Thanksgiving Options Wide Open

By Robert Whitley

November 12, 2013 8 min read

The beauty of the Thanksgiving feast from the perspective of the wine enthusiast is versatility.

The traditional Thanksgiving bird with all the trimmings provides multiple options for pairing with wine. The most obvious and oft repeated, of course, is the match with Beaujolais, the soft red wine of Burgundy made from gamay noir.

This fruit-driven red from France is versatile in its own right, taking on the mixture of savory and sweet at the feasting table without losing a beat. You could stick with the tried and true (good producers include Louis Jadot, Joseph Drouhin and Georges Duboeuf) and be perfectly happy at the end of the long Thanksgiving day.

Or you could eschew the tradition of drinking French on this distinctly American holiday and look to other possibilities; and they need not be red, for a roasted turkey is equally friendly to certain white wines.

I am fond of presenting an abundance of riches and allowing guests to choose on their own. It wouldn't hurt to place two wine glasses at each setting, for those who would dare to drink red and white at the same time, as I often do.

My preference in red wines for the Thanksgiving feast is inclined toward older, earthier wines or young wines with soft tannins. I try to stay away from young California cabernet sauvignon and Bordeaux, unless the wines have aged to the point of mellowness. This pushes me in the direction of pinot noir (domestic rather than French, which tends to be tannic) and Rhone-style blends, particularly those with a fair amount of grenache, which typically lends a bright red-fruit characteristic that I find works well with the sweet and savory offerings at the Thanksgiving table.

A few of my favorite pinot noir producers are Alysian, Dutton Goldfield, Calera, Merry Edwards, The Four Graces, Gary Farrell, Domaine Carneros and MacPhail. All of the aforementioned make small batches of vineyard-specific pinot noir that are sure bets to dazzle even the most discriminating wine lovers. The choices on Rhone-style red blends are more limited, but one of the most consistent over recent years is Eberle Winery's Cotes-du-Robles. The 2009 won a gold medal at the recent Sommelier Challenge International Wine Competition, and it is a wine I regularly stock in my personal cellar.

During the Thanksgiving feast, I generally reach for richer, more full-bodied, complex white wines than I do for everyday consumption. The Thanksgiving table also lends itself to whites that are a bit off dry, so rieslings, which have more residual sugar than most table wines to balance higher-than-usual acidity.

Three domestic rieslings that are sure to please are Dr. Konstantin Frank Reserve riesling from the Finger Lakes region of New York, and Smith-Madrone riesling and Trefethen riesling, both from the Napa Valley. All three are limited production wines that will require some effort to locate, so I recommend doing a search at, an indispensable resource for finding wines that are not mass produced and in wide distribution.

My go-to Chardonnay these days is Bouchaine, made in the Carneros district of the Napa Valley by pioneering winemaker Mike Richmond. The beauty of the Bouchaine Chardonnay is its impeccable balance, combining rich, ripe flavors with firm structure. This excellent area for Chardonnay also gives us the stellar Acacia Chardonnays.

Of course, these suggestions are merely guidelines and reflect my own personal preferences. Your taste may well be different. And that's the beauty of the Thanksgiving feast. Chances are, if there's a wine you are fond of drinking, it will find a compatible match somewhere on the Thanksgiving table.

Tasting Notes

This week's tasting notes are devoted to ultra-premium wines that would make excellent holiday gifts for the wine lover in your life. Wines are rated on a 100-point scale. Wines are chosen for review because they represent outstanding quality or value, and the scores are simply a measure of this reviewer's enthusiasm for the recommended wine.

Robert Craig 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, Mount Veeder ($85) — This vintage of Robert Craig's Mount Veeder cabernet is a perfect example of the richness and depth cab can achieve in this mountainside AVA at the cooler southern end of the Napa Valley. It's a powerful wine loaded with ripe black-fruit aromas, exceptional length, and plenty of heft without being out of balance. For anyone who enjoys big Napa Valley cabs with a thick, juicy steak, the Robert Craig 2010 Mount Veeder is a sure winner. Rating: 95.

Nickel & Nickel 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, Branding Iron, Oakville ($100) — Nickel & Nickel's latest vintage cabernet from Oakville's Branding Iron vineyard has a significant "wow" factor, with loads of upfront fruit. This complex beauty exhibits aromas of blackberry and black currant, an inviting hint of oak vanillin, and beautifully integrated tannins. The best part is this: Despite its immediate appeal, I have no doubt whatsoever that this wine will be even more impressive once it hits its stride in another seven to ten years. Rating: 95.

Buglioni 2008 'Il Recioto' Della Valpolicella Classico DOC, Veneto, Italy ($42) — Italy is best known for its profound, long-lived red wines, and it boasts a growing reputation for intriguing whites and bubblies. Not to be overshadowed, however, are the amazing dessert wines, such as this outrageously delicious Il Recioto from Buglioni. Made from the classic grapes of the Veneto in northern Italy, primarily corvina, Il Recioto is sweet without being cloying, with smooth tannins and a penetrating red raspberry fruit profile. This wine also shows inviting notes of spice, chocolate and tobacco. Rating: 93.

Bonny Doon Vineyard 2010 Syrah, Jespersen Vineyard, Edna Valley ($40) — This is precisely the sort of red wine I prefer to serve at a holiday feast for family and friends. It's light on the alcohol (below 13 percent alcohol by volume) but not on flavor or complexity. The vineyard is located fairly close to the Pacific Ocean in the cool Edna Valley AVA along California's rugged Central Coast. This vintage exhibits bright acidity, notes of blueberry and spice, and scintillating minerality. Although it likely will improve with age, I'm making it one of my Thanksgiving-table picks for this holiday season. Rating: 91.

Bonny Doon Vineyard 2010 Old Telegram, California ($45) — This is a somewhat rustic wine from Bonny Doon, offering up earthy aromas and ripe black fruits, with somewhat chewy tannins and mature notes on the finish, despite its youth. That said, it is that rare wine in the United States that is made from 100 percent mourvedre (aka mataro) grapes, which historically have been planted in Spain and southern France but not so much in California. Serve this wine with winter stews and slow roasted meats. Rating: 90.

Follow Robert on Twitter at @wineguru. To find out more about Robert Whitley and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at

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