Have you been Robbed of Real Thanksgiving? Here’s an Idea.
(Aussie reds, Italy’s Big Guns and Thanksgiving Wines)
The October 2nd release is chalk full of good wines, just in time for Thanksgiving. But remind me again what are we giving thanks for? Ah yes, the harvest. If you’re feeling contemplative, pour a glass of the superb meditation wine from one of the last great iconoclasts, Giuseppe Quintarelli, the 2001 VALPOLICELLA CLASSICO SUPERIORE DOC $84.95, and come along.
It would seem this quintessentially North American holiday is a relic of the past for most city dwellers, who, like me, are about as connected to the harvest as they are to the oil wells that ultimately fill their gas tanks. Ah! What it must have been like for early settlers to scrape by throughout the year, living off of meager seasonal offerings or preserves, with no mid-winter Peruvian asparagus, Mexican tomatoes or Argentine pears to see them through until the sun returned. By early summer, the hunger for something fresh, something different, the yearning for another colour to shatter the monochromatic monotony of the day-to day menu must have grown as intense, as urgent as thirst in the desert. And in the old world, no stranger to feast and famine, the nearly empty barrels of wine would by now have turned to a piquant, foul liquid redolent of dead fruit and vinegar. Oh the longing for a glass of fresh and cool nouveau wine!
And then, finally the end of summer would draw near, foretold by the massive, glowing harvest moon, promising the long-awaited time when the fields would finally offer up their sustenance un-begrudgingly: a sudden riot of flavours, textures, nutritional elements. It must have been a time of hard physical labor that seemed like no work at all, as every joyful harvester relished the certainty that each bead of sweat and each tired muscle fiber promised a banquet of unequaled proportions, when the community would gather to celebrate another successful year in the cycle of life and survival. How fine that pumpkin, how sweet that corn, how nourishing that turkey must have tasted!
In a strange, even selfish way, especially as I sip the dense and brooding, volcanic 2006 D’ANGELO AGLIANICO DEL VULTURE DOC $18.95, I feel robbed of that intense delight, the inimitable pleasure that can derive only from acute privation followed by temporary satisfaction, made all the more sweet by the awareness of yet more privations ahead. The super-abundance of North American society steals away that pleasure from us, at least from me, a guy who spends most of his life eating and drinking. It’s embarrassing. Thanksgiving becomes yet another gathering, another big meal, another glass of great wine, another cause for stress for the calorie and blood-pressure-conscious. There’s arguably equal monotony in excellence as there is in mediocrity; just look at all of those unhappy individuals who want for nothing yet still crave more. Instead of easing hunger and feeding our families the greatest concern becomes finding the ideal wine match for turkey, or cranberry sauce, or whatever you traditionally serve at your Thanksgiving table. What a thought!
So there. I’ve just resolved to forego wine, in order to restore, even if artificially, what good fortune has stripped from me. A day without wine. I can do it. Just one last glass of the fine value, textbook, 2009 ROUX PÈRE & FILS MÂCON-VILLAGES BLANC AC $13.95. Then after a pause I can get back to the serious enjoyment of eating and drinking and giving thanks.
I’ll look forward to harvest table loaded with a huge range of flavours, textures, condiments and secret family recipes. I won’t stress about which wine, which dish, which guest, which hour. My approach will be to open a bunch of wines, as varied as the spread, and share with my community. But it won’t be just any haphazard collection of wines. This will be a celebration of once-a-year wines. I can’t think of a better time to have something that you don’t have any other time of the year – a real treat. They will be wines that remind me of honest, hard labor, traditional values, of tradition itself, made by hard-working wine growers who’s lively-hood and that of their families depend on the success of a once-a-year harvest event. They will also be wines from unique places, where great wine is made only because nature intended it to be so, not because we’ve figured out how to game the system.
In other words, my special Thanksgiving offerings won’t include wines from irrigated deserts or made from modified vines imported for industrial production. They won’t be wines that taste like they could come from anywhere, like hydroponic lettuce or January strawberries. They won’t be from multinational, publicly-traded companies who’s eyes are fixed on quarterly profits instead of waxing and waning moons, or wines made by absentee hobbyists-owners who got into the business because they like the lifestyle, or at least the idea of it, without having to actually do any of the work themselves. There will be wines like the 2005 BAROLO $44.95 from hands-on perfectionist PAOLO SCAVINO, or the 2006 WYNNS COONAWARRA ESTATE CABERNET SAUVIGNON Coonawarra, South Australia $24.95, with a half century’s worth of fine vintages to prove its worthiness.
