Thanksgiving Wines with a New England Twist

Wine was served at the first Thanksgiving.

This was a post I wrote a number of years ago. I’ve updated it to keep it fresh. People look every year for some guidance or validation of their Thanksgiving wine choices. Really, the most important thing is to serve wine you like. There are so many competing flavors during this meal that no one wine will cover all the bases. So, in updating this post this year I’ve gathered the opinions of people from all different aspects of the wine industry because everyone contributes a different perspective. For example, In Eric Asimov’s New York Times column Wines of the Times, The Four Rules of Thanksgiving Wine, his advice is common sense and meant to put you at ease that your wine choices will in no way ruin the Thanksgiving meal.

Some six months ago I met Dianne Carter and starting working for New England Uncorked, a wine broker in New Hampshire with a niche specifically offering wines from New England and the Northeast. These wines are placed in over 100 shops and restaurants in New Hampshire. Dianne’s personal choice for her Thanksgiving meal is the Jonathan Edwards Gewurztraminer. If you really stop to think about it what could be more complimentary to a Thanksgiving meal than wines from the region where our Thanksgiving celebration originates? With vineyards close to Plymouth, MA like Westport Rivers, whose wines have been served at the White House we’ve got some real pedigree here. I am very proud of the ever increasingly improved quality of many wines coming out of the New England states. The climate here isn’t always the easiest to work with so these grapes don’t just grow by themselves. They may need more stewardship in the field sometimes than west coast wines. Many owners are still first generation farmers who have converted to wine from some other crop, so the there is still a very laid back culture here. Vineyards grow whatever vinifera vines they can support and many of the hybrid grapes bred to withstand the harsh New England winters. Why not look for a new grape to try this year? In Europe, practical wine and food pairing guidance has been, If it grows together it goes together. There’s no reason that wouldn’t apply here as well. (See my recommendations below.)

Another great resource for all wine related questions is Wine Folly, especially her post, 7 Great Wines for Thanksgiving. (http://winefolly.com/update/8-great-thanksgiving-wines-2016/) Madeline Puckette is a certified sommelier with a best-selling, award-winning book and blog. Her style of education is presented in a most approachable and fun way. Her advice is always right on the money too.

Makers Table by Meg Houston Maker,  an award-winning food, wine, and culture writer based in New England has a wonderful list of American wine suggestions for your Thanksgiving table. See her article, Fifty Thanksgiving Wines for details and serving tips.

Americans consume more wine on Thanksgiving day than any other day of the year. If you have any interest in wine at all you will start to notice, much the same way Christmas decorations start going up in stores around the end of September, that everyone who has any opinion about wine will share their tips for choosing a good wine for your Thanksgiving celebration. So here is mine.

People often don’t realize that with all the many and varied side dishes served with the traditional turkey (not to mention all of the non-traditional hams, lasagnas, turducken, tofurky, and such), matching your wine to the meal is not so easy. Food pairing basics match the dominant flavors, how heavy the meal is, etc. Do you prefer red or white? The list below goes from crisp whites to reds and includes dessert wines and digestifs.

The Whites

Sauvignon Blanc – a crisp white wine known for its herbaceous flavors. It complements a savory stuffing particularly well.

Jonathan Edwards NV Sauvignon Blanc (North Stonington, CT) – Bright peach, tropical fruit, and floral aromas yield to a crisp and zesty finish. This dry SB is fermented at cool temperatures to retain its liveliness in the glass and aged in stainless steel for 6 months before bottling.

Chardonnay – one of the most widely planted grapes in the world. It is made in a wide range of styles from fresh and fruity to buttery oaked expressions

Breakwater Vineyards (Owl’s Head, ME) – Made with grapes from Long Island, NY. Soft. Round. Toasty. Full of citrus and green apple. Fermented in French Oak

Mill River Naked Chardonnay (Rowley, MA) – Cold-fermented in 100% stainless steel tanks, the grape exposes itself to a more natural state. Full-bodied with aromas of lemon zest and pear.

Heron Hill Unoaked Chardonnay (Hammondsport, NY)  – Bright and elegantly structured with citrus aromas, subtle minerality, and tropical notes of banana and melon.

