10 Thanksgiving Wines (That We Actually Drink)

Dolcetto can deliver character without overwhelming the palate or breaking the bank.
Dolcetto can deliver character without overwhelming the palate or breaking the bank.
Photos by Jeremy Parzen.

Yes, folks, it's that predictable time of year when everyone posts their Thanksgiving wine recommendations. Among the literally hundreds of blogs and feeds that I follow, one of my favorites this year was Eric Asimov's "What Can I Drink at Thanksgiving Besides Wine?" There are a gazillion interesting posts out there: Just search for Thanksgiving wine (not in quotes) in Google Blog Search and you'll find a trésor of inspired suggestions.

One of the common themes is the challenge that the Thanksgiving meal poses for the would-be sommelier: With so many dishes, with such a wide variety of ingredients, aromas, and flavors, and with so many cooks in the kitchen, what one wine can you recommend?

But there's another relevant (and in my view, equally important) question we should ask: With such a heterogenous group of people gathered for the all-American holiday, what wine will pair well with both the food and the guests?

My brothers (one in his fifties, the other in his forties) are both high-powered attorneys, and they like highly alcoholic Zinfandel and oaky, tannic Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. My mother, who remains forever young in my heart, likes wines that are lighter in body, with gentler alcohol and tannin. The extreme concentration (or extraction, as we call it in wine parlance) of a classic "Zin" or "Napa Cab" would not only overwhelm mom's palate, it would also overpower her digestion, especially on a day when we all tend to overindulge.

The following 10 wines are available in the Houston market. They are not samples sent to me by a publicist or distributor. They are wines that my wife Tracie P and I drink and serve in our home. They are wines that we can afford, and they are wines that we share with people we love. Happy Thanksgiving, y'all!

10. Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs: This wine is NOT Champagne, but it is made using the méthode champenoise by one of my favorite California producers of sparkling wine. I particularly like their 100 percent Chardonnay blanc de blancs: The bright acidity and freshness of this wine makes it an ideal pairing for nearly every course in the traditional Thanksgiving meal. You can find it in Houston for under $35 (Spec's and Brix). Serve it at the beginning or end of the meal as an aperitif or palate-cleanser.

9. Pacific Rim Riesling: The Pacific Rim winery in Columbia Valley (Washington State) makes a healthy spectrum of fresh, clean, bright Rieslings, ranging from dry to sweet. With its zinging acidity, Riesling (in general) is one of our favorite grape varieties to serve at Thanksgiving. You'll find different bottlings in the Houston market, from under $12 to under $20 (Spec's). We're particularly fond of the winery's single-vineyard Wallula.

8. Cap Rock Roussanne Bingham Family Vineyards: When leading authority on Texas wine Russ Kane and I tasted some of his favorite labels together earlier this year, the Cap Rock winery (Lubbock) Roussanne impressed me with its freshness and its depth of fruit flavors. While Russ will be the first one to tell you that at times it can be hard to track down Texas wines in Houston, he reports on his blog that you can find Cap Rock at Spec's (after a period of absence here). At around $12 the Roussanne -- sourced from one of the most acclaimed growing sites in Texas -- is a great deal.

7. Huet Vouvray Le Haut-Lieu Moelleux: We drink a lot of Chenin Blanc (from the Loire Valley, France) at our house and we always bring a bottle of Vouvray to Thanksgiving. The grape variety's signature acidity and the minerality it can convey make it one of our favorite food-friendly whites in general and a top Thanksgiving wine every year. The historic Domaine Huet is considered by many to be the "father" of great Vouvray and you really can't go wrong with any of its wines. You'll find this dry expression of Chenin Blanc (under 13 percent alcohol) in Houston for around $30 (Spec's).

10 Thanksgiving Wines (That We Actually Drink)

6. Bonny Doon Vin Gris de Cigare: If you've been following along here you know how much we love this rosé from California by one of our favorite producers. At under 13 percent alcohol, this wine will pair well with your Thanksgiving meal and your guests. And it has just enough tannic structure to bring out the flavor in your turkey drumstick. One of my first posts here was Righting the Wrong of Rosé. The way rosé wines were marketed to us back in the 1970s did a disservice to the great food-friendly rosés of the world. You'll find it in Houston for under $20 (Whole Foods Market).  

5. La Mozza Morellino di Scansano I Perazzi: Italians love Thanksgiving. Back when I was a grad student, I would always bring my Italian counterparts home with me for the feast and they would always bring a bottle of Sangiovese. La Mozza's Morellino di Scansano is made primarily from Sangiovese grown on the Tuscan coast. And although it has a small amount of Syrah in it, the French grape doesn't eclipse the classic plum flavors and signature acidity of this quintessential Italian variety. This is Emeril's everyday-at-home wine, by the way. You can find it in Houston for around $20 (Spec's, Whole Foods Market).

4. Marchesi di Gresy Dolcetto Aribaldo: Beyond the fact that I am an Italophile at heart, I find that Dolcetto is the ideal Thanksgiving wine because its bright acidity and its gorgeous fruit will stand up to the rainbow of flavors of the traditional meal without overwhelming my palate (or my mother's) with excessive tannin. The Marchesi di Gresy single-vineyard Dolcetto is one of our favorites (the photo above was taken at our memaw's house earlier this year in Orange, Texas). You'll find it in Houston for under $25 (Central Market).

10 Thanksgiving Wines (That We Actually Drink)

3. Domaine de la Chanteleuserie Bourgeuil: This one's not so easy to ask for by name but Bourgeuil from the Loire Valley, France (pronounced boo'r-GOY) is one of my all-time favorite wines for Thanksgiving. Made from 100 percent Cabernet Franc, this wine has the bright acidity that I look for, under 13 percent alcohol, and loads of wonderful earthiness and savory flavors. Some folks may be turned off by its vegetal note, but to them I say, take a bite of mashed potatoes and gravy and then take another sip and you'll see why we always have a bottle of this wine in the fridge (Loire Valley Cabernet Franc is traditionally served slightly chilled). You'll find it in Houston for under $20 (Whole Foods Market).

2. Ridge Lytton Springs Zinfandel: I wanted to include at least one higher-end American red in this list, and the Ridge Lytton Springs Zinfandel was a no brainer. Paul Draper, who served as Ridge's winemaker since 1969, is one of the great pioneers of the American wine industry and a champion of chemical-free viticulture in California. He's one of the dudes who made California Zinfandel a true American original and the wines are known for their balanced alcohol and elegance in a field dominated by heavy-handed wines. You'll find the Lytton Springs Zinfandel for under $50 in our market, a great value for the quality of the wine (Spec's, Brix).

1. Produttori del Barbaresco Langhe Nebbiolo: For under $25 a bottle (Spec's), the Langhe Nebbiolo by historical cooperative Produttori del Barbaresco (in the village of Barbaresco, Piedmont) is one of the greatest values in the world of wine today. Made from younger vines and macerated with skin contact for shorter periods than the winery's flagship Barbaresco, this wine -- also made from 100 percent Nebbiolo -- delivers the lip-smacking acidity I need for Thanksgiving with just enough tannin to match well with the fattier dishes on the table. It's one of our favorite wines and you will always find a bottle of it in our cellar at home.

What are you bringing home to drink with your family's Thanksgiving meal? Share your picks in the comments section...

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