A reader (knightswhosayni) asked last week when I would post about what to drink for Thanksgiving. I was out of town over the weekend so I hope this isn’t too late for those of you still looking.
Here are some guidelines to what to drink for Thanksgiving:
1) Drink local. Thanksgiving is the original locavore feast. Every state (and most Canadian provinces) have their own wineries.
2) Due to the higher acidity and lower alcohol of the average wine from Eastern North America (east of the 100th meridian), as well as a wealth of varietals and species not found in California or the “international” wine growing regions, Eastern wines pair very well with traditional Thanksgiving food.
3) Low-tannin, fruity reds and fresh, fruity whites with a little residual sugar (semi-dry) pair the best.
4) Local hard ciders (apple or pear); I recommend the semi-dry/sweet ones as better matches for the rich Thanksgiving fare because the dry ones are very high acid.
5) Best Varietals for Thanksgiving
- Pinot Gris (major stylistic difference from same grape labeled as pinot grigio)
- Riesling (I recommend semi-dry to semi-sweet; completely dry will have very high acid and some residual sugar makes a better complement to sweet potatoes, etc.
- Traminette (a Cornell hybrid of a French hybrid and gewurztraminer which is like a gewurztraminer on steroids)
- Petit Manseng (an obscure French white with high acid and tropical fruit that’s usually made in a semi-dry to semi-sweet style. Sweet versions in half-bottles are great with pies).
- Chardonnay. I’m only officially recommending this ubiquitous grape with the provision that you need to find the appropriate style. Avoid the extremes of steely high-acid, no malolactic Chablis-style which will clash with cranberry sauce, gravy, sweet potatoes etc. as well as avoid the big oak style; oak texture clashes with the food. Look for a chardonnay aged in neutral oak with richness, lemon citrus and butterscotch notes. Fine examples from Virginia include Michael Shaps 2010 Willow vineyard and Pearmund old vine Meriwether Vineyard; King Ferry (a k a Treleaven) on Cayuga Lakes makes 3 fine chardonnays that would all be appropriate; my favorite was the 2011 reserve.
- Vidal blanc. Often vidal is blended with riesling as with Linden Vineyards (VA) for better acidity, but vidal has a nice fruitiness and is a crowd-pleaser.
- Valvin muscat. This recently released Cornell hybrid with a name like a wind instrument is very promising, with a classic muscat-like floral nose and delicate tropical fruit on the palate balanced with fine acidity. If you tasted it blind you couldn’t know it was a hybrid.
- La Crescent. For those of you in New England or the Upper Midwest, this riesling-like cold-hardy hybrid from the U. of MN has fine fruit/acid balance and would be great with Thanksgiving fare.
- Chambourcin. This red French hybrid is much like the gamay of Beaujolais; lots of crisp bright cherry fruit and low tannin.
- Norton. Provided the wine is not over-oaked, fruit-driven and lacking that leathery funk you sometimes find, the deep dark damson plum flavors and bright acidity and low tannin make this Virginia original a great red choice.
- Cabernet Franc. If you must drink vinifera red, cabernet franc today is more reliable than pinot noir. Pinot could work, but I find it is often too tannic and also too oaky. The solid black cherry with hints of black pepper and crisp, smooth texture without too much tannin make this a fine red wine choice.
There are some red hybrids which could work in some circumstances but you need to taste them first; Marquette (U. MN hybrid), Baco Noir (French hybrid, very good in the Hudson Valley, NY), and Chancellor (much like Chambourcin).
From Virginia to New England and west to Wisconsin, local cideries are popping up like fungi after rain, and there is a wealth of choices across the East, with cideries that offer crisp, refreshing, low-alcohol and food-friendly ciders very traditional in style and very different from the fizzy alcoholic apple juice ciders of major national brands. I heartily recommend substituting sparkling cider for when you would have poured a sparkling wine (note: many local ciders are very dry and high acid; read labels and taste before you buy, looking for semi-dry to semi-sweet).
In Virginia, a recent tasting at Beer Run in Charlottesville showcased five Virginia ciders, from Albemarle Cider Works, Castle Hill Cider, Foggy Ridge Cidery, Old Hill, and Potter’s Craft Cider. All were good to outstanding. My pick for Thanksgiving is the Castle Hill “Gravity” an off-dry cider made exclusively with Grimes Golden apples. Fruity but vibrant and crisp without being austere, and only 7.1% alcohol.
My favorite Thanksgiving wine to match pies is late harvest (contrasted to ice wine which is much higher in residual sugar and acid). The outstanding choices for me are the Gray Ghost late harvest vidal blanc (a winner of perennial awards in wine competitions) and the late harvest vignoles (white French hybrid) from Hunt Country Vineyards in the Finger Lakes of New York.
Remember to “Think globally and drink locally.”
From all of us here at Richard Leahy’s Wine Report (me), Happy Thanksgiving!