Riesling – this white wine can be bracing and bone dry to sweet and dessert styles. Extremely food friendly, particularly with spicy dishes.

Heron Hill Dry Riesling (Hammondsport, NY)  – Four Different lots in the Finger Lakes were selected, then fermented separately and blended together before bottling. Aromas of grapefruit and limestone lead to notes of melon and tropical fruit on the palate. Pale in color, yet refined with ample body. Flavors of lime and orange blossom linger nicely on the finish. *Wine Spectator – 85 Pts *Wine Enthusiast – 90 Pts

Heron Hill Semi-Dry Riesling (Hammondsport, NY) – A forward, flattering style, with red and yellow apple fruit flavors backed by honeysuckle notes. The open-knit finish is just juicy enough to hold interest. *Wine Spectator – 86 Pts

Westport Rivers Riesling (Westport Rivers, MA) – Our very popular white shows beautifully. Vibrantly tropical fruit with sweet tamarind, quince and tangerine aroma. Awash with lively citrus on the palate and a deliciously tart finish. Medium bodied and off-dry.

Cayuga – this French-American hybrid grape makes a medium to full-bodied with good structure and some residual sugar that makes it sweet. Great on its own or with light appetizers, or spicy dishes.

Shelburne Vineyard Cayuga White (Shelburne, VT) –  A blend of mainly Cayuga with a bit of Chardonnay and Riesling. We’ve created this wine to be a light, dry style. It is bright and refreshing with notes of fresh citrus and a mouth-watering, crisp finish.

Sunset Meadow Vineyards Cayuga (Goshen, CT) – A crisp, clear, refreshing wine. Fruity taste, grapefruit, melon, and peach. A wine that stands on its own. Aged in stainless steel. 100% Connecticut Grown. Its delicate fruity character is great with appetizers, seafood or poultry.

Louise Swenson – a cultivar of amateur botanist Elmer Swenson, named for his wife

Shelburne Vineyard Louise Swenson (Shelburne, VT) – Made from grapes grown on our McCabe’s Brook Vineyard in Shelburne Vermont. The aroma is soft and savory. This dry white wine has subtle notes of tropical fruits, clean acidity, and a stony minerality.

The Reds

Beaujolais – a light, fruity red wine from the Gamay grape that goes very well with turkey and all of the fixings. It is like the cranberry sauce to the turkey! The tradition of serving a Beaujolais has something to do with the annual release of Beaujolais Nouveau on the third Thursday of every November, a week before Thanksgiving in the U.S. This fruity wine is supposed to be drunk while young and fresh. For a greater depth of flavor and structure select one of the many Beaujolais Villages wines.

Pinot Noir – this red wine is a very versatile and traditional favorite for Thanksgiving. It is easy going enough to complement just about any flavor you can throw at it. Elegant, and plays well with others.

Pali Wine Company Pinot Noirs (Lompoc, CA) – run from the super-premium with accompanying accolades to the super delicious Riviera, Summit, and Huntington wines selling in the sweet spot under $20

Big Fire Oregon Pinot Noir (McMinnville, OR) – a personal perennial favorite on our table. Maria Stuart describes their standard Big Fire PN as a great Tuesday night wine with fresh bright red plum, cranberry, and round ripe cherry with some hazelnut toast. Their Autograph PN is a Saturday night or special celebration wine, deeply layered with ginger, bay leaf, anise, and sweet red plum and cherry. They also make single vineyard Pinots that highlight the terroirs of each specific site.

Left Coast Cellars Latitude 45 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir (Rickreall, OR) – All Dijon clone, is a tightly wound, substantial effort, with youthful, tart raspberry fruit. It’s compact and complex, showing the balance and depth to age nicely.

Breakwater Vineyards Pinot Noir (Owl’s Head, ME) – Earthy, yet not old and stuffy. Aged in French and Hungarian Oak.

Westport Rivers Pinot Noir Rose (Westport Rivers, MA) – The current bottling has wonderful balance, truly a gem. Lush cherry aroma and vibrant acidity with a long pleasing finish.

