IMG_4435It goes without saying that Thanksgiving is the ultimate American, loca-vore feast, so why would you shop for locally farmed produce and turkeys, while buying a wine from overseas? Especially now, and especially in the East (where Thanksgiving began), there are so many good local choices, and I don’t even mean just wine; now we also have cider, other fruit wines, and mead (note: Cider Week Virginia is November 11-20).

Best of Category winners in the Drink Outside the Grape Competition, including Castle Hill Cider “1764” fortified cider (2nd from left).

Here are a couple of tips while you’re picking out your wines, assuming you’re doing a traditional-style dinner. And even if you’re not, follow my wine guidelines which will go with Mexican, Asian and other alternative cuisines.

  1. Go “ABC” – Anything But Chardonnay/Cabernet (and Merlot, for that matter). Branch out and see what other grape varieties can do in a Thanksgiving setting.
  2. Replace Reds with Rosé. Only a few red grape varieties (chambourcin, gamay, blaufrankisch/lemberger, Napa gamay/valdiguie) have the low tannins and big fruit that will match well with the Thanksgiving fare, where rosé doesn’t have tannin and is fun and juicy but refreshing. And I don’t mean “blush” or “white” [red variety name here]. They have no acidity and that’s what you need in any wine in a lush food setting like this one.
  3. Don’t feel obliged to serve a totally dry wine with dinner. Lots of Thanksgiving ingredients (gravy, stuffing, cranberry sauce, etc.) has elements that call out for a little sweetness as long as it’s balanced with acidity.
  4. You can serve cider, mead and apple or pear wines as long as they’re not too sweet, with Thanksgiving dinner. Blacksnake Meadery makes a “Sweet Virginia” mead that will be great with desserts.

To consider the “ABC” option, here are grape varieties I like for white wines, which should shine at Thanksgiving since they work:

  • Riesling
  • Gewürztraminer
  • Traminette (a hybrid of Gewürztraminer)
  • Pinot Gris
  • Petit Manseng
  • Viognier

Here are some of my favorite East Coast wines of the last year that I recommend with Thanksgiving, in White Wines, Rosé Wines, Dessert Wines, and Ciders and Meads:


  • IMG_4571Barboursville Vineyards Fiano 2015, Monticello (VA). This is the inaugural release of this classic Italian white grape by Barboursville in their 40th anniversary year. This rich and elegant wine has spicy pear aromas, and on the palate is almost viscous but balanced, with solid pear fruit and a touch of neutral oak for complexity. Original and stylish.
  • Michael Shaps Petit Manseng 2013 (VA). The high acid petit manseng is a challenge to make dry and have it work, and this one does it. Lots of tropical fruit, elegantly integrated with oak, with fine acid that is rounded making a very balanced wine.
  • Horton Vineyards Petit Manseng 2014 (VA). Previously made in a dry style, this petit manseng is everything you want in that grape; very fruity, juicy ripe tropical fruitlarge volume and full-bodied; tastes off-dry but the three percent residual sugar is balanced with brisk acidity in the finish. Yummy and versatile.
  • Glass House Pinot Gris 2015, Monticello (VA). The same grape as grigio, when it’s labeled “gris”, it’s in the Alsatian style, riper, richer and with less acidity. This is rich and fruity but with enough acidity to balance; elegant.
  • IMG_4377Dr. Frank semi-dry Riesling 2015, Finger Lakes (NY). This was a fine vintage for white wines on the East Coast with bright fruit and balancing acid. For this wine, the fermentation was stopped in the German style, instead of back-sweetened, at 2.6% residual sugar. All Seneca Lake fruit. Nose: nice German Rhine fruitiness of red apple, apricot and peach. Palate: juicy, with lots of ripe fruit! Well-balanced with a lively finish.
  • Boundary Breaks Riesling Reserve 2014 Clone #198, Finger Lakes (NY):The nose is closed, then lots of flowers, pineapple and peach, a hint of sulfur. Palate: juicy, with huge fruit volume of apple, pineapple, peach and lively acid. Young, with lots of promise.
  • IMG_4510[1]Rockbridge Vineyards De Chiel Viognier 2015 (VA): This is the debut release of this premier Virginia white wine from Rockbridge, from a local grower, and it’s my favorite of the vintage for that grape so far. The nose is subtle, then intense with white flowers, white fruits, and lively acid to balance on the palate. If you like a viognier that isn’t all honeysuckle and is good with food, this is it. Great way to debut!
  • Keswick Vineyards LVD Viognier 2015 (Monticello, VA): an off-dry style viognier that is neither too cloyingly floral or flabby and flat. On the nose, brilliant tangerine and white peach aromas. On the palate, full, round, rich and juicy with like flavors. Some lees contact gives depth which balances the slight (almost imperceptible) residual sugar. Versatile and fun.
  • Balcony at Silver Thread Vineyards, Caywood

    Balcony at Silver Thread Vineyards, Caywood

    Silver Thread Gewurztraminer 2014 STV Estate, Finger Lakes (NY):Nose: racy, with a spicy, floral aroma. The palate is lively, with tight acidity and ripe peach fruity, impressively riesling-like acidity for the peachy fruit. Stylish.

