My over-arching advice for Thanksgiving wines is to cap your price ceiling at $25 (unless, of course, you're celebrating over turkey for two with your significant other). Thanksgiving wines should be easy, approachable, accessible. The emphasis should be on drinkability (that's wine speak for "quaffability") and food-friendliness. And hey, let's be honest here, memaw's probably not going to appreciate that single-vineyard designated Burgundy that you picked up for $50.
All the wines in this Top 5 list cost under $25 and are easy to find in the Houston market. I've provided links to retailers where I know they're available but you should be able to find them at a wide range of outlets here in the city.
5. Château Puygueraud 2008 Côtes de Bordeaux Francs
My number five pick for this year's Thanksgiving is this wonderful wine from the Côtes de Bordeaux by one of its leading producers, Château Puygueraud. It's made primarily from Merlot with a smaller amount Cabernet Franc (just like the wines made in the much more famous appellation Saint-Émilion, which lies literally a stone's throw away to the west on the right bank of Bordeaux). But I could have just as easily recommended the entire Côtes de Bordeaux appellation: It represents extreme value for the quality and earnestness of the wines and the wines are readily available in our market generally for between $15 to $25. You can find the Puygueraud at Spec's and Richard's for around $20.
4. Argyle 2009 Willamette Pinot Noir
Willamette Valley, Oregon is another appellation that I reach for when I'm looking for great value and food-friendliness. The entry-tier Argyle weighs in for around $20 and always delivers the lip-smacking, wholesome fruit and acidity that I crave. But there are so many other great expressions of Willamette Pinot Noir widely available in our market. Argyle also makes a great Champagne-method wine and their flagship labels are also worth seeking out. You should be able to find the wine at a number of retailers (including some higher-end supermarkets in Houston). But Spec's will have it for sure.
3. Mt. Eden 2009 Chardonnay Wolff Vineyard
A lot of people will be surprised to find this gently oaky and judiciously buttery Chardonnay from the Santa Cruz Mountains in California. I'm not a fan of the California-style of Chardonnay in general but I recently tasted this wine and was wholly impressed by its elegance, balance and minerality. Personally, I prefer more acidity in my wine (and in Chardonnay in particular). But this wine has a place on my Thanksgiving table for those who prefer a softer expression of this noble grape variety. With its proximity to the ocean and its gorgeous rolling hills, the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA has ideal conditions for growing French grape varieties. Steep slopes, high elevation, and maritime influence help the growers to deliver wines with fresh aromas and flavors, depth and character. Look for this wine for around $20 at Spec's.
2. Pieropan 2010 Soave
I wrote about this fantastic wine earlier this year after I discovered that Kroger on Buffalo Speedway carries it for $14. Hey, I recognize that I'm biased when it comes to Italian wine: It's the category that I'm the most passionate about and it's what I mainly collect. But when it comes to the variety of foods served at the Thanksgiving feast, and the urgent need for food friendliness (high acidity, low alcohol, earnest fruit), Italy can't be beat for its value and approachability, especially in a fresh, mineral-driven wine like this one.
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1. Laimburg 2008 Shiava
Even though this wine is grown and raised within Italy's national borders, it's actually produced by German-speakers in the semi-autonomous region of South Tyrol (Alto Adige), where the cuisine and culture are more closely related to the legacy of the Austro-Hungarian empire than Italian gastronomic traditions. I'd never tasted this amazing wine until I spied a bottle earlier this year in Marcy Jimenez' Italian selection at the Houston Wine Merchant. It has that perfect balance of lightness in body and depth of flavor that is key to a great Thanksgiving pairing: It doesn't weigh your palate down with overly intense character but it delivers the bright fruit and refreshing acidity that you need, especially when you're eating the heavy foods of this all-American holiday. For around $25, its value can't be beat.