Like most red-white-and-blue-blooded Americans, you are probably dreading your first Trump-era Thanksgiving.
The once beloved American holiday, when everyone used to come together to celebrate the blessings shared by all Americans, has now been downgraded to a mandatory gathering where we eat a bunch of bland, fatty food and try not to grimace as uncle X or aunt Y or cousin Z serves up some wholly unpalatable moralizing chit-chat (Democratic, Republican, Marxist, Trumpist or otherwise). Some of us will grin and bear it, pretending that things are actually great when obviously, as our new president has made abundantly clear, America needs to be made great again. Or we'll gloat about how millions of families are about to be torn apart as masses of people are to be deported and how humane civic discourse is no longer considered laudatory among our politicians or citizens.
Either way, we are all going to need wine. After all, Bacchus's favorite beverage is an excellent elixir when it comes to drowning out the Trumpist din, no matter what side of the aisle you walk on.
If you are a non-white American like me (I recently learned that Jews are not considered "whites" by many among the legions of Trump's supporters) or even if you are a white American (lucky you!), you are probably going to need help with your selection. Yes, even I — a formerly white liberal who writes regularly about wine — need help with my purchases at Thanksgiving when economy is essential in terms of price ceiling and when a democratic spirit is needed to appease the wide spectrum of palates who will attend our flaming-red southeast Texas holiday celebration on the Louisiana border. (It's funny, really, to think how varied palates can be among white people even though they are the same color on the outside!)
And so as an American in the era of Trump, I recommend that you do what I did this holiday season: Ask for help in selecting your wines at one of the many wonderful wine retailers we have here in blue-oasis Houston. We Houstonians are truly blessed to have some of the top wine professionals in the country working in our city. And as I made my way among my favorite wine retailers this week, I was blown away by the level of wine knowledge and insight that awaited me at the Kroger on Shepherd in the Heights (where Jaime De Leon walked me through my purchases), Spec's on Smith (Joseph Kemble) and the Houston Wine Merchant, also on Shepherd (Antonio Gianola). These are my three top resources for retail wine in Houston but there are many, many others, including a growing number of wine bars that offer retail sales. Whenever people ask me for advice about wine shopping, my answer is always the same: Take advantage of the army of talented people working in wine sales in Houston. They know their inventory better than anyone else and they have every reason to guide you to the right purchase. And always inquire about discounts for multiple-bottle purchases. Each of the retailers I visited offers a discount if you purchase 6-12 bottles depending on the venue.
The Au Bon Climat 2015 Santa Barbara Pinot Noir is my No. 1 pick for Thanksgiving this year. With my multiple-bottle discount, I picked this bottle up at Kroger for less than $20. It's fresh and light and has just the right balance of fruit and acidity to go well with the Trump-era Thanksgiving feast. And it's American, damn it! (Even though the name sounds French.)
I also really loved the Louis Jadot 2015 Mâcon-Villages Chardonnay from France for less than $10, also at Kroger (yes, the holy grail of wine deals, the under-$10 bottle!). This wine was fresh, bright and thirst-quenching and looks a lot more expensive than it is. It's my No. 1 "deal" for Thanksgiving this year.
The Girolamo Russo 2015 Etna Rosato (rosé from Nerello grapes grown on the slopes of Mount Etna, an active volcano in Sicily) was also a top pick for me. Salty and lithe in the glass, this wine set me back $21 with my Kroger multiple-bottle discount.
Kroger wine program manager Jaime is on track to become one of America's growing number of Master Sommeliers, and his wine selection at Kroger is spot-on no matter what price point you are shooting for.
When it comes to finding a wine to please the Cabernet Sauvignon crowd, I always head to Spec's, where I've consistently found the best value in "big" red wines from California and France.
With the cash purchase of six bottles, the Château Puygueraud 2013 Francs Côtes de Bordeaux from Spec's lands at less than $14 on our Thanksgiving table this year. I really like the way this earthy, savory wine works with the dark meat from the bird. And I'll save the other four bottles for gifts and our first Trump-era Christmas feast, where we'll eat the exact meal we are served at Thanksgiving as we celebrate the teachings of Jesus Christ.
Another Cabernet Sauvignon favorite from Spec's was the Bliss Family Vineyards 2014 Mendocino Cabernet Sauvignon, which comes down to less than $11 (!!!) with the deepest discount. The thing I love about this wine is that the oak is present but not overly invasive (as they say in the trade) and the alcohol was wonderfully restrained at 13.5 percent, where most California Cabernet Sauvignon weighs in at 14.5 percent and higher. It seems like a small difference, but the lower alcohol really makes a difference in terms of the wine's food-friendliness.
Of course, Joseph at Spec's is not only one of the top wine buyers in the U.S., but he's also one of the nation's top Italian wine experts. And it was only natural that he would point me to an old-world option like the Le Monde 2014 Grave del Friuli Pinot Bianco (Pinot Blanc), which costs less than $20 even without any of the Spec's discounts. This wine is fresh and focused, with solid minerality and acidity and nice white fruit flavors. It's another top pick for me, but evidently, like most Americans (thank you, Donald, for bringing the best out of us!), I am biased.
Do you think people will be pissed if you bring a Spanish-speaking wine to Thanksgiving? I know a lot of folks get upset about things like that these days. But, hey, the dollar is the bottom line and a buck's a buck, right? And Antonio at the Houston Wine Merchant really delivered the goods when I asked him to select an under-$15 red.
The Azul y Garanza 2014 Tempranillo, from Spain, is earthy, fruity and fresh but still delivers the concentration and rich flavors that red-blooded English-only-speaking Americans love. It's a screw-cap, which makes it easy to open and seal (and, truth be told, it's one of our family's house wines, all year round). You really can't beat the price-quality ratio here.
Antonio also recommended the Hermanos de Domingo Molina 2015 Salta Torrontés (white, unlike me), which costs around $17. Not cheap for an lower-end white wine, but Antonio pointed out how Torrontés, from Salta (Argentina), has a step up on other expressions of this grape from South America. Yes, it's true that South America stole our name (as Randy Newman pointed out many years ago) and our jobs, but this wine is impressive in terms of its quality for the under-$20 price tag.
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If you just have to have an English-speaking wine at your first Trump-era Thanksgiving (and that's perfectly understandable considering the winds of intolerance that blow now), Kroger has two expressions of California Chardonnay that I really liked this year: Stag's Leap Wine Cellars 2014 Napa Valley Chardonnay Karia, which I picked up at Kroger for around $30, and the Matthiasson 2015 Napa Valley Chardonnay Linda Vista Vineyard, for around $26. Once "oaky and buttery" and lacking in acidity, California Chardonnay demographics continue to shift toward a leaner, more nuanced and more food-friendly style. Both of the wines (the former from a storied Napa producer, the latter from one of the new wave of California wineries) were classy and balanced and both danced in the glass. And they both showed the elegance and grace that I look for in California Chardonnay at its best.
And we could all use a little more elegance and grace (myself included) at the Thanksgiving table this year, our first American holiday in the era of Trump, who doesn't even drink wine. He really doesn't know what he's missing, does he?