Thursday, November 12, 2009

Wine for Thanksgiving Dinner

Thanksgiving dinner is a grazer’s dream but a challenge in terms of figuring out what wine to serve. Plus, from Mom’s marshmallow topped sweet potatoes, to Grandma’s stuffing to Dad’s turkey it’s loaded with tradition. If you’re tasked with bringing the wine, these factors can make it somewhat intimidating.

The right Thanksgiving wines will work well with a wide array of flavors and textures but won’t overwhelm the dishes. It also pays to seek out wines that aren’t too tannic or too high in alcohol. The wine selection can become a tradition as well. Bring the next vintage of the same wines each year. If you make it a tradition, it has to be consistently well-made wine to which everyone welcomes. Most importantly, Thanksgiving is a celebration, a time for fun and bringing people together – so have fun with your wine choices, but plan what you want to bring so you’re not scrambling last minute at the wine shop. I won’t tell you how many bottles my family went through last year for fear of cautionary letters of concern, but suffice it to say, I’m glad we planned ahead.


I sincerely hope the days of poorly misunderstood Riesling’s bad rap are over. The high acidity is perfect for cutting through an item’s richness while the light body doesn’t overwhelm the dish. A slightly off-dry version makes it nearly universally pleasing. If you haven’t added a quality Riesling to your must-haves list, I implore you try it.

Dr. Konstantin Frank, Riesling Semi-Dry, 2008, Finger Lakes, NY ($15)

Willamette Valley Vineyards, Riesling, 2007, Willamette Valley, Oregon ($11)

Pinot Noir

Another favorite go-to wine for Thanksgiving is Pinot Noir, again for its amenable style. Save medium-bodied, elegant versions for the dinner table and drink heavier, fruit-forward types as an aperitif.

-MacMurray Ranch, Pinot Noir, 2007, Sonoma Coast, CA ($24)

-Girasole Vineyards, Pinot Noir, 2008, Mendocino, CA ($11)


The Classic red wine to have with Thanksgiving Dinner is a Zinfandel. Although potentially Croatian by origin, Zinfandel has become a distinctly American grape appropriate for this quintessential American holiday. This is a rich, zesty, peppery red wine, not to be confused with White Zinfandel. Make sure the wine isn’t too high in alcohol, which is often the case with Zins from California.

Rancho Zabaco, Reserve Zinfandel, 2007, Dry Creek Valley, CA ($24)

Ridge, Pagani Ranch Zinfandel, 2007, Sonoma Valley, CA ($30)

Cabernet Sauvignon

While not inexpensive, a Cabernet Sauvignon with a few years of age (if not more) can be a wonderful wine to add as a holiday tradition. Its tannins have somewhat mellowed out while the rich flavors and structure still shine. These are “special occasion” wines that truly celebrate the generosity of the holiday.

Louis M. Martini, Monte Rosso Cabernet Sauvignon, 2005, Sonoma Valley, CA ($85)

Robert Keenan, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2004, Napa Valley, CA ($45)

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How to Pick a Summer Wine: The Gentler, Lighter Side of Wine

Summer’s soaring temps beg you to step away from heavy Cabernets and check out the gentler, lighter side of wine. When choosing the perfect summer wine for your outdoor engagement party or wedding, think light, crisp, refreshing--and because people tend to drink more in the heat--lower in alcohol. Nothing more prettily suggests summer than a dry (i.e. not sweet) rose. Avoid the simple, syrupy versions and try French roses from the Mourvèdre grape or roses made using the Saignee method for more complexity. Pick wines from countries where you imagine the locals sipping leisurely at sidewalk cafés while basking in the sun, like Spain. A Spanish fave is Albarino from the Rias Baixas region. Made to drink young, Albarino is a crisp, white wine with intense fruit, lively acidity and generally a lower level of alcohol. It pairs perfectly with summer foods from seafood to grilled vegetables. But you don’t need to swear off red wine for summer. Look for light bodied wines like Pinot Noir from Oregon or a Valpolicella from Italy, both capable of standing up to barbequed foods. And don’t be afraid to put a slight chill on your red wine. It is summer after all!

Rías Baixas Albariño from Spain, “Exceptional with Everything” Oh Really?

There's nothing we love more than a challenge. It's in our makeup. We're two women, thirties. One Indian. One Filipina. The first, founder and CEO of a business in the arguably male-dominated wine world. The second, building experience to be a future proprietess of a wine store. Add to this: In New York City. So when presented with the opportunity to play wine and food critic for a night—to pair Rías Baixas Albariño wines, proclaimed to be "exceptional with everything" with Mercat’s offerings —it is impossible and simply against every ounce of who we are, to refuse.

Mercat means “market” in Catalan, the language of the northern Spanish region where owner, Jaime Reixach, is from and where the restaurant’s menu draws its inspiration. The albariños we’ll be drinking also originate from the northern region, and so we’re already anticipating more perfect wine pairings than tragic mismatches.

It’s a beautiful warm Thursday night—and we are tasting two Albariño wines: Alba Rosa from Martinez Serrantes and Pazo San Mauro, both 2006 vintages. We take our time with each wine—assessing them alone and then side by side. At the end, we agree that both are delightful: the Alba Rosa is sparkling with surprising depth while the Pazo San Mauro would bring life to our springtime picnic. Further, we imagine that if each wine were to be personified, they might just be these two ladies, described as such:

Alba Rosa Martinez Serantes Albariño | Scarlett Johansson: "Sparkling with surprising depth"

Alba Rosa Martinez Serantes Albariño | Scarlett Johansson: "Sparkling with surprising depth"
This golden blonde hued wine gives an almost effervescent quality that shoots racy brightness into your mouth. It has the usual grassiness and citrus qualities one expects from this wine. The reason why this wine fits Scarlett most is because it has the quality of lightness but comes with surprising depth of character and fullness in body. The comparison would be perfect were the wine to show great legs, but its light-bodied, lower alcohol nature doesn’t allow it.

Pazo San Mauro Albariño | Cameron Diaz: “Livens up your springtime picnic”

Pazo San Mauro Albariño | Cameron Diaz: “Livens up your springtime picnic”
Cameron would be a fun addition to any springtime outing. Her lightheartedness would make everyone smile and this wine does the same. The light yellow straw color gives way to granny smith apples, peaches, melon, and citrus scents that jump at your nose, smelling like springtime in a glass. This wine begs to be explored further. The crisp and pleasantly tart apple is balanced with pear and makes it the perfect brunch wine.
Now, we move on to the heart of our challenge: Exceptional with everything? Oh really? How do these two beauties handle themselves in company? After the three and a half hours of glorious sipping, chewing, and chatting, among ourselves and the restaurant staff, here are our findings:

No surprise, our lovely wines get along splendidly with their classic and traditional partners: we have raves for the nicely seasoned patatas bravas—not too spicy, not too garlicky—and the padrones/blistered shishito peppers, the char and oil offset by the tartness of the wines. One of us goes wild for the Canelons de Verdura/eggplant wrapped spring vegetables, manchego, and cranberry reduction. And then Chef Lowder sends over Trencat d’Ous/mushroom with salsa verde topped with a fried egg, which again, goes splendidly with our wines. Even the suckling pig/Cochinillo, which we think will surely clash, in fact becomes the surprise of the evening. Like the beauty and the beast, our wines and the pig make an unlikely but harmonious pair.

We ask ourselves for the last time: Rías Baixas Albariño from Spain: Exceptional with Everything?

If not for being the gluttonous bottomless pits that we are, we would certainly have answered YES with an exclamation point. But since we order those two desserts—Torrades Sta. Teresa/fried bread with lemon yogurt and Pa Amb Oli Xocolata/bread, olive oil, and chocolate, our answer must be: Almost. These two desserts with our two Albariños — are disastrous.

Rías Baixas Albariño from Spain: Exceptional with almost Everything.

--Anu Karwa and Marie Estrada

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