Carl Grubbs grew up in the shade of grapevines in Livermore, working for the Wente family. Over the years and many long harvest days, he has worked in the vineyard, the cellar, the lab and on the bottling line; he's also been a sales force and a delivery driver. For a period at the end of the last century, he was even the chef at his own place, sadly gone now. Most recently, he has been the wine buyer for some of our favorite restaurants around town.
What to Drink with Thanksgiving Dinner
I was out the other day walking past The Bubble Lounge when it hit me: there was a chill in the air… the holidays are here! Flip-flops and sunscreen are put away, scarves and wool socks are pulled out of the closet. Surf lessons and dreaming of catching a monster wave (and surviving) give way to boarding down a mountain, tears of joy forming into icicles as your friends applaud your freestyle skills. And all the while, every weekend there is yet another reason to eat and drink the end of the year away.
The opening shot is the big stomach stretcher, Thanksgiving. Think of it as training for the holiday parties to come. As the meal centers itself around all things fall, with flavors that tend toward sweet and spicy, the natural wine to drink with dinner is rosé. Rosés come in all styles, colors, and weights, and I think we can all agree that the best are made dry. No Sutter Home on my dinner table.
Champagne rosés tend to be on the expensive side, but one that I find delicious and reasonable is by Veuve Clicquot. Of course there are a handful of domestic sparklers that will do in a pinch: Schramsberg comes to mind.
On the lighter side of still wines, a perennial favorite is the Vin Gris of Pinot Noir from Robert Sinskey. The wine's lightness and fruitiness mesh beautifully with butternut squash and cranberry. The perfect rosé, all bright and fresh, is the Tavel from Château d'Aqueria. Seriously, get a bottle. For dark meat eaters, the one to drink is the Couly-Dutheil, Chinon rosé. An amazingly deep and powerful wine made from Cabernet Franc grown in the Loire Valley.
Other wines that work really well with Thanksgiving are Sauvignon Blancs from Bordeaux and California. The idea here is that Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand or Sancerre can be too lean, too harsh with the acidity, leaving the finish all bitter. Wines from California tend to be a touch riper, fuller, and rounder, while maintaining their crispness, which translates to yummy. Merry Edwards is magical if you can get it (it sells out quickly), otherwise drink Araujo. Better value can be found in Bordeaux. Look for wines from Graves. Many of these wines are blended with Semillon, which gives the wine a melon character and a richer mouth feel.
And let's not forget about Riesling from Alsace and Germany. Rieslings from Alsace are traditionally made drier than those of Germany, although lately with the effects of global warming, the wines are becoming sweeter and sweeter. One of the houses that has maintained a certain sense of this tradition is Trimbach, whose Cuvée Frédéric Emile captures the elegance of Riesling in all its potential. From the German perspective, go out and find double gold-winning Clean Slate, from the Mosel. This wine absolutely nails what Riesling is supposed to taste like, and is inexpensive to boot.
So, what about red wine? The spices used in a "traditional" Thanksgiving dinner (cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg) will render any wine big on tannins and alcohol hot and unpleasantly harsh. I'm thinking of California Cabernet, Zinfandels and Australian Shiraz—avoid these wines. Instead, search out Pinot Noir (I'm sure we're all familiar with a few favorites by now), or Syrah from the Rhone in France. The Syrahs from Crozes Hermitage or St. Joseph have all the expected meatiness and dried-herb qualities, but still drink light enough to not knock you sideways. Alain Graillot or Jean-Louis Chave are the producers to look for.
All this being said, the most important thing to remember is if the wine and the turkey don't complement each other, I say screw it and pour me another glass. Enjoy yourselves, be good to one another, and Happy Thanksgiving!
NOTE: You could find many of these wines at Arlequin Wine Merchant, The Jug Shop, or Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant.