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Thanksgiving Wine Buying Panic

During this crazy holiday week, there’s still time to make the right wine choice
Photo by: David Yellen

Posted: Nov 22, 2011 2:00pm ET

I don’t sweat which wines to drink with Thanksgiving dinner, probably because I’m too busy sweating dinner itself. Back in that vague era we now call the 1990s, I volunteered to make gravy at my sister-in-law’s Thanksgiving feast and, somehow, since then, I’ve found myself in the role of sous-chef for an annual dinner for 30.

Damn my gravy!

Yeah, I kvetch, but I enjoy doing it. I follow the lead of my brother-in-law Walt, and we try something new every year. Brining the turkey became a must a few years back, and we fool around with variations, but Thanksgiving isn’t about dramatic experimentation. I don’t care what trendy topic the nation’s bored food writers thrust upon us this year. This is a dinner about comfort; it’s about allowing yourself to eat stuff that you try not to eat all year.

I have a similar attitude about Thanksgiving wine. It’s all about comfort. It’s all about don’t worry, enjoy. I’ve done my share of fussing over the wine—will it be this Gewürztraminer or that rosé, a Pinot Noir or a Beaujolais, sparkling wine or a dry Moscato? But for our dinner, while other guests bring most of the bottles, I always contribute a selection of wines for people to try, so there’s something to please most everyone.

Inevitably, I get harried calls and emails from friends and family a few days before the holiday, looking for advice on this year’s new releases. Who can’t relate to wine buying panic this week?

It’s hard to know what’s on your local retail shelves, but here are the sorts of wines I try to recommend to last-minute shoppers:

For light reds, Beaujolais is an easy one, and a great bottle to look for is Georges Duboeuf Morgon Jean Descombes 2009 (93 points, $15; Top 100 of 2011—No. 21). For other serious Beaujolais, you can try wines from any of the 10 crus (Brouilly, Côte de Brouilly, Chénas, Chiroubles, Fleurie, Juliénas, Morgon, Moulin-à-Vent, Regnié and Saint-Amour) or a Beaujolais-Villages, blended from designated villages in the region.

Or you might try a frivolous little Beaujolais Nouveau from the just-released 2011 vintage. A recent top pick by my colleague Alison Napjus was Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais-Villages Nouveau 2011, which retails for $11 and is not to be confused with Duboeuf’s cheaper Beaujolais Nouveau. (See her tasting report for more 2011 Nouveau ratings.)

For whites, Gewürztraminer goes brilliantly with turkey, and a good one is Chateau Ste. Michelle Gewürztraminer Columbia Valley 2010 (88, $9).

If your spread is particularly full-flavored, consider a lighter-style California Zinfandel. I like the Bogle 2009 California, which sells for $11; I rated it 88 points, non-blind. Others worth a search are Sebastiani Zinfandel Sonoma County 2008 (88, $15) and Pedroncelli Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley Mother Clone 2009 (88, $15). I generally avoid a big, ripe Zin because it overwhelms most of the meal.

My go-to wine for Thanksgiving is Pinot Noir. A lighter style red Burgundy would be perfect, perhaps a bottle from the charming and elegantly styled 2006 vintage. California Pinot values are somewhat easier to find. Look for Villa Mt. Eden Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast 2009 (88, $20) or Siduri Pinot Noir Sonoma County 2009 (88, $20). For something with more substance, there’s Robert Stemmler Pinot Noir Carneros 2008 (93, $36) or Dutton-Goldfield Pinot Noir Russian River Valley Dutton Ranch 2008 (90, $38).

Those are just some of my last-minute wine ideas for Thursday’s big meal. What did I leave out? What’s your favorite wine to open for Thanksgiving?

Homer Cox
Warrenton, VA —  November 22, 2011 8:54pm ET
Tim, we drank two bottles of the 2009 Morgan Jean and believe that those were two of the worst bottles of wine we have ever had. We don't drink much Beaujolais but it was like a blend of weak cherry and grape Koolaid with some vinegar mixed in. Must be just bad luck with two bottles.
Robert Lapolla
san diego, CA USA —  November 22, 2011 10:24pm ET
pinot noir is nothing but red chardonnay. Give me merlot any day.
Steve Order
Massachusetts —  November 23, 2011 1:11am ET
I like Pinot so I'm going with the 2009 Meomi, 2009 Banshee Sonoma County and, for the sister in-law who prefers white, 2009 Elk Cove Pinot Gris
Mark Lyon
Sonoma, CA; USA —  November 23, 2011 2:12am ET
I consider Thanksgiving a "playground" for wine enjoyement with your family and friends. Let's have some fun and raid the cellar! I only refrain from sweet (above 1% RS) whites or high alcohol (above 15%) reds. I have so many fond memories of wines with Turkey. My favorites (as a teenager) were Inglenook Cabernet "Cask 707" 1967 and Wente Livermore Valley Sauvignon Blanc from the mid 70's.
Stephen Stewart
new mexico  —  November 23, 2011 12:12pm ET
Totally agree Robert.Pinot is overrated for sure.Give me a nice Rhone blend instead.
Daniel Sherer
Healdsburg, CA, USA —  November 23, 2011 1:31pm ET
I agree with Mark....raid that cellar and pull out some interesting varietals and maybe a gem with a little age on it allowing your sister-in-law to try something she probably never has had or will have. I remember one Thanksgiving I opened the 1990 Beaucastel Chateauneuf-du-Pape and commented on its "barnyard" aroma and my brother blurted out..."it's more like the Bronx Zoo!" Needless to say, he was off the "good wine list" for future openings.
Whit Thompson
Rochester, NY —  November 23, 2011 2:04pm ET
Going with a grenache theme this year and bringing bottles from Australia, Washington, California, Spain and France to dinner. Guessing the lighter styles will work best, but really looking forward to the exercise in comparison.
Tom Blair
Little Silver, NJ —  November 24, 2011 5:02pm ET
We had an abnormally small group this year so I tried something completely different: hard cider. I am not a cider aficionado but have had a couple and I though the natural sweet tinge along with and fine carbonation and acidity might be a good match with the various T-day side dishes. I did not love them before the meal, but with it, they were actually pretty complementary - and they were certainly FAR off the beaten path.

How 'bout them apples?
Keir Mccartney
League City,TX —  November 28, 2011 11:30am ET
Drank the Gregory Graham, 2007 Lake County Grenache. It was an elegant wine and worked well with our Thanksgiving dinner.

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