Once again, the holiday season is upon us, and with that, lists and lists of wine recommendations. The suggestions are getting to be more adventurous - recommending Syrah or Gerwurztraminer make. But I kind of cringe at the lists that endorse wines other than American wines. It's not like there's not enough US made wines that fit the bill. This is the time to drink American.
Over and over, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are the most common picks. Pinot I get. It's a food friendly wine, nice and light with soft tannins, but with good acidity to cut through the rich turkey and gravy, sweet potato casseroles and cranberry sauce that we all find on our holiday tables. Chardonnay is a harder wine to successfully pair up. Many American Chards are still big oak and butter bombs. That overwhelms just about any dish. Besides, I think it is boring to drink the same kinds of wines over and over and over again. So don't drink Pinot and Chardonnay. Be adventurous and drink these wines instead.
Whenever there's a crowd gathered for a holiday meal, it's a good idea to have both white and red wines on offer. The best of both worlds? A Rosé. And what better way to kick off the dinner than with a glass full of pink bubbles. Mumm Napa's Brut Rosé ($24) is the perfect sparkling wine for Thanksgiving. Think strawberries, plum and cherry. The color and the bubbles make it festive. This is a wine you can drink throughout the entire meal, from appetizers to dessert.
For white wine lovers, Chenin Blanc and Pinot Gris are great alternatives to Chardonnay. Chappellet makes a terrific Chenin and the 2011 vintage ($30) is full of lush tropical fruit, with a floral nose and lots of lemon for good vibrancy. I also like J Vineyards Pinot Gris ($15). This wine from a sparkling wine house has a soft, rich mouthfeel, some tropical fruit and white floral aromas.
Another white wine that I love for Thanksgiving is just being released. Johan Vineyards in Oregon makes an absolutely amazing Gruner Veltliner ($24). I tasted it at the winery this summer and fell in love with it. I was surprised to learn that the 2011 is their first vintage of Gruner. The nose is perfumy, with white flowers and lime. The winemaker uses native yeasts, and does a cold soak of the wine with the skins for three days. It's an interesting technique and it makes for a very interesting, rich and complex wine.
When it comes to red wines for Thanksgiving, this year I'll be reaching for Grenache and Cabernet Franc. I have two Grenache picks: Mathis and Austin Hope. The only wine Peter Mathis makes is his namesake Grenache ($30) from the Sonoma Valley. It's aromatic with fruitiness and spice, has a nice round body and good finish. It's the lighter of the two. The Austin Hope Grenache ($42) is from Paso Robles and has lots of red fruit aroma and flavors, with a little bit of spice.
For Cabernet Franc, two wines also come to mind. One is the Signorello Estate Cabernet Franc ($53), which I recently tasted at the winery. You'll have to buy direct from the winery in Napa Valley as they made only a small amount in 2009. This glass is full of candied violets and is earthy, with some smokiness.
The other Cab Franc is "Inkblot" from Michael David Winery in Lodi, CA ($35). It's deeply hued (just like an ink blot), with lots of black fruit and a hint of tobacco.
While I think Zinfandel, that all American grape (even though its roots trace back to Croatia) is too heavy for the main meal, I very much like a late harvest Zinfandel with pumpkin or pecan pie. Late harvest means the grapes are picked much later and much much riper so that the wine is a bit sweet and concentrated. Dashe Cellars makes a terrific single vineyard late harvest Zin, the 2008 Lilly Hill Vineyard ($24 / 375 ml), from Dry Creek Valley. Complex and intense, with notes of dried blackberry, violets and chocolate. It's a great ending to another bountiful Thanksgiving feast.