Bright red fruits and lighter-bodied reds – Gamay from Burgundy and the Loire — an herbaceous cool-climate Cabernet Franc from Canada, a Pinot Noir from the Willamette Valley in Oregon, and two wines from the Italian Piedmont, a slightly frizzante Pelaverga and a modest red blend from a maker better known for Barolo, headline our wine picks for Thanksgiving.
For whites, the suggestions were exceedingly diverse – lesser known white varietals including a Verdicchio from the boot of Italy and an Arneis from Italy’s Piedmont, both known to finish with a flavor of almonds, an Albariño from Galicia in Spain, a Chenin Blanc from Washington and 50-50 blend of Pinot Gris and Viognier from California’s San Bernardino mountains.
We reached out to Ken Turcotte, owner of The Divine Wine Emporium in Niantic, Janine Sacco, wine and spirits director for The Wine Thief of Madison, and Joe Dolce, sommelier and general manager for The Madison Wine Exchange for their advice picking wines costing less than $35 for the Thanksgiving holiday, with most settling into a sweet spot of $15 to $25.
The least expensive, a $13 red from Domaine Les Hautes Nöelles in the Loire, Sacco describes as an easy-drinking “playful” expression of Gamay – the grape best known for Beaujolais – that “explodes from the glass with strawberry, raspberry, and Bing cherry layered with hints of allspice and minerals.” She recommends this one slightly chilled – 15 to 20 minutes in the refrigerator.
For her second pick, Sacco suggested a medium-bodied 2017 Cave Spring Cabernet Franc from the Niagara Escarpment in Canada at $22, a food friendly varietal, which she calls the country cousin of Cabernet Sauvignon, with “silky tannins,” and “ripe raspberry and red currant” aromatics, “hints of Assam tea and sage.”
We can’t say we’re at all surprised by the later choice, after a few days drinking wine in nearby upstate New York this summer, where all the excitement for the first time seemed to surround the cool-climate Cabernet Franc.
At $24, Turcotte chose a 2019 Willamette Valley Vineyards Whole Cluster Pinot Noir from Oregon, which he said was lighter than most Pinot Noirs from Oregon because of carbonic maceration, a method fermentation, and “packed with ripe red fruit and cranberry.”
As his second pick, Turcotte suggested a 2018 Louis Latour Bourgogne Gamay for about $20. It’s a wine, Turcotte said, that blends 85% Gamay grapes from Beaujolais and 15% Pinot Noir grapes from the Burgundy area above Beaujolais resulting in what he describes as “fruit packed with flavors that are fresh and bright along with low tannins. The addition of the Pinot Noir adds cherry notes and adds nice depth to the mid palette and finish.”
Dolce, for Madison Wine Exchange, following the dictum that a Thanksgiving wine should have richness without overpowering tannins, recommended a 2016 Melrose Parker Pinot Noir from Oregon’s Umpaqua Valley for $18, a “lush wine, packed with ripe cherry fruit and enough backbone to carry it with the dark meat.”
As their second wine, Dolce suggested a 2016 Le Meurger, Moulin-a-Vent, an “ever so drinkable” Cru Beaujolais with a “pronounced nose full of raspberry,” for $22.
Our own suggestion, a 2019 Fratelli Alessandria “Speziale” Pelaverga, Verduno at $28 is ever so slightly frizzante with bright acidity, giving us a bit of the life and fun of a sparkler, but with flavors of strawberry, rosehips, thyme and red raspberry. A crowd friendly wine, with or without food, that will please the wine geeks.
As our second wine, we chose a 2018 Paolo Scavino Vino Rosso, at $16 an easy drinking red blend from Italy’s Piedmont, with just enough Nebbiolo character – licorice and floral on the nose – to keep it interesting and enough fruit and richness, and modest tannins, to please casual wine drinkers. A great value wine.
Our recommendations for white wines — everything from Verdicchio, Arneis and Albariño to Chenin Blanc and a blend of Pinot Gris and Viognier – are instructive if perhaps only for pointing every which way except toward Chardonnay, long the most popular white wine in the United States.
Turcotte chose two.
A 2018 Valley of the Moon blend of Pinot Gris and Viognier for about $18 which he described as combining “the floral tones of Pinto Gris” and the “mid-range flavor brought out by the honeysuckle nuances of the Viognier grape.”
And as his wildcard, he suggested a 2018 Paitin Elisa Arneis – what he described as an “obscure” grape from the Piedmont with that is “crisp and floral, dry with a slight almondy finish” for about $25.
Sacco suggested another lesser-known Italian grape, Verdicchio, this time from the Marche district in southern Italy, a 2017 Pievalta Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico Superiore for $16, with “bold aromatics of crunchy green apple, Bartlett pear, lime zest, fresh spring flowers and a whiff of acacia honey” with a “touch of roasted Marcona almond” on the finish.
For a white, Dolce recommended a 2019 Old Vine Chenin Blanc from L’Ecole #41 Winery in Washington State at about $17, combining “mouthwatering acidity” to cut through the richness of the meal and “wonderful pear and stone fruit character” that plays better with white meat and lighter dishes, but can still “hold up to all the flavors of the day.”
Our suggestion, a 2019 Bodegas del Palacio de Fefiñanes Albariño from Spain at $20, nicely balances a slightly fuller-bodied style that’s racy, but not tart, with key lime giving way to hints of brine. It’s the sort of wine that will work well against the richness of stuffing, roast turkey or shucked oysters, but will also appeal to guests who might otherwise ask for Chardonnay.
If you’re looking for a little something different, Sacco suggested as her wildcard serving a Sake from Yamaguchi, Japan. Taka Brewery’s “Noble Arrow” Tokubetsu Junmai. A “Sake for wine drinkers,” is how she describes it, with “a big bold nose of sweet citrus, musk melon and hints of fresh herbs” and minerality “that has more in common with the great wines of Sancerre or Chablis than any other sake.” It retails for $34.