Fun fact: more wine is purchased for consumption at Thanksgiving than at any other day in the year in the U.S. Now that Eastern wines are world-class, and since Thanksgiving was the original locavore feast (on the East Coast), it’s only appropriate to drink local wine (or cider, or mead or fruit wine) wherever in the country you are.
Thanksgiving gives you the chance (with my encouragement!) to get outside the box of cabernet, chardonnay and merlot to experiment with less tannic, more fruit-forward wines, whether red, white or rosé. The traditional Thanksgiving menu has a riot of flavors and textures, with the fatness of the gravy and the semi-sweetness of cranberry sauce and sweet potatoes.
Accordingly, I leave the less fruity grape varieties like sauvignon blanc, chardonnay and pinot grigio behind, and favor the boldly fruity varieties like riesling, pinot gris, gewürztraminer, traminette and now petit manseng. In reds, I favor gamay and pinot noir or Lemberger in the vinifera family, and chambourcin, marquette and norton in the hybrid/native classes. This puts the fruit forward in these reds and minimizes tannins which would clash with the traditional menu. Merlot and cabernet franc make elegant wines, but they can get overwhelmed with this menu.
Rating key: * = very good; ** = exceptional; *** = outstanding
Here are some of my recommendations for your all-American Thanksgiving menu:
I’ll list these by state, starting with Virginia:
** Pippin Hill Vyrds. Viognier 2017 Monticello, VA: One of the best Virginia viogniers I’ve ever had. Rich and concentrated but not flat or flabby. Nose: bright orange citrus fruits, and ripe apricot, much like a late harvest riesling. Palate: Lush and layered, but concentrated ripe peach and apricot flavors, then bright acidity and peach/apricot flavors on the finish. Skillful balance of ripe fruit and acidity. If petit manseng was added, for natural acidity and bright tropical fruit flavors, then more people should be doing that with Virginia viognier. $32.00
**White Hall Vyrds. Viognier 2017 Monticello, VA: 95% Viognier, 5% Riesling and 5% Vidal. In a satisfying twist of fate and circumstance, White Hall’s first winemaker, Brad McCarthy, has returned to White Hall Vineyards north of Crozet on the “Appellation Trail.” This lovely yet vibrant viognier is another example of how great the 2017 vintage was for Virginia white wines (August was cool and dry, resulting in fully ripe grapes with firm acidity). This drinks very much like the Pippin Hill viognier; ripe peach/apricot aromas and flavors yet vibrant with fresh acidity throughout. I’m looking forward to tasting more of Brad’s wines at White Hall. (Note: White Hall 2017 Riesling receives Double Gold in the 2018 American Wine Society Competition but I’ve not tasted it yet).$22.00
*Michael Shaps Petit Manseng 2015, Monticello, VA. Michael Shaps is one of the leading Virginia winemakers (he also makes wine in Burgundy each vintage), and has figured out how to make a dry version of petit manseng that manages to balance alcohol and residual sugar with elegance and style. This wine is rich and full-bodied, like a combination between an Alsatian single vineyard white blended with white Burgundy. There are aromas and flavors of smoky pineapple, making this a fun, original white that would be a perfect match with the traditional Thanksgiving menu. It is rich and round on the palate yet finishes with bright acidity. The skillful use of oak blunts the acidity just enough while adding depth and texture. A Virginia white wine classic. $30.00
For complete details of the gold medal winners in the Virginia Governor’s Cup Competition of 2018, visit https://www.virginiawine.org/governors-cup/awards#Gold.
