Treana White for Thanksgiving dinner

Treana White featured in Tom Marquardt’s column for the Capital Gazette - Nov 14, 2012

Wine, Etc.: Choices abound for that Thanksgiving Day wine

There is probably no other holiday like Thanksgiving that is filled with a mixture of dread and happiness. Especially for cooks, it is the time to display culinary skills and set an extravagant table of fine china and silverware. But it is also the time cooks and their families can become unhinged. This year has the added dread of election talk.

Preparing the holiday feast can be stressful. While everyone enjoys appetizers and drinks in the living room, cooks are fretting over last-minute details, like what to serve the vegetarian or the guest with food allergies.

Our advice: delegate, delegate, delegate. In particular, give someone else the chore of taking care of drinks. If someone asks if they can help, hand them a bottle of wine.

Choosing the right wine shouldn’t carry the same stress associated with food preparation. In fact, there are so many wines that marry well with a traditional turkey dinner, you can’t go wrong. Serve what you like, but offer a variety of reds and whites.

Here’s what we recommend:

To start: We like to serve a sparkling wine to set a festive mood. There are plenty of domestic and imported versions that range in price from $20 to $80. As an alternative, consider a still rosé to add a dash of red to the event or a simple pinot noir that won’t overpower your appetizers.

Recommendations: (champagne) Nicolas Feuillatte, Bollinger, Taittinger; (sparkling wine) Domaine Chandon, Domaine Carneros, Gruet; (rosé) Cline; (pinot noir) Cambria, Stoller, Ponzi, Byron.

To serve at the table: We put out both red and white wines and find our guests sampling both. Some people like just one or the other, but most people are willing to experiment. Don’t worry about the guest who insists on a particular grape variety — you won’t please everyone.

Turkey is a rather neutral meat, so most wines won’t clash. Our preference is pinot noir for the red and chardonnay or pinot gris for the white. Rosé is also a perfect match often forgotten.

Pinot noir is delicate enough to match the simple flavors of turkey yet universal enough to match the cranberries. Zinfandel, a patriotic grape for the occasion, also has jammy fruit character to blend well with cranberries and sweet potatoes — but as a host you need to look out for its high alcohol content.

Pinot gris, especially those from Alsace, are delicious and have decent acidity to pair well with turkey and sides. If you prefer chardonnay, we recommend those that are unoaked.

We plan for a half bottle a person, but buy a few extra bottles just in case. You want your guests to feel satisfied and happy — but not leave drunk. Guests can absorb a half bottle of wine over four hours with little consequence, but some don’t know when to limit themselves. Make sure the big drinkers have a sober driver to get them home.

Recommendations: (chardonnay) Byron, Frank Family, Kendall-Jackson, Columbia Crest, Talbott; (zinfandel) Marietta, Cline, Ravenswood; (pinot gris/blanc) Trimbach, Zind-Humbrecht, Wilm.

After dinner: Honestly? We recommend coffee. An onslaught of multiple wines and a heavy dinner will fatigue your guests. Do they really need a sweet after-dinner wine? Most desserts are a challenge for sweet wines.

If you want your guests to relax in front of the fireplace while the table is cleared, consider port or cognac. Graham’s Six Grapes, for instance, is an inexpensive, introductory port that will not set you back if the bottle isn’t finished.

In addition to the wines listed above, here are some interesting wines to consider for Thanksgiving:

Treana White 2010 ($21). This would make a great sipper to start the holiday meal or as a welcome wine before your guests are seated. Blended with marsanne and viognier, it has generous tropical fruit aromas, fresh acidity and defined peach and citrus flavors.

Frank Family Vineyards Napa Valley Chardonnay 2011 ($35). In a flight of six chardonnays, this stood out because of its balance and crisp acidity. It’s a great match for the holiday turkey. Apricot and apple aromas abound, but the beauty is on the palate. Baked apple and tropical fruit flavors with a hint of spice.

Taz Santa Barbara Pinot Noir 2010 ($15). We dare you to find a better pinot noir for the price. We love the range of pinot noirs from this Santa Barbara producer, but this entry level version is a steal. Strawberry and cinnamon aromas meld seamlessly into cherry, clove and vanillin oak flavors. Well balanced and long in the finish, it’s a great sip.

Garnet Monterey Pinot Noir 2010 ($15). Reasonably priced, this California pinot has jammy raspberry aromas and ripe cherry and plum flavors with a dash of cinnamon and cloves.

Cambria Estate Winery Julia’s Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010 ($25). A great drink for the price, this Santa Barbara pinot offers fresh cherry and strawberry notes with a nice earthiness that reminded us of burgundy. Silky mouthfeel and a mineral thread make it a show stopper at a very reasonable price. We loved it.

Some of the wines recommended in our column may have been provided for review by their producers. The authors can be reached at tmarquardt@capgaznews.com.

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