  • White Hall Vineyards Gewurztraminer 2014, Monticello (VA) might be the best they’ve ever done, possibly the best in the state. On the nose, classic rosewater aromatics. On the palate, spicy with rose petal flavors, and a gentle bitterness on the finish to enhance the dry character of this low acid grape variety. Classic and well-balanced.
  • Boundary Breaks Gewürztraminer Finger Lakes, NY 2015a nose with lychee and ripe apricot but focused and racy. Palate: tight with bright acid, much more acid (and vibrant) than most gewürztraminers, very young and lively. Will last a couple of years and needs another six months. Slight bitterness on the finish with spice tones adds a food-friendly dimension.
  • Willowcroft Traminette 2014 (VA): Nose: vibrant spicy rose/lychee and peach notes. Palate: drier than the nose suggests. Firm acidity balances peachy fruit with a crisp finish that has a nice touch of bitterness balancing the fruitiness. Versatile, juicy but dry.
  • Willowcroft Petit Manseng 2014 (VA): Nose: subtle spicy tropical fruit. Palate: juicy, spicy, much more lively and ripe than the nose suggests with pineapple, mango and peach flavors and firm acid balancing the modest residual sugar (2%) to make this stylish and versatile, seemingly almost dry.
  • Norton vines on GDC training at Tiger Mtn. Vineyards, N. Georgia

    Norton vines on GDC training at Tiger Mtn. Vineyards, N. Georgia

    Tiger Mountain “White Tiger” 2015, from northern Georgia. This is a blend of viognier and petit manseng that combines the best of both grapes, and is bursting with vibrant ripe tropical fruit and balancing acidity, off-dry.




  • img_4628Effingham Manor Dry Rosé 2015 (VA): this dry chambourcin rose is zesty with lots of strawberry and cranberry and refreshingly  dry.
  • Breaux Vineyards Dry Rosé 2015, VA: a little darker in color than most, this rosé is juicy and full of ripe red cherries and strawberries, with full volume on the palate and a dry crisp finish.
  •  Lamoreaux Landing Dry Rosé 2015, Finger Lakes (NY): Based on cabernet franc. A hint of sulfur on the nose, with red cherry hints and a bit of herb. On the palate, bright red cherry/berry, zesty and fruity with strawberry flavors in the lingering finish. Stylish, a bit young still.
  • Blue Valley Vineyards Rosé of Chambourcin 2014 (from Virginia grapes):  The nose had lovely fresh cranberry and maraschino cherry notes. On the palate, it was dry, vibrant, juicy and fresh with cranberry and red cherry fruit. Classy and perfect for warm weather enjoyment.
  • Atwater Dry Rosé 2015:A blend of 81% merlot and 19% cabernet franc, this fine rosé has a nose of lovely bright red cherry. The palate is juicy cherry with big matching acidity, very lively (0.6% residual sugar).
  • IMG_2789 (1)Sharpe Hill Rosé of St. Croix 2014 (CT).The grape is a Swenson hybrid that’s much like gamay, only very cold hardy and even fruitier. Winemaker Howard Bursen makes a blush and a dry oak-aged red from it, but I love this dry, very assertively fruity and full-bodied rosé. The color is just a shade darker than Provençal style, but the aromatics are large; ripe cherry and strawberry. On the palate, flavor volume is large too, huge cherry and strawberry with ample acidity to match and a clean, zesty finish.




  • King Family Vineyards Loreley 2014, Monticello (VA): A “vin de paille” or straw wine made from dried petit manseng grapes, this drinks most like a Sauternes-style dessert wine made from a much fruitier grape than semillon. Lots of pineapple, apricot and marmalade on the nose and palate, with bright firm citrus acidity to balance, so it doesn’t seem so sweet. Can be enjoyed with crème brulee, fresh fruit, shortbread and cream in the near future or will improve with age for years if well-cellared.
  • Dr. Frank Late Harvest Riesling Finger Lakes 2013 12% alcohol, 28% sugar at harvest. Nose: layered apple and apricot aromas. Palate: Wow-juicy, rich, layered peach/apricot. Rich but still elegant.
  • Stinson Vineyards Petit Manseng 2013, Monticello (VA): the 2012 version won Best Sweet Wine in the Monticello Cup last year and this is just as good. The nose is complex, Sauternes-like with honey, butterscotch and orange marmalade. On the palate, zesty citrus seems almost dry (3% residual sugar, 13% alc.) with flavors of tangerine, peach and pineapple; excellent fruit/acid balance.
  • Linden Vineyards Late Harvest Petit Manseng 2011 (half bottle): Nose of brilliant pineapple. Palate: big pineapple but nice smooth creamy lees and a smoky flinty finish. A real Virginia classic interpretation of European dessert wine. Aspiring sommeliers and locavores should be all over this (12.9% residual sugar, 12.6% alc.)

If you’re still with me, congratulations! Here are the gold and silver medal winners from the Drink Outside the Grape competition that was held in August of this year. These medalists are from Maryland and Virginia:


Name                                                                       Product                         Medal

Montdomaine (Monticello, VA) pear brandy – dry 80 proof Gold
Charm City Meadworks (MD)

(Tie – Best Mead)

Basil Lemongrass Silver
Blacksnake Meadery

(Tie – Best Mead)

Sweet Virginia Silver
Bold Rock Hard Cider Virginia Apple Silver
Castle Hill Cider, LLC Terrestrial Silver
Castle Hill Cider, LLC Serendipity Silver
Port of Leonardtown Winery (MD) MacIntosh Run apple wine Silver