A Decade of Thankgiving Advice in 3 Easy Bullets

Eric Asimov's recent piece on Thanksgiving wine selection offers sage words of wisdom for those beginning to fret over what to bring to the table.  A lot of what he has to say sounds familiar, so I went back in time to pluck the most enduring nuggets from ten year's worth of Thanksgiving articles on this blog.

Before we get there, one really great piece of advice Mr. Asimov offers that I hadn't previously considered is to keep it light - in alcohol, that is.  Turkey day is a marathon, not a sprint, so big, heavy-handed wines will just kill your momentum early.  Nap time is part of the tradition, but, please, not in the middle of mealtime!

Adding a low alcohol requirement to your selections (unfortunately) collides with another parameter I have tried to uphold for years: "Thanksgiving is a quintessentially American holiday, so keep your beverages domestic."  Just this past weekend I opened a 100% grenache from northern California.  Boozy and overpowering, its 15.7% ABV is emblematic of what has become the norm for way too many domestic wines.  If you can find flavorful American wines under 13%, then grab them, for sure.  But that is a bit of a unicorn hunt anymore.  I'm undecided on whether to prioritize domesticity or moderacy quite yet, but I've included a few ideas on lighter alcohol wines below.

First, 3 of the best pieces of advice that have appeared here over the past 10 years in order of increasing relevance:
  1. Keep it frugal. That doesn’t mean you should buy cheap stuff, it means don’t spend a lot. 
  2. 'Shock and awe' is a military doctrine.  Unless you want your Thanksgiving guests to feel like Norman Schwarzkopf is carving the bird, tone down the tour de force on bottle selection.  A couple of choices are fun.  More is confusing.  And even more is overwhelming
  3. Don't overthink the beverage choice so that there’s plenty of mind space free to exercise gratitude. The wine will do it’s job as a social lubricant and accompaniment to the meal whether you fawn on it or not. Instead, perhaps consider lavishing a compliment on someone for their qualities rather than their accomplishments.
Okay, now for some ideas on flavorful, lower alcohol wines:
  • Vinho Verde: These two words have become synonymous with cheap Portuguese wines that come in tall, skinny bottles.  But Vinho Verde is actually the name of a region in Portugal where many other wines are made.  You might need to ask around or order some online, but there are some higher end albarino-based whites from the area that might set you back $15 and blow your mind.
  • Pinot Grigio: Say what? Country club luncheon wine?  Like Vinho Verde, it's easy to throw the baby out with the bath water, but there is some gorgeous, energetic PG being made in high altitude vineyards in Italy and France.  Look for Italian bottlings from Sudtirol/Alto Adige, or Alsatian bottlings labeled as pinot gris.
  • Valpolicella: Few wines get me as excited as good Valpo does these days. Made predominately from corvina and more commonly found in Ripasso and Amarone bottlings (which are good, but not for Thanksgiving), the normally-vinted Valopolicellas can deliver extraordinary, saline-laced luminescence in a fleet-footed package. Pra and Mazi are two names to seek out.
  • Bardolino: For all the same reasons as Valpolicella, but Bardolino is even lighter.  If you go to the top of the quality pile you may spend $17 on a bottle you'll find hard not to gulp down like ice water on a hot summer day.
  • Schiava/Vernatsch: Also from the Dolomites area, this light-bodied red can pack a lot of energy and food-friendly acidity into a 12.5% wine that makes me smile from ear to ear.
  • Cru Beaujolais: No, not beajolais nouveau, but bojo from any of the 10 cru subregions are options where the freshness-packed gamay grape achives terrific heights. These wines are sommeliers' faves thanks to their vibrant fruit, quenching acidity, and good value.