10 Perfect Thanksgiving Wines (& One Secret, All-Purpose Pick)

wines for Thanksgiving

If you are like most people, you have yet to purchase your Thanksgiving wines. Not to worry, kemosabe: I gots you covered. Each of these delicious Thanksgiving picks is: 1) American (consistent with the holiday); 2) flavorful and versatile enough for the multiplicity of flavors on the T-Day table; 3) $30 or less (to encourage multiple bottles); 4) not obtrusively oaky or tannic or strange-tasting (i.e., conducive to peacemaking at the table); 5) widely available (i.e., you can get your hands on it):

WHITE:

Duckhorn Sauvignon Blanc 2017 $28 (Napa): 
Pretty tropical scents on the nose and a mouth-cleansing lemony crispness on the palate and enduring finish. Not aggressively grassy/herbal-scented like many versions of Sauvignon Blanc.

K Vintners Art Den Hoed Viognier 2016 $27 (Washington State): 
Bewitching hints of peach and honeysuckle rise from the glass, with the wine’s lively acidity ready to take on every cranberry, yammy bite of your feast.

Morgan Metallico Unoaked Chardonnay $25 (Monterey, CA): 
No one will cry “butter bomb” when you serve this minerally Chardonnay, its medium-to-full weight and lemon-pineapple-pear personality a fast friend to turkey and all the trimmings.

RED:

A to Z Wineworks Pinot Noir “The Essence Of Oregon” 2015 $28 (Oregon):
Evocative of cherry, smoke, and a touch vanilla, it is a heftier-style Oregon Pinot that keeps it fresh with mouthwatering vibrancy.

Ancient Peaks Merlot 2016 $20 (Paso Robles):
Leave it to California’s sun-drenched Paso Robles to foster this velvety, flavorful affair, its price blissfully restrained for the intensity of black fruit, savory herbs, and toastiness it offers.

Chateau Ste Michelle Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley Indian Wells 2015 $20 (Washington State):
Blackcurranty and tobacco-tinged, with silky smoothness but enough underlying zest to keep the table invigorated.

Dashe Cellars Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley 2015 $20 (Sonoma):
It is never out of fashion to drink the uniquely American grape, Zinfandel, on Thanksgiving, and this one will not clobber you with alcohol like some Zins. It is medium-to-full-bodied with a raspberry and clove personality.

L’Ecole 41 Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley 2015 $28 (Washington State):
Rich and plummy, with hints of licorice and a long finish. It seduced the entire table on a recent visit to a New York steakhouse.

The Paring Pinot $30 (Sta Rita Hills, CA):
A fine effort from Santa Barbara County, its black fruit silky, smoky, and savory, able to meld seamlessly with the crispy skin of your turkey and all manifestations of stuffing.

Le P’tit Paysan “Le P’tit Pape” 2015 $20 (Central Coast):
Although its label features a drawing of a rooster facing down a p’tit pape or “little pope” (see photo above), there is no need to limit this savory red blend to that type of poultry. It is a medium-bodied charmer bristling with red fruit, herbs, and a pleasing earthiness.

ONE SECRET, ALL-PURPOSE PICK:

While I usually recommend including both whites and reds at the Thanksgiving table, if you are seeking just one fail-safe, all-purpose choice, go for a rosé sparkling wine like the Gloria Ferrer Brut Rosé Carneros NV (Sonoma). It’s got everything: American (check), versatile (made from almost equal parts Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, it is rich enough for dark meat and gravy); fairly priced ($28); immensely likable (beautiful perfume of rose petals and raspberries, with plenty of zingy crispness); and in ample supply (Gloria Ferrer is everywhere). Moreover, the bubbles are cleansing, and, of course, celebratory, and it is an eye-opening choice for those unaccustomed to drinking sparkling wine with their big bird.

What Would Be Your Goodbye Wine?

I recently wrote of my experience this past July 4th drinking what I believe to be the best wine ever made, a 1962 La Tâche from Domaine de la Romanée-Conti (also known as “DRC”), which was shared by my dear friend Burt who happened to be one of the world’s great wine collectors. What I did not get to mention was that Burt was suffering with a terminal illness. Although his health had steadily worsened over the past few years, neither his family nor I envisioned that a mere two months after the La Tâche dinner we would be attending his memorial. The 1962 La Tâche, it turns out, was his goodbye wine.

The story, however, is not as sad as it sounds, as Burt and the way he approached wine serves as a reminder of why we winos are so drawn to the vintner’s art. He epitomized what I think of as a wine lover’s special spirit of generosity, an impulse for sharing that is inherently encouraged by the happy fact that one bottle contains multiple servings.