McCall’s Vineyard Pinot Noir (Long Island, NY) – Balancing dark cherry with nuanced aromas of strawberry and spice, this Pinot Noir was carefully hand harvested from our sustainable vineyard. The vintage shows a nice concentration of fruit with a touch of crisp tannin. Barrel aging in French oak contributes notes of vanilla and toast leading to a well-structured, elegant finish.

Zinfandel – a medium to fuller bodied red wine that has a balancing effect on many traditional side dishes. This would be a great pick for those looking for a heartier wine with deeper flavors. Jammy fruits, spice and berries. Widely grown in California, often with fairly high abv (14 – 16%).

Verde Sole Zinfandel (Sierra foothills, CA) – The 2011 vintage is a soft, ripe wine with brambly wild cherry aromas, and notes of raspberry, cocoa, and tea. Blended with Petite Sirah, Syrah, and a touch of Grenache. 14.3% alcohol. This wine is terrific with grilled meats, roasted turkey, manchego cheese, pizza, and pasta with red sauce.

Jonathan Edwards Old Vine Zinfandel (Lodi, CA) – This Zin was harvested on 100-year-old vines. Super jammy with great fruit and spice. Great for grilling, pasta, roasted turkey, or Thanksgiving side dishes like grilled or roasted root vegetables.

Syrah/Shiraz – another red wine that picks up the intensity and flavor, yet graciously handles the cornucopia of flavors in a traditional Thanksgiving meal. The peppery notes will accent a flavorful helping of stuffing as well as both the white and dark turkey meats. For a special palate-pleasing treat seek out a dry sparkling Syrah.

Cabernet Franc – traditionally one of the Bordeaux blending grapes, in the United States it is favored as a varietal along the east coast and in parts of Washington state. A wine with plenty of peppery spice, and less tannic than its cousin, Cabernet Sauvignon, it makes a fine companion to many Thanksgiving flavors.

Jonathan Edwards Cabernet Franc (North Stonington, CT) – Estate grown, one year of barrel aging highlights the cherry/blackberry fruit flavors and adds some vanilla highlights but keeps the tannins on the finish soft.

Heron Hill Ingle Vineyard Cabernet Franc (Hammondsport, NY) – This wine was aged in American oak & French oak barrels for approximately 18 months. First aromas of cranberry and sour cherry, then notes of blackberry and licorice on the palate. The wine is nicely balanced with soft tannins and hints or baking spices on the finish. *Wine Spectator – 86 Pts *Wine Enthusiast – 89 Pts

Marquette – one of the original Minnesota Hardy grapes developed to withstand the shorter growing season and harsher winters in the northern tier of the United States, this wine is a suitable alternative to Pinot Noir. Similar in taste profile with cherry and bramble fruits, smooth tannins, and a zippy acidity it makes an excellent food wine.

Shelburne Vineyards Marquette – Vermont grown and produced, Marquette is the leading red for our region. The nose is herbaceous and fresh with undertones of oak. It is lively with notes of black cherries, spice and soft tannins with a complex, lingering finish. The wine is oak aged sur-lee for 8 months and bottled unfiltered.

Sparkling – Always a perfect accompaniment, especially with salty foods and foods with unusual texture- like the mashed potatoes or dishes with higher fat content (turkey gravy?) Can’t go wrong if you bring this wine as a guest.

Westport Rivers 2006 Westport Brut “RJR” (Westport Rivers, MA) – This stunning sparkler has been served in 3 White Houses and raved about by both national and international press. Produced from a blend of about 70% Pinot Noir with the remainder Chardonnay and a touch of Pinot Meunier. It spent over four years in tirage, was disgorged about eight months before release and has a dosage of 0.8%. Won a blind tasting against Dom Perignon and Veuve Cliquot at the Boston Wine Riot in 2012. Bright golden yellow color. Aromas of toasty brioche, peach marmalade and lemon curd with a crisp, dryish light-to-medium body and tart, mouthwatering roasted citrus, green apple skin and mineral accents on the finish. Very vintage Champagne-like.

