By Tom Marquardt and Patrick Darr
In the next week many of you will be headed to the store in preparation for the Thanksgiving feast. Perhaps you will be picking up a fresh turkey, a leg of lamb, ham or maybe Dover sole – delicious fare for this family gathering around the dining table. Many of you also will be stopping at the wine store to find the perfect wine to go with that scrumptious dinner.
Alas, there is no perfect wine.
There is probably no other holiday dinner with such an assortment of flavors. It’s one thing to find a wine to pair with the entrée, but quite another to find a wine that does equally well with vegetables and starches.
Take, for instance, the turkey. Because fowl is such a neutral meat, consider it a blank canvas on which to paint nearly any color of wine. Whether it be a pinot noir or a chardonnay, it may not do equally well with cranberries, sausage stuffing, candied yams or baked vegetables. But neither will over-power your foot. Your best bet is to put both red and white wines on the table and let your guests worry about it – and most won’t.
We like to start the grand event with a champagne. Champagne sets a festive mood and teases the palate for a hearty meal. You can serve it as guests arrive or pour it when they take their seats at the table. It is the traditional wine to serve with a toast from the host – and it’s a versatile wine to go with most foods. We favor the exquisite champagnes from Billecart-Salmon – expensive but apt for special occasions such as holiday dinners.
A Thanksgiving turkey is hard to prepare in advance, so the chef will be busy in the kitchen. It always helps to have guests stir the gravy, cut the turkey or at least get the food to the table. An adult member of the family – or a guest – should be assigned the task of refilling wine glasses because the chefs have their hands full.
As for the dinner wine, you should choose wines that can be universally enjoyed – not that weird wine from Wisconsin you’ve been saving, the white zinfandel you like or the new discovery from Lebanon. The only wines not likely to do well with turkey are tannic cabernet sauvignons or barolos. Pinot noirs and chardonnays remain our favorite with rosé and riesling as close seconds. Avoid oaky chardonnays. And, although zinfandel is an all-American grape variety, it’s too ripe and alcoholic to complement turkey.
Another good option is beaujolais. Les Vins Georges Duboeuf has a great bargain in its nouveau at just $15.
If ham is your entree, you’ll need something to offset the saltiness of the meat. Sauvignon blanc works well. Albarino, a white from the Rhone Valley or Portugal are good alternatives.
Leg of lamb or a prime rib roast is an entirely different matter. Here it is best to bring out those complex cabernet sauvignons to match the fat. Big wines from Italy – barolo or barbaresco – are good choices as are the wines of Bordeaux and Northern Rhone.
If you have a big crowd invited, it is imprudent to serve expensive wine, especially if you are uncertain everyone will appreciate it. Once the meal gets going, there is little attention paid to the wine. If, however, your table is more intimate, then memorialize the occasion with special wine.
Here are some suggested wines:
Chardonnay for a crowd: Wente Morning Fog, Bonterra Organic, Josh, J. Lohr, Colombia Crest.
Pinot noir for a crowd: Erath, MacMurray Ranch, Raeburn, Siduri, J. Lohr, McManis, Bertrand Cotes to Roses.
Sparkling wines for a crowd: Paula Kornell California Brut, La Marca or Ruffino prosecco, Segura Viudas cava, Gloria Ferrer, Domaine Chandon. If you want French champagne, we recommend the relatively inexpensive Nicolas Feuillatte.
Otherwise, here are a dozen very nice wines for an appreciative crowd:
Flowers Sonoma Coast Chardonnay 2021 ($55). Despite challenging drought, Flowers was able to produce another spectacular chardonnay. Lime and pear aromas are followed by round peach and mineral flavors. Fresh acidity makes it a good wine to pear with fowl or fish.
Hahn SLH Pinot Noir 2019 ($30). This pinot noir from Santa Lucia Highlands is one of the best deals we’ve seen in a long time. It has the character and weight of a much more expensive pinot noir. Black cherry and raspberry notes with a hint of vanilla and generous mouthfeel.
Landmark Damaris Reserve Chardonnay 2020 ($40). This wonderful chardonnay will not overpower your turkey and stuffing. Apple and citrus aromas with pear flavors and hints of vanilla and spice.
Alma Rosa El Jabali Pinot Noir 2020 ($72). We really like the chardonnays and pinot noirs from Sta. Rita Hills. This one from the estate’s El Jabali vineyard shows off the elegant and terroir character. Layered red fruit flavors with generous perfumy aromas. The dusty tannins make it a good foil for dinner fare.
Kosta Brown Cerise Vineyard Anderson Valley Chardonnay 2018 ($165). Yes, this is a lot of money for a chardonnay. But you know it’s going to be good when Kosta Brown puts its name and reputation behind it. What makes it worthy of the price? Complexity. Generous citrus aromas, good balance and a creamy mouthfeel with ripe stone fruit flavors and a touch of almonds.
Gary Farrell Russian River Selection Chardonnay 2020 ($35). Reasonably priced for what you get, this well-balanced chardonnay has a broad display of pear and peach notes and a hint of ginger and spice.
Faust Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2019 ($65). The producer’s Coombsville vineyard sets the foundation for this explosive cabernet sauvignon. Floral and herbal aromas are followed by layered plum, black cherry and ripe blackberry fruit. If your entrée is meat and your guests few, this wine is sure to impress.
FEL Anderson Valley Chardonnay 2020 ($34). A sister winery of Cliff Lede Vineyards, FEL makes consistently good chardonnay at a good price. The cool climate of Anderson Valley keeps this wine fresh and lively.
Chateau Ste. Michelle Eroica Riesling 2021 ($22). Always one of our favorite rieslings, this one sourced from cool climate vineyards in Washington state has a freshness and slight sweetness that will marry universally well with the turkey and side dishes.
Chateau La Mascaronne Rosé 2021 ($30). The grenache, cinsault, syrah and vermentino mix makes for a layered and complex rosé that would do well with a turkey dinner. Stone fruit aromas and spirited citrus and red berry flavors.
Souleil Le Blanc 2020 ($16). Not a chardonnay fan? This blend of piquepoul (50 percent), terret blanc, ugni blanc and muscat is a fresh and brisk foil to turkey. Aromatic and dry, this southern France wine has tropical fruit and juicy pineapple notes.
Bacigalupi Frost Ranch Pinot Noir 2018 ($79). This terrific pinot noir benefits from the cooling fogs off the Russian River which is adjacent to Frost Ranch. Strawberry and spice notes cloaked in a mouth-filling texture and a long, earthy finish.