To declare Burt a sharer, however, is like characterizing a lion as a cat: technically correct but vastly understating the scope. Over many years, I watched how in his unassuming, courtly way, he would share glasses of his priceless wine with everyone from captains of industry and former U.S. Secretaries of State to grateful waiters, maître d’s, even occasionally a curious coat check attendant. If there was wine left over after a restaurant meal, he would quietly send the unfinished bottles of mythical wine back to the entire kitchen, much to their gleeful astonishment. I still can hear the jubilant roar that emanated from the kitchen of a Palo Alto Greek restaurant when a half dozen half-full treasures were sent back to the chef and his team. Sharing brought Burt great pleasure; he did not talk about it, but it registered on his face.

Conan O'Brien, fan of wine from 1963
Conan O’Brien, Vintage 1963

Burt also thought big. He was the only collector I have known who would buy the world’s greatest dessert wine, Château d’Yquem, in a discombobulatingly swollen six-liter size, which looked like a golden battering ram and telegraphed not just generosity but the intent to provision a small army. He was so legendary that one day when we were at an event, Conan O’Brien sought him out because he had heard that Burt had opened a rare bottle of vintage port that happened to be from Conan’s birth year, 1963. Burt, then almost 80-years-old and happily oblivious to all facets of pop culture, poured Conan a healthy glass having no idea of whom he was except for his unusual name.

“Mark, this is Conan,” Burt said matter-of-factly as he introduced me to the 6’4″ comedian. I shook Conan’s hand, looked up — way up — in the direction of Conan’s ginger bouffant, and assured the comedian that I was a big fan.

With Burt’s outsized magnanimity, it was easy to think that the 1962 La Tâche we had as just another sublime bottle. In retrospect, however, there were subtle signals that suggested otherwise. About a year ago, his oenophilic grandson took me aside and made an observation that only a true grape nut would appreciate. He noticed that his grandfather, without announcing it, was no longer just sharing world-class Burgundies from excellent vintages but producing long line-ups of such wine from legendary vintages such as 2005, 1990, and 1985. An intensely private man, Burt would never tell you about how far his illness had progressed, but his choice of wine did.

An intensely private man, Burt would never tell you about how far his illness had progressed, but his choice of wine did.

Echézeaux line-up
A murderers’ row of Echézeaux.

Indeed, with unspoken urgency, in the days leading up to the 1962 La Tâche there were dinners with dazzling bottles set up like bowling pins, each of these nights focusing on a particular grand cru vineyard of Burgundy. First there was a repast with 10 bottles of Richebourg from the likes of DRC, Méo-Camuzet, and Leroy. Two nights later we experienced a murderers’ row of Echézeaux, an eye-popping 11 bottles in total, featuring the producers Henri Jayer, DRC, Dujac, and Emmanuel Rouget.

incredible 2005 Bonnes Mares Dujac goodbye bottle
Dujac Bonnes-Mares at Howie’s Pizza, Palo Alto.

Displaying his trademark disregard for pretension, Burt held a third gathering at a highway pizzeria, where at a table outside amid the ruckus of a child’s birthday party and the zoom of cars, he produced a chorus line of the world’s best Bonnes-Mares.

These dinners culminated with the night we gathered around the big, beautiful 1962 La Tâche. In his understated way, this was Burt’s pièce de résistance, his capstone to decades of swirling and sharing the best. True to his analytical, Stanford Ph.D. mind, his selection that night followed a kind of mathematical precision by maximizing every factor in the vinous equation: producer (DRC), vineyard (La Tâche), year (1962), and bottle type (an ultra-rare, slower-aging 3-liter). Though I did not realize it at the time, this was Burt’s way of saying farewell through wine.

Not only did Burt personify the spirit of generosity that surrounds wine, but his indefatigable embrace of it spoke volumes about how we wine lovers might face our own mortality. Whereas many of those in the late stages of a terminal disease would understandably retreat to a corner, he instead choose to be among people, eating delicious food, drinking sublime wine, and basking in the special bonhomie that happens, almost magically, at the table. It did not matter that he was in a wheelchair and tethered to an oxygen tank; he sought to be in the mix. In doing so he exemplified the spirit which draws so many of us to the epicurean experience — that feeling of fellowship and satiety of the soul that brings us closer, however briefly, to what it truly means to live.