Boordy Vyrds. Chardonnay Reserve (South Mountain Vineyard). Nose: obvious oak and lees influence, with almond and butterscotch, ripe apple, and fresh cut hay. Palate: fat, round texture, ripe apple flavor, nice zesty minerality on the finish. A large style, but well balanced with a welcome fresh finish. (These notes are from the 2014 vintage, but I’m confident any current vintage will deliver the same quality and style.) $30.28
Links Bridge Dry Vidal Blanc 2015: (Eastern Shore). At three years, this vibrant, dry vidal has a lot going on. Despite a gold color, it’s still fresh and lively, with rich, ripe pear, apple and peach on the nose. Palate: juicy, dry, full-bodied but fruity, great varietal character and balance. Ideal for pork, ham or Asian food. ($18)
Links Bridge Dry Vidal Blanc 2017: (Eastern Shore). Nose: approachable fruit, classic apple and pear, flavors on the palate as well. Fine Loire Valley-like minerality, firm acid on the finish, a classy dry vidal. ($18)
New York, Finger Lakes
As regular readers have seen, I’m a big fan of Finger Lakes wines, but it’s hard to narrow my list down to a few, so here is a wealth of recommendations on white, pink, red, sparkling and dessert wines. They’re all very good to outstanding.
Kemmeter Wines is a very small, terroir and quality-driven operation on West Seneca Lake with Johannes Reinhardt who co-founded the Tierce Riesling project with Peter Bell and Dave Whiting in the mid-2000s. Reinhardt had also been the long-time winemaker of Anthony Road Vineyards.
*** Kemmeter “San San” Estate Riesling 2016: Nose: lovely white flowers, ripe red apples, white peach; very inviting. Palate: firm acidity, red apple, ripe white peach, lively but also rich, firm and concentrated. Lingering flavors of apple, peach and tangerine. Full profile of aromatics and flavors, elegant 4.8% residual sugar (spaetlese level) drinks like only half that much, 20% of the fruit was botrytis-affected, lively, linear finish. Impressive now but worth laying down at least another year.
***Azure Hill Vyrds. Estate Dry Riesling 2017: Brilliant clarity on the nose, lovely bright fresh citrus notes from lime to kumquat, with some white flowers and mineral notes with some yellow apple. Palate: dry, very racy and taut, high acid (wine pH is below 3.0), but balanced, with exotic citrus (kumquat, tangerine) some peach flavors, very intense, vivacious, brilliant acidity and minerality, a “First Growth” style quality.
***Silver Thread Vineyards Riesling STV Estate 2017: Nose: lovely white flowers and white peach, yellow apple. Palate: racy and then solid white peach, fresh apricot fruit core. Young, vibrant and racy, great for another 2 years, then will lay down for improving for 15 years!
***Hermann J. Wiemer Dry Gewurztraminer 2017: Nose: classic lychee notes, but as a hint, with lots of spice. Palate: exquisitely balanced, perfect varietal expression in the Alsatian style, spicy grapefruit flavors.
*Silver Thread Vineyards Semi-dry Riesling 2016: A blend of 3 Finger Lakes vineyards. Nose: lively, high-tone spicy peach notes but a hint of petrol. Palate: juicy, lively fresh, ripe peach and fresh apricot. Excellent fruit/acid balance and residual sugar.
*Weis Vyrds. Semi-Dry Riesling 2016: Nose: Austrian or Rheingau hints of apricot, lemon and limestone: taut. Palate: juicy but bright, with peach, apple and a hint of apricot flavors. Stylish and will age well.
*Lakewood Bubbly Candeo: a cayuga-based Prosecco-style wine packaged in a normal wine bottle with a screw cap finish. Ben says they will sell it in the City and will likely double production next year. Nose: gentle green apple, based on free-run juice. Palate: fresh, smooth creamy texture, much gentler and friendlier than most Proseccos. Ben says they sell a lot in keg to restaurants. I love the Finger Lakes style of elegant, creamy texture with lively fruit and acid. Sells at the Prosecco level for $13/750 ml. Warning! Once you start sipping, you may find it hard to stop…
*Boundary Breaks Clone #90 Extra Dry Riesling 2016: Nose of white flowers, fresh apricot, and yellow apple. Palate: round but good firm acid, white peach and fresh apricot flavors, well-integrated fruit and acid, stylish and not too intense. $18
*Hazlitt 1852 Vyrds. Homestead Reserve Riesling 2016: estate fruit. Nose: racy apple. Palate: Wow! Bright and intense ripe apple and peach, great fruit/acid balance, classic. $23
*Hector Wine Co. Luminescence 2016: A brilliant idea, and brilliantly executed: 25% each of pinot gris, pinot blanc, riesling and gewurztraminer, making a fine Alsatian blend in a Finger Lakes style. Nose: spice and white pepper, lemon/citrus, and bosc pear. Palate: broad, rich, and spicy; finishes with bright, high-volume acidity, but the whole is harmonious. $22
*Lucas Vyrds. Reserve Riesling 2017 Skillet Road Vineyard: Fermented in neutral oak (more than four years old), 5 months in the barrel, from vines planted in 1980. This was even more impressive than the 2016, with nose of bright yellow and red apple like the Rheingau. On the palate, solid fleshy fruit of ripe apple and white peach, balanced with firm acidity. Very good now, will be great when aged.