The rest of the wines can be saved for the rest of the year when we return to the reality of living the privileged modern life. Thanksgiving for me will be a time to remember the past, to remember how lucky we are, to remember the people both past and present who really do give thanks at harvest, and to be grateful.
Ok, enough flimsy philosophy and on to some solid practical Thanksgiving drinking guidelines:
Primo: The main consideration for Thanksgiving dinner is drinkability: this means wines that are basically dry, lower in tannins and alcohol, higher in acid, and minimally oaked, if at all. After all, these are not short, school night-type dinners-on-the-go. You’ll be hanging about in the home’s epicenter, the kitchen, while the hosts (or you) are busily preparing away, sipping on something fresh and crisp. This could last for hours, since it’s virtually impossible to get a large, multi-dish meal on the table on time unless you’re a Cordon Bleu chef. Even Bourdain has to stop for a smoke break once in a while. So you don’t want to bludgeon the palate with saliva-choking tannins and head-spinning alcohol right off the top. Think 2009 DR. LOOSEN DR. L RIESLING QbA Mosel $13.95 or 2009 QUINTA DOS CARVALHAIS DUQUE DE VISEU WHITE DOC Dão $12.95.
Secondo: Free yourself from the paralyzing distress of finding perfect matches. Loads has been written about the ideal match for Roasted turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, salads, desserts and everything else that is traditionally served at Thanksgiving, giving the spurious impression that such a thing as perfection exists and should be sought. Given this huge range of flavours, what sommelier-genius could possibly find a wine or two that works perfectly across the board? I believe the more versatile the better (see above), and the better the wine, the more thanks you’ll give. Now pass the sweet potatoes and fill my glass.
Terzo: Early evening wines to get chilling include the likes of riesling, un or lightly oaked chardonnay, gruner veltliner, chenin blanc, pinot and gris/grigio from places north of the 40th. If all of your WineAlign followers are coming for dinner then you’ll want to bring out something a little more cutting edge like falanghina or fiano from Campania in Italy, assyrtiko or moscophilero from Greece, albariño from Spain or Portugal, dry furmint from Hungary, or perhaps sparkling wine from Luxembourg, if only to show that you do read our stuff once in a harvest moon.
Quarto: When it’s time to shift into red, the grapes/regions that come to mind as naturally as sunrise brings the thought of coffee include barbera from northern Italy, traditional-style sangiovese from central Italy, pinot noir from cooler zones (Canada, Burgundy, Oregon, New Zealand), vibrant, soft and fruity Spanish reds based on tempranillo, spicy, suave grenache-based southern Rhône reds, herbal and peppery Ontario or Loire Valley cabernet franc, or maybe a plush, sensibly-proportioned malbec from Mendoza. From this release consider: 2008 GEMMA LANGHE ROSSO DOC $13.95, 2007 TRAPICHE BROQUEL CABERNET SAUVIGNON Mendoza $15.95, or the 2008 COLDSTREAM HILLS PINOT NOIR Yarra Valley, South Australia $29.95.
Insider’s wines to consider include reds from Mt. Etna, Sicily, or nebbiolo from the Valtellina north of Milan, elegant versions of blaufränkisch from central Europe, Dâo reds from central Portugal and mencia-based reds from Bierzo, northern Spain. More structured wines with several year’s time in the cellar can be a real treat, too. All of these wines share a common theme of juicy acid or mellow tannins, and spicy berry flavours that are sort of like cranberry sauce being passed around the table. Give these a slight chill, and you can sip, in moderation, all night long, while gratitude is expressed and the conversation flows.
There is a long list of top scoring wines in the October 2nd release, from the twin themes of Aussie Reds and Italy’s Big Guns, as well as in the Top Ten Smart Buys. At the top of the heap is the astonishingly good 2007 ORNELLAIA DOC Bolgheri Superiore $179.95. But if you don’t want to give quite that much thanks, pick a few favorite grapes/regions/producers, and search our database for the best wines that you can afford for your Thanksgiving celebration.
John Szabo, Master Sommelier