La Tache 1962

 

How to Return Wine to the Store

Did you know you can return wine to the store?  Not because you didn’t like it, but if it suffers from cork taint, which is that moldy, wet newspaper smell that affects about 5% of wines. This happened last week when I opened a $130 bottle of the white Bordeaux Château Pape Clément I that had purchased for a bespoke seminar series I am doing for clients.

Since we couldn’t drink it, I poured a tiny bit out and passed it around the room – a perfect instructional tool for demonstrating “corked wine”.

The next day I took the nearly-full bottle back to Sherry-Lehmann Wine & Spirits, where the manager smelled the wine and immediately issued a refund.

“I hope it didn’t ruin your night,” the manager said warmly, handing me the return receipt.

The wine store will likely not be stuck with the bad wine, either, as the wine’s distributor or producer will often take it back.

The bottom line is that corked wine happens no matter how illustrious the wine or the merchant, but there is recourse.

return wine to store

’62 La Tache, ’37 Yquem, &…a $15 Santa Barbara Sauvignon Blanc? My Picks Revealed on Grape Nation Radio

Grape Nation Mark Oldman

A few weeks ago I appeared on Sam Benrubi ‘s Grape Nation radio show on Heritage Radio. He asked a slew of incisive questions, and I revealed a cornucopia of personal favorites. Sam’s transcript of the Q&A segment is below, with my commentary in brackets. The full broadcast can be found here.

“Mark gives us some Billion Dollar recos for our weekly Wine List:

1. What are you drinking now– Viognier, a rich white with less oak than Chardonnay, [as well as the French version called] Condrieu from the Northern Rhone. Also [what Mark calls “Low Buzz Pioneers”] from the Napa Valley like Chappellet WineryRobert Mondavi Winery & Beringer Vineyards.

2. Favorite wine and food pairing- pancakes & Chateau d’Yquem, rose Champagne [esp. Dom Pérignon rose] with spareribs.

3. Favorite wine restaurant and/or bar-Aquagrill, NYC stands the test of time with a smart seafood wine list. Also Bâtard, NYC & A.O.C. Wine Bar and Restaurant in LA. Dawat Indian in NYC has an affordable BYOB policy with heavenly samosas, great with sparkling wine.

4. Favorite all-time wine- find generous friends with great taste in wine. ’62 & ’78 La Tache, ’59 Henri Jayer Richebourg, a ’37 d’Yquem & Brander Sauvignon Blanc from Santa Barbara, CA [enjoyed on a picnic bench at the winery with freshly caught trout shared by the owner].

5. Best wine around 15 bucks Red & White- Red, Portuguese reds, like Quinta do Crasto’s Douro Flor de Crasto. White, of course Muscadet, and Verdejo from Rueda, Spain.

For our “Weekly Wine Sip” Mark brought in the most interesting wine of this segment, a 2005 Volnay Burgundy from the private collection of Geddy Lee, lead singer & bassist from RUSH. Geddy purchased barrels at the 2005 Hospice de Beaune in France. The full name of the wine is 2005 Hospices de Beaune Volnay 1er Cru Santenots Cuvée Jéhan de Massol Lucien Le Moine pour Geddy Lee.”

Full Grape Nation interview is here.

The Five Stages of Opening a Priceless La Tache

La Tache from Domaine de la Romanee Conti

It is not often that one gets to uncork and drink one of wine’s undisputed treasures. When a friend recently shared a 1983 La Tache from the mythical producer Domaine de La Romanée-Conti, I wondering if I was up to the daunting task of unleashing this priceless wine.  See the video to see how it went.

The rest of the wines this night were equally stunning,  and most were from 1983, including the entire red portfolio of Domaine de La Romanée-Conti, 35 years in the making.

2014 Marius Delarche Corton-Charlemagne

1983 DRC Echezeaux

1983 DRC Grands-Echezeaux

1983 DRC Romanee-St.Vivant

1983 DRC Richebourg

1983 DRC La Tache

1983 DRC Romanee-Conti

1983 Joseph Drouhin Chambertin

1983 Mommessin Clos de Tart

'14 Marius Delarche Corton-Charlemagne '66 DRC Romanee-Conti magnum A Rudy bottle, almost certainly fake; pink capsule! 1983 DRC Echezeaux 1983 DRC Grands-Echezeaux 1983 DRC Romanee-St.Vivant 1983 DRC Richebourg 1983 DRC La Tache 1983 DRC Romanee-Conti 1983 Joseph Drouhin Echezeaux 1983 Joseph Drouhin Chambertin 1983 Mommessin Clos de Tart