Thanksgiving Dinner with Sara d’Amato
Vibrant and Savory Selections Fit for a Thanksgiving Feast
If the chill in the air and the beautiful colours above aren’t indication enough, then the sudden cravings for pumpkin pie and tart cranberries are clues that the Thanksgiving season is upon us again. To most people Thanksgiving means entertaining, and entertaining brings forth either the delight or dread of choosing wine for a group of varied guests. In order to free ourselves from the chains of routine and tradition, this year, I propose a Thanksgiving without the usual suspects. By this I mean, freeing the table from the safety of chardonnay and pinot noir and looking towards less traditional varietals and regions.
Many people find choosing a wine for this occasion fraught with difficulty because one never wants to spend too much for fear that there will be several guests in attendance who won’t appreciate those choices but don’t want to disappoint those with more discriminating palates along with your own tastes (and if you’re reading this article, you have some interest in wines of quality). Keeping those aspects in mind, I will recommend a series of wines that are sure to fit the bill and keep everyone as happy and appreciative as they should be.
A grape that is not commonly associated with Thanksgiving feasts but should be is Austria’s star white, grüner veltliner. Its nose of quince and wildflowers and palate of spicy, white pepper and wild herbal notes make a perfect accompaniment to roasted bird. It is generally light enough to be served as a conversation-starting aperitif as well as less common addition to your holiday table. I love that a great example of this wine can almost play the role of a spice, seasoning or condiment to your dish – a completely integrated pairing. My suggestion is a lovely new release by Rudolf Rabl, the Löss Grüner Veltliner 2011, Kamptal, Austria ($13.95). Rabl is one of Austria’s most recognized producers of grüner veltliner and has been widely celebrated internationally. The “Loss” grüner is planted in loose, well-drained soils that are perfectly suited to the varietal and give the wine a supple approachability without sacrificing varietal traits – a superb value.
Another wine often missing from such celebrations is Vouvray. Made entirely from chenin blanc (otherwise known as pineau de la Loire) and a region known for its substantial network of underground limestone cellars, Vouvray produces distinct and memorable wines that range from sweet to dry to sparkling. Admittedly, the wine can be an acquired taste but it is well worth the effort. A little information for your guests with respect to its unique flavour profile will likely both be interesting and will lend greater appreciation to this fascinating and very food friendly wine. My particular recommendation, the 2010 Domaine De Vaugondy Dry Vouvray, Loire, France ($14.95), is dry and fresh with gorgeous dried herbal notes, a touch of honeyed flavour and is substantial enough to pair with rich sauces and gravies. The varietal is distinctively richly flavoured, with savory herbs, often an earthiness and a waxy mouthfeel. When planted in the varied soils of the Vouvray, chenin blanc can be either pleasantly fruity or mineral driven. This version has a great balance of both the above characteristics and delivers superb value.
Barbera is a fantastic grape to accompany a Thanksgiving meal as it is so approachable and most often reasonably priced. Its juicy, fleshy and satisfying nature make it an easy crowd pleaser while an example with good balance, characteristic medium-bodied weight and fresh vibrancy make it versatile at the table. Using descriptors like vibrant and food-friendly can make one shy away with the conclusion that the wine is tart, unfriendly and requires food. However, Barbera, in many situations, makes a great sipper as well as a smart food partner, because its acids are balanced by fleshy, generous fruit flavours. This recommendation showcases the best of the varietal with an exceptionally enticing nose: Clemente Cossetti & Figli La Vigna Vecchia Barbera D’Asti 2009, Piedmont, Italy ($16.95)
Chile’s star export, carmenère, finds a comfortable place at the table any night of the week, but given the chance to be showcased at a festive occasion is surely its rightful place. Carmenère is a wonderfully versatile grape (the key word when it comes to pairing with a multitude of traditional menus) that exhibits a spicy, floral and earthy nose and boasts great intensity of flavours on a medium to full-bodied frame. Savoury umami, one of the more elusive of the basic tastes (distinct from ‘salty’ and often found in Asian foods and ripe tomatoes) also often makes up the flavour profile of carmenère. When I have difficulty pairing a red wine to food, I often look to this unique varietal. A terrific new release, the 2009 Terranoble Gran Reserva Carmenère, Maule Valley, Chile ($17.95), demonstrates the great appeal of this distinctive and flavourful varietal.
My final recommendation is a meaty wine that delivers the intensity that many red wine drinkers appreciate at the dinner table regardless of the meal. If you opt for prime rib or a roast instead of a bird, you will require a substantial, satisfying wine such as Domaine Les Grands Bois Cuvée Maximilien Cairanne 2010, Rhône, France ($21.95). Cairrane is a typical southern Rhône blend dominated by grenache, mourvedre, carignan and syrah. It is generally quite ripe and generous and grown on the flatter, hot plains which intensify the Mediterranean flavours often felt in wines of southern France. Notes of garrigue (wild, dried herbs, lavender, earth and underbrush) add another layer of complexity in this example. Thankfully it is also a very good value.
Acidity and savory herbal notes have been a theme in this year’s holiday recommendations. Remember that acidity doesn’t necessarily mean tart – in fact, in a balanced wine (best to accompany food), the result is a terrifically approachable wine that won’t leave you full. Acidity is also necessary to give the wine the edge and grip it requires to cut through rich flavours. And herbal does not necessarily mean green – in all of these examples, the herbal note lends a savory element to the wine that balances the juicy fruit and complements the big, aromatic dishes that often find their way to a holiday table.
Wishing you happy feasts and plenty of merriment this weekend,