Treleavan Vyrds. Dry Riesling 2016: This is probably the most well-known label Treleaven produces, and is now being served in Japan. Nose: typical white flowers, white peach, ripe apple. Palate: white peach, juicy yellow and red apple, zesty acidity. Stylish, more fruit-forward than many 2016 Finger Lakes dry rieslings. $16.99
*Hosmer Patrician Verona Riesling 2016: a single vineyard wine, the nose reveals white flowers and racy lemon/mineral notes. On the palate, flavors of ripe canteloupe, apple and peach. (sweetness: 2.9% residual). $17
*Thirsty Owl Vyrds. Gewurztraminer 2016: Four days of cold soak to extract the typical varietal character. Nose: lychee and rose petal. Palate: classic varietal character and perfect fruit/acid balance. $18.95
* Thirsty Owl Vyrds. Traminette 2016: a hybrid from Cornell’s research station, one of whose parents is gewurztraminer, this grape is more sustainable in the vineyard that its aromatic parent but is every bit as worthwhile as a wine. Nose: kumquat and tangerine. Palate: same flavors and racy acidity; a bit exotic, fun and very food-friendly. $13.95
**Hermann J. Wiemer HJW Estate Vineyard Riesling 2016: Nose of brilliant green apple, white flowers, white peach, and mineral notes. Palate: Wow-concentrated ripe red apple, white peach, great depth and not too acidic. Dry-0.8% residual sweetness. $39
*Forge Cellars Riesling “Les Allies” 2016: The top cuvee of rieslings from a fine vintage, this was my favorite of the four rieslings I tried. Nose: tasting sheet lists descriptors of orange blossom, slate and honey which I found; in addition yellow apple. On the palate, the wine is juicy and fresh, though the natural acidity is a bit blunted. $26
**Ingle Vineyard Riesling 2017: Nose: delicate, fresh white peach. Palate: brilliant fresh apricot and white peach. At 1.3% R.S. still tastes almost dry, but so classic in style. Drinking this well now, will be best 2019-20, then will last another decade. $19.99
*Heron Hill Eclipse Rosé 2017: The second year the Eclipse label has been used for a new rosé blend (Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon) from Long Island to join the red and white labels. Nose: juicy, fresh strawberry! Palate: still juicy but dry, loads of ripe red cherry and strawberry but dry, long, fresh and zesty! $13.00
*Keuka Spring Riesling 2017 (semi-dry): Tight, white flowers and green apple. Palate: juicy red apple, some ripe peach. Stylish! Great value. 1.4% R.S. ($17)
* Keuka Spring Riesling 2017 (semi-sweet): Nose: green and yellow apple notes, minerality and white flowers. Palate: broad, juicy mid-palate fruit but vibrant acidity. 3.4% R.S. ($17)
** Keuka Spring Gewurztraminer 2017 (NY Governor’s Cup winner): Nose: Alsatian, not lychee, more mineral and fleshy mango, not too flowery or fruity. Palate: solid fruit core, pretty dry, fine spiciness but fresh, clean finish. Outstanding balance and true to the classic model.