Dessert Wines – Sometimes a good dessert wine is a sweet finishing touch to the meal, as with an ice wine (made from grapes left on the vine after regular harvest to concentrate the sugars), Ice Cider, or Hungarian Tokaij, or Italian Vin Santo or Piccolit, or a Trokenbeerenauslese Riesling from Germany, or even a Moscato D’Asti or Bracquetto D’Acqui if you like the bubbles. Don’t overlook the dessert wine as a choice because you think they are all syrupy sweet. Many wines in this category are very fine and elegant expressions of their grape variety. Continuing on there are fortified (wines with additional alcohol added, raising the final alcohol by volume) ports, sherry, vermouth. Be bold and try something new.

Newhall Farm Ice Cider (Vermont) – 100% Newhall Farm estate grown apples are concentrated by using natural Northern Vermont winter temperatures. No sugar, coloring, alcohol, or flavorings are added. A selective blend of organic heirloom, dessert, and wild apple ripples with a fresh crispness and hint of late harvest honey, rounding out spice and acidity to a lingering finish. International double gold award winner!

Shelburne Vineyard – Duet Vidal Blanc Ice Wine (Shelburne, VT) Vermont grown Ice Wine is made from both Vidal Blanc and Arctic Riesling grapes picked below 15 ̊ Fahrenheit when the sugar and juice in the grapes are concentrated and the water is frozen. This traditional process produces a luscious dessert wine. The bouquet is an alluring combination of sweet and spicy aromas. The flavors burst with notes of baked peaches, pears, and apples while the texture is smooth and decadent. A rich, lingering finish leaves your palate satisfied.

Pillitteri VQA Vidal Icewine Premium Level 2015 (Ontario, Canada) – A stellar Icewine encompasses fantastic aromas of floral notes, honey, candied orange peel, peach, and apricot. You’ll find intense flavors of pineapple, lychee, and honey on your palate, as well as a voluptuous texture, balancing acidity and a long finish.

Pillitteri VQA Cabernet Sauvignon Icewine Reserve 2012 (Ontario, Canada) – This wine has a medium ruby hue in the glass. The nose exhibits nuances of raspberries, cranberry cocktail, and lime zest. The high acidity is even evident on the nose making one’s mouth water almost instantly. The palate explodes with flavors of fresh raspberry pie, cherries in syrup, violets and vanilla bean. The mouth-feel is deliciously sweet and intense, but the natural acidity acts as a backbone creating impeccable balance and length on the palate.

Savage Oakes Blueberry Pi (Union, ME) – made from 100% Maine grown wild blueberries. A dessert wine made from our own hand-raked, wild blueberries. Like the juices of a fresh blueberry pie this wine is loaded with sweet blueberry flavor. Residual sugar – 8%. 17% alcohol by volume.

The Digestifs

A digestif is an alcoholic drink served after the meal to aid in digestion. Growing up in an Italian household where it was common to eat until bursting after the main meal everyone would wander to neutral spots in a food haze while my mother laid out the coffee and a parade of liqueurs, cordials, brandies, Port, and desserts. Many different cultures take pride in that last to be offered quaff. At any given time we could have out Drambuie, Amaretto, Kahlua, a vintage Port, Grappa, Amaro, Cognac, Limoncello, Vermouth, Grand Marnier, and others. Some, especially the herbal bitters (Amaro) actually do aid in digestion.

In our house, we have the tradition of going around the table to say something we are thankful for. Sometimes the year has been a struggle but we always have something to be thankful for. I wish you, and those you celebrate with all the blessings of the holiday season. Happy Thanksgiving, and Cheers!

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About WiningWays

Wine writing, appreciation, and education, including tasting, evaluation, and food pairings a specialty. Member, Society of Wine Educators.
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3 Responses to Thanksgiving Wines with a New England Twist

  1. Vince Tersigni says:

    If I am correct, a few years ago you posted about vineyards near you in Massachusetts, and, mentioned one in Haverhill. You were talking about Willow Spring Vineyards. I believe they are a cut above and well worth your revisiting them. In full disclosure, I am long time friend, volunteer, and part time employee primarily tending the vines in this beautiful place. Please come back and visit.

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