To embrace the jumble of flavors of Thanksgiving the wines, whether white or red, should always inhabit the middle register: broad but not flabby, rich but not too rich, fruity and full but not too full, tannic but not too gripping. They have to support like a mattress and give like a cushion.
All of these attributes apply to the wines normally recommended -- Beaujolais, Cotes du Rhône, Chianti, American Zinfandel and Chardonnay -- all perfectly fine selections, but I ask you: why be normal?
Herewith, a selection of Thanksgiving wines that you might not otherwise reach for, which work beautifully with the feast but which happen to inhabit a decidedly alternative universe. Turn the page.
The Loire Valley is best known for Sancerre and Pouilly Fume, wines of exquisite delicacy made with Sauvignon Blanc, and reds from Chinon and Bourgeuil made with Cabernet Franc. But the alternative white -- Chenin Blanc -- is richer and invariably more funky than Sauvignon, and can be a tremendous value from Vouvray, Touraine, and Savennieres.
Among reds, look for this brilliant class of Loire red blends which often employ Cabernet Franc, but also these earthy indigenous varieties like Grolleau and Pineau d'Aunis, which are exotic, sultry, and wild.
2011 Francois Chidaine Touraine
2010 Huet Le Haut Sec Vouvray
2011 Vincent Careme Vouvray
2010 Les Vins Contés (Olivier Lemasson) R11 blend
2011 La Grange Tiphane Ad Libitum Touraine
2011 Olivier Cousin Vin du Pays Grolleau
There has been a modest explosion of domestic wines that skirt the usual Cabernet/Pinot Noir/Chardonnay paradigm, interesting new red and white wines in California worth seeking out. Look for Trousseau Gris among the white wines, a grape variety that originates in the Jura in France and which has a long history in the U.S. Or reacquaint yourself with Marsanne, an unctuous white wine with the breadth and richness to stand up to the feast.
Among reds, seek out Mourvedre, an earthy stalwart being given new life by young winemakers like the minds behind Dirty and Rowdy, who make just this one red wine; or consider Carignane, whose old vines are being revived by several enterprising young winemakers like Alex MacGregor of Trinafour Cellars, and not so young ones, like Bonny Doon's intrepid Randall Grahm.
2011 Jolie Laide Fanucchi Wood Road Vineyard Russian River Valley Trousseau Gris
2010 Qupe Santa Ynez Valley Marsanne
2011 Dirty & Rowdy Santa Barbara Highlands Vineyard Cuyama Valley Mourvedre
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2007 Trinafour Cellars Niemi Vineyard Old Vine Carignane
2011 Bonny Doon Winery Contra Carignane