stand up to the crazy buffet, but not knock grandma off her chair.

Wines that have a touch of sweetness. This will complement many of the foods, including the turkey itself. And it offers some hope of standing up to cranberry sauce.

Wines that are fun, not complicated. Thanksgiving diners won't (and shouldn't) be focused on identifying which purple flowers are represented in the wine’s aroma. An unusual wine can be fun, but make sure it’s fruity and not overly subtle.


Here’s what I’m bringing this year and why:

NV Roederer Estate Anderson Valley Brut Rosé - Sparkling wine is the right way to start any dinner party. The color of a brut rosé is beautifully festive and reminiscent of the rust-colored leaves of Fall. There’s a range of red and white fruit flavors in this wine and it will stand up well to savory appetizers.

2008 Rubicon Estate Blancaneaux Rutherford Napa Valley - I think that white Rhone blends, given sufficient acidity, are really versatile food wines. This one is 43% Roussanne, 38% Marsanne, and 19% Viognier. It will have the body and intensity to hold up to a turkey leg or ham and will be great with the white meat, stuffing and mashed potatoes. Plus, it will give people something to talk about other than politics. “What’s a Rhone blend? I thought Rubicon was just red wine? Why is a Bordeaux-influenced winery owned by an Italian-American guy making something like this? Hey, this is good!”

2007 Picket Fence Pinot Noir Russian River Valley - Okay, you’ve got to have some Pinot Noir. You just do. This Picket Fence (now a brand of Bronco Wine Co.) was an excellent value and easy to like with great fruit and palate weight. It has interesting earthy notes for the folks who are paying attention. And if someone decides they need to drink the wine with gooey sweet potatoes, I won’t be crying over how much I paid for the wine they just annihilated.

NV Domaine Chandon California Sparkling Red - Now the party’s starting! This bubbly is 80% Pinot Noir, 20% Zinfandel. It’s dark red with deep red and blue fruit wrapped in leather. It’s got a lot of body for a sparkling wine, though not as much as sparkling Shiraz (which I would also recommend). There's also fair amount of residual sugar. Personally, I think you should “forget to buy” the cranberry sauce and just serve this wine instead. (Apologies to those who love cranberry sauce. I can’t stand it.)

2007 Sausal Private Reserve Zinfandel Alexander Valley - Along with Pinot Noir, Zinfandel is the other “gotta have it” varietal for Thanksgiving. All of that berry fruit really complements ham, turkey, stuffing, etc. And the stupid cranberry sauce. Sausal is ideal because the wines have great fruit and body but are not high in residual sugar or alcohol. And they are never over-oaked. While there’s no point obsessing over “pairing” for Thanksgiving, you don’t want an oak monster to devour your turkey either.

2006 Damian Rae Whitehawk Vineyard Syrah - This is for enjoying after dinner while watching the second half of the 49ers - Ravens game. I’m looking for something celebratory — rich, satisfying and flavorful — and not a wine with so much acidity or tannin that it needs food. This Syrah was very good upon release, but needed aeration to show it’s full complexity. It should still have youthful richness, but will perhaps be more eager to share all of its secrets.

R. L. Buller Premium Fine Tokay Victoria (Australia) - This is a bonus wine for those who will be indulging in pumpkin pie, possibly ala mode. The palate is thick with raisin, rhubarb and holiday spices. And the wine is luscious — a word that is not just synonymous to delicious but also the technical term referring to wines of extreme sweetness. It fears no pie.

Enjoy your Thanksgiving. And Go Niners!


Disclosures: All of the wines above are from my cellar and purchased by me. One of the owners of Sausal Vineyards is a close friend.

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