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 viognier, riesling, pinot gris, gewürztraminer, traminette and now petit manseng. These grapes have the bold fruitiness and lively acidity to stand up to fatty and tart foods.
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
Some of my personal favorites for Thanksgiving dinner: from left to right, Montezuma Winery Marquette pet-nat, Finger Lakes, NY; Ankida Ridge Pinot Noir, VA, and Breaux Viognier ’17, VA.
Here are some of my recommendations for your all-American Thanksgiving menu:
**Effingham Vineyards Viognier 2018 (VA). Nose: clean, fresh, lovely floral and apricot/nectarine aromas. Palate: great acidity and classic peach/apricot flavors, full mid-palate. A severe selection of the fruit in a dismal vintage made the final cut worth the work; a star of the vintage.
**Pearmund Cellars Petit Manseng 2018, South River Vineyards (VA). Bright light gold color. Nose: ripe, rich peach, apricot, pineapple aromas. Palate: broad, well-integrated acidity, excellent fruit/acid balance, even better than the 2017 in a tough vintage.
*Breaux Vineyards Viognier 2017 (VA). Even though this wine was from a ripe vintage, Breaux’s northern location and cool breezes retain fresh acidity in this artfully balanced and elegant Viognier. In French oak for 4 months. On the nose, a gentle fresh minerality, then peach and floral notes. Palate: juicy, but complex; just enough oak, elegant fruit/acid balance, with juicy peach flavors.
*Fox Run Vineyards Traminette 2017 Finger Lakes, NY. This grape is a hybrid of Gewurztraminer and a Seyve white French hybrid. The result gives even more intense aromatics, but much better acid balance than straight Gewurztraminer. This wine has clean, fresh floral and spice notes like a Gewurztraminer, but much better acidity, giving a lovely fruit/acid balance. Off-dry. Although a New York wine, it is stocked in Virginia in Wegmans’ stores.
*Weiss Winzer Select Riesling 2018 Kabinett Finger Lakes, NY: made from whole cluster pressed grapes. Nose mostly closed, some white peach. Palate: juicy, great food/acid balance, ripe apple and peach, lively acid. Off-dry, stylish.
Cardinal Point “Quattro” 2018 Monticello, VA. A fun four-grape blend of Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Viognier and Traminette. Nose: white peach/apricot and green apple, like a light Mosel. Palate: juicy, tropical fruit, acid a bit low. Fun and fruity.
*Early Mountain Vineyards Petit Manseng 2017 (VA). Layered, round and full, loads of fresh pineapple and mango and tangerine, bright acidity, but well-integrated thanks to 18 months on the lees pre-bottling. Still fresh and vibrant.
*Swedish Hill Blue Waters Riesling 2016 Finger Lakes, NY. This off-dry Riesling has some Cayuga and Vidal blended in but that amplifies the fruitiness of grapefruit and peach on the nose. Palate: acid still firm but a broad palate with peach, grapefruit and ripe apple flavors. Fruit carries through to the finish, fresh and lively.
*Silver Thread Vineyards Riesling Doyle Fournier Vineyard 2017 Seneca Lake, NY. A semi-dry Riesling (1.4%) from 40-year old vines. Nose: linear, lots of ripe red apple, hint of white peach. Palate: juicy mid-palate, concentrated powerful red apple, white peach – impressive.
*Domaine LeSeurre Gewurztraminer 2016 Finger Lakes, NY. Nose: fresh but spicy, not coarse. Lees stirred but no skin contact adds finesse. Palate: elegant, gentle but has classic spice/lychee notes. Lees stirring gives a round, smooth elegant texture.
*Sunset Hills NV White (VA) An original blend of Traminette, Albarino, Viognier and Vidal. Nose: very lychee/floral aromas from the Traminette. Palate: fruity but dry. Lychee, lemongrass, lime/mineral with a grapey finish (white grape juice). Impressive balance, originality, versatile with food.
Zephaniah Vineyards Steamship White 2017 (VA). A blend of 70% Chardonel, 19% Viognier and 8% Chardonnay. Nose: light, fresh, bright flinty lemon. Palate: solid mid-palate, round, nice acid finish. “A white wine for red wine drinkers.” Malolactic fermentation gives complexity but Chardonel retains acid after MLF, where Chardonnay loses most of it.
***Horton Vineyards “Gears and Lace” Pinotage Rose 2018 (VA): The nose: very intriguing and full of fun stuff! It’s like a dark rose from Chateauneuf-du-Pape, juicy and smoky as if made from southern Rhone grapes, or a blend of Tannat and Carignane. The aromas resolve into roses, and a riot of red fruits: plums, cherries, strawberries and some rhubarb. Palate: dry but rich (13.5%), round and full-bodied, this rose is juicy and if it were on an online dating site, would be described as “curvy”, even voluptuous, bursting with red fruit flavors (mostly strawberry), and a long finish. This wine is as subtle as Aretha Franklin singing “R-E-S-P-E-C-T”, but in the best way.
Narmada “Gulabi” Rose 2017 VA. This mostly Chambourcin rose with some red Bordeaux grapes is a pretty medium pink color. Nose: lovely fresh strawberry. Palate: dry, lively strawberry fruit, full-bodied, nice solid fruit core, lingering finish.
*Domaine LeSeurre Rose of Cabernet Franc 2016 Finger Lakes, NY. A Provencal style. Lots of lees stirring. Nose: fresh and vibrant strawberry and raspberry. Palate: dry but round, juicy, lovely fresh red fruits.
Bozzo Family Vineyards Harle Rose 2018 (VA). A blend of 80% sauvignon blanc and 20% cabernet franc blended post-fermentation. Nose: subtle, hint of watermelon, pink cherries. Palate: Wow: zesty, bright, fresh citrus and strawberries.
Walsh Family Vineyards Rose, Weatherlee Farm 2018 (VA). All Cabernet Franc, pale Provencal color. Nose: fragrant cherry blossoms, pink cherries, fresh and pure. Palate: creamy clean pink cherries, elegant with fine fruit/acid balance.
**Ankida Ridge Pinot Noir 2016 (VA). Nose: bright strawberry and red cherry, lively with some garden herbs and exotic spice. Palate: same fruit and zesty spice flavors, vibrant fruit intensity but dry and crisp, classic Beaune style.
*Cardinal Point “Rockfish Red” 2017 Monticello, VA. A light, low tannin and fruit-forward red blend. Nose: lovely rose petals, red cherry, hint of oak. Palate: juicy but fresh, Beaujolais-like, low tannins but dry, crisp lively red cherry flavors. Stylish.
*Chrysalis Estate Norton 2015, VA. Blended with 12% Nebbiolo, 4% Graciano. Nose: juicy, typical dark fruit notes, damson plum. Palate: typical big black fruits, high malic acid (good for balancing with gravy, etc.) w. some tannin from the other grapes. Just hitting stride, will age.
*Zephaniah Vineyard Chambourcin 2015 (VA). Fresh, clean cherry nose, Palate: round, pure fresh cherry fruit, easy and forward but also mature, dry; an elegant low-tannin red for Thanksgiving.