I know lately I’ve been the champion of budget wines. But that wasn’t always the way. When you work in the business you don’t really think about that $25 wine being a special occasion bottle. It more of a “Mmmmm . . . I’m in the mood for . . . that one!” kinda thing. It doesn’t mean that the under-$10 is what I prefer to drink. If I was in a higher income bracket, or if my ratio of income vs. expenses shifted significantly in the other direction, I’d love to be dropping a lot more on spectacular bottles each week. That’s not the case, but I still remember some of my favorites that are now the “special occasion” wines. This week we do have a special occasion.
It’s that time of year when many people are thinking of what would make the perfect accompaniment to the Thanksgiving meal. Quite a few people have already decided on their favorites or dusted things off from the cellar. Other folks, for varying reasons, have opted for quantity, depending on their family situations and corresponding holiday arrangements. But then others might still need a nudge in the right direction. Choosing the wine that will go with your traditional turkey or ham can be a task, and there are plenty of resources out there that will dissect it all into a science or try to sell you something.
For this holiday, because it’s a feast, it purportedly about matching food with wine. It can be a daunting task, but it’s not really all that tricky. If you get something you already like, then it doesn’t really matter how well it goes with the food. If entertaining more than just yourself, get something everyone will like. If you and everybody you know want to drink Chardonnay all night, so be it. It’s not uncouth in the slightest, and frankly, white wines do pair well with poultry. However, there are many reasons and situations when it is better to choose the wine to compliment the food and not the guests. And there’s something to be said for adventurousness, too. There are a vast number of classic recommendations, but here are some of my favorites.
The Brick House Gamay Noir, hailing from our own home state of Oregon, is my premiere pick for the Thanksgiving table for the last 6 or 7 years years running. Gamay is the grape used in France’s Beaujolais, and is not very common anywhere else. There is only a smattering of it in Oregon and I love what they’re doing with it. The Oregon climate is apparently comparable to Beaujolais, if a bit warmer. The Brick House Gamay, in particular, is proof of what some attention and love can produce with this totally underrated grape. I heard rumor a few years back that one of the oldest Gamay vineyards in Oregon was going to be plowed under to plant more Chardonnay. I’m not sure which vineyard or who owned it, but to me that’s like razing down a Victorian castle to build a strip mall.
The Brick House Gamay is lush and juicy without being over the top, and features the subtle, delicate flavors appealing in Beaujolais. Many people love Pinot Noir for the turkey pairing, but I’ll take this over the other any day of the week. Especially this week. Unfortunately, it’s a limited bottling every year, and so it sells out quickly. I’ve found that this wine benefits from a year in the bottle, if you’re the patient sort that can wait around for a year. I can’t tell you if it does better after two years since I’ve never seen it hang around that long. As if this delicious wine wasn’t joy enough, any festive occasion with this label on the table will eventually erupt into raucus choruses of that Commodores song. You know the one. No. Not “Superfreak”, that’s Rick James. Don’t make me spell it out for you.
Two more of my favorites from years past hail from the Beaujolais region. There’s the Guy Breton Morgon and the Lapierre Morgon, both brought in by importer Kermit Lynch, whose wines are always a safe bet. Morgon is one of the cru appellations within Beaujolais and is my favorite. If you remember from two paragraphs ago, the grape involved here is also Gamay, so you may be sensing a theme in my favorites, here. It’s been a few years since I’ve had either, but I remember them both as classic, European-styled (naturally) wines. The Guy Breton had more of a spiced, earthy tones while the Lapierre had lighter, fruitier tones with a more bracing acidity. But that’s coming from memory. If you have a hard time recalling the region’s name for when you go to the store to get it, remember: When there isn’t any more, then it’s gone. Get it? More-gone? Ah, never mind.
Those are my favorite picks, but if you’re still looking for advice, Pinot Noir can be a safe bet, although an expensive one. I also find a great food wine is Italy’s Barbera d’Asti and Barbera d’Alba, but tend to avoid the Sangiovese-based Chianti and the like. In the past I’ve had luck with Lambrusco, if you can get over the impressions left on the brand from the 70s. Then there’s the whites. I think most whites would work, but the full-bodied ones seem to work best. Chardonnay, Viognier, and Oregon Pinot Gris are top picks, but there are few places you could go wrong.
I wish you the best of luck, and a happy, or at the very least, tolerable, Thanksgiving Holiday!