New York Red Wines
*Dr. Frank Blaufränkisch 2016: Vibrant ruby hue. Nose: black raspberry and boysenberry with a hint of pepper. Palate: ripe spicy plum and vivid red berries, lively acidity but fruit-driven, great fruit/acid balance, just a hint of oak in the background. A great way to showcase a Finger Lakes style for this Austrian grape. $22
Lakewood Vyrds. Lemberger 2016: Color: bright violet hue. Nose: Wow! Fresh boysenberry/blueberry, lovely fruit. Palate: ripe, juicy; fruit and acid-driven. Will need another year or so. $18
*Atwater Vyrds. Blaufrankisch 2014: Also known as lemberger, this grape is like the Austrian version of sangiovese, with boysenberry and spice flavors. this fine example has a spicy nose of smoky berries. The palate is bright with plum and berry flavors balanced by lively acidity. $19
* Atwater Vyrds. The Big Blend 2014: “This racy blend is dubbed ‘Super Senecan’, that is, a non-traditional blend of vinifera grapes grown on Seneca Lake,” reads the tasting sheet. This original and fun blend is 40% cabernet sauvignon, 27% blaufrankisch, 20% syrah and 13% cabernet franc. Nose: lots of red and black fruits, spice a bit like a Tuscan sangiovese. Palate: bright red fruits, smooth and ready to drink soon.
New York Dessert Wines
* Lakewood Vyrds. Vignoles 2016: For the record, I’m not a big vignoles fan since I know it’s a P.I.T.A. in the vineyard since it rots easily and is difficult for winemakers to balance the high acid with the big tropical fruit. However, hats off to Chris for making the most elegantly balanced vignoles table wine I’ve tasted (he credits the warm vintage). Nose: fresh, delicate pineapple. Palate: Fun, fresh, ripe and very juicy! A party in a glass, and that’s a compliment. (residual sweetness, 6%; titratable acidity 9.8 g/l). $11
***Weis Vyrds. Riesling Icewine 2017: Nose: wow! Apple, peach and apricot, all very fresh. Palate: butterscotch, peach and apricot, pineapple, and mango flavors; rock on! Fantastic fruit/acid balance lovely delicacy; outstanding.
** Hermann J. Wiemer Riesling Late Harvest 2015: Nose of peaches, pears, and ripe apple, with a touch of apricot botrytis. Palate: seductive peach, apricot and lemon zest flavors. Juicy but very elegant racy acidity on the finish. Brilliant! $24.50
*Fox Run Vyrds. Hedonia NV This is a fine example of a white port designed to be a refreshing aperitif. Made with the spicy traminette grape (gewurztraminer is one parent), this delivers exotic orange citrus fruits on the nose (tangerine and kumquat), like flavors on the palate with juiciness and spiciness balanced with alcohol and acidity. Classy and stylish, an idea more Finger Lakes wineries should be working with. $15/375 ml, 11% residual sugar, 15.7% alc.
*Thirsty Owl Vyrds. Cabernet Sauvignon Ice Wine (375 ml, 17.3% R.S.) Nose: Wow! Ripe plum, cassis, chocolate and tobacco. On the palate, Juicy, spicy plum, and dark chocolate. Exotic, original and well-balanced. Great for fine fruitcake or fig-based dessert in winter.
Lake Michigan Shore (SW)
White Pine Vyrds. Traminette ’16: Bright aromas of tangerine, apricot, and orange zest. Palate: juicy, but bright orange tropical fruits plus muscat flavors, great fruit/acid balance.
Fenn Valley Vyrds. Edelzwicker: named after the Alsatian name for a wine blended of local grapes, this is a brilliant blend of traminette and riesling (which more wineries should consider). Lovely nose of orange citrus from the traminette, then bright riesling peach/apple notes. Palate: juicy and fruity but bright, with fine fruit/acid balance, some spice and a little residual sugar on the finish.
* Fenn Valley Vyrds. Traminette ’17: A spicy aromatic nose, very much like its gewurztraminer parent. Palate: huge concentration of orange citrus; kumquat and tangerine, fine fruit/acid balance.
Rating key: * = very good; ** = exceptional; *** = outstanding
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