By Rick Riozza

Dunno—maybe because of the long hot summer we’ve gone through, everyone out here seems to be getting into holiday mode quickly. And some of the first things on our minds are which wines we’ll be enjoying this season. Just the idea comforts us, for as Benjamin Franklin said, “the fact we have wine to enjoy, shows us that God really loves his people.”

You know you’ve stepped into the wine ethos when images of overflowing wine bottles and carafes share the mind’s visual stage with the turkey, ham and surrounding temptations. The weight of the on-going discussion is that wine is a food served best at this family feast. Yeah—bring on the wine & food, friends & family: it’s the ensemble for the ages.

The great rule of thumb for the feast is: to drink what you like! More focused, however, is that a Thanksgiving or holiday wine is all about the wine speaking up at these annual gatherings. It could be the quiet type: subtle on the fruit but its presence felt in the background and always supporting the food. Or, one with an intense character that challenges and contrasts the different flavors sprawled upon the table.

It’s the time to treat ourselves, family, and friends to some good wine. Even Two-Buck Chuck takes the day off and serves up better wine. Further it’s fun for everyone to bring over a bottle or two to share and speak about—thus, you’ve got a veritable wine tasting event included in the festivities! And God is still loving us because good wine these days doesn’t have to be expensive—there are good buys all around.

Whether big families or small, prep time early Thursday morning can be as fun and exciting as sitting and enjoying the big turkey meal itself. Sometimes it’s the only time of year that families get to work on something together—and it’s all about the food & fun!

And there is no better “prepping wine” to keep that morning fueled-up than Prosecco sparkling wine. Fresh and very light on the alcohol, Prosecco is a festive wine that keeps everyone happy and enjoying their tasks. It’s not sweet—carries flavors of almonds, and is just a touch bitter, which works really well as you’re munching through your projects.

Sparkling wines are so versatile, one can enjoy the panopy of Proseccos, sparkling whites & rosés, Cavas, and Champagnes throughout the entire banquet! Just remember the brut (non-sweet) sparklers are fresh-tasting, cleansing and work best to complement the hodgepodge of dishes on the table.

In place of a Sauvignon Blanc or Chardonnay try A Mosel German Riesling QBA with its fresh tart apple flavors and a tinge of sweetness that is balanced by food friendly acidity. It’s another standard on the holiday table. Moderately chilled, this white wine goes with all of the season’s classic flavors. A good Riesling QBA can be found at around $15 to $20 and may well be the “treat” wine of Thanksgiving. 

The wine artist in us sees the beloved task of painting through the holiday meal with reds, whites, and rosés over all the textures, weights, and aromas of the grand food display. Which takes us to the wine enthusiasts’ debate as to which wine is indeed the quintessential quaffer for the Thanksgving table.

Did the Pilgrims argue about this? Hardly a real dispute—but certainly a fun one, especially when the participants bring over the bottle they’re lobbying for. And that’s how you do it! A little less talking and a lot more tasting.

For a while, the red wine discussion was Pinot Noir vs. Zinfandel. Lumberjacks everywhere argued that we needed an “American wine” to celebrate an American holiday. Of course our vino forefathers brought over Pinot from Burgundy and Zin from Italy/Croatia—but enough of that!

Pinot Noir, for all its popularity at Thanksgiving, needs to be powerful enough to stand up to the kaleidoscope of flavors. I’ve tasted the Barefoot Brand Pinot Noir which I think is a little light for the meal, but at $5 a bottle, it beats a poke-in-the-eye.

Generally speaking—for a good buy of around $12 to $15 bucks, California Central Coast Pinot can really burst from the glass with expressive red fruit, flowers, spices, and mint—and that fits the table perfectly.

On the other hand, a hearty & sturdy red Zinfandel (sometimes referred to as “fruit bombs”)—especially the ones that carry over 14% alcohol, can clobber and take down most of what’s serving. Finding an inexpensive Zin is sometimes the deal because of the muted flavors. But for some—for that very reason—desire the bombast: “Hey! This is a once-a-year deal! Let us enjoy every big flavor in town!” I got the sentiment—Cheers!

And while California has certainly taken charge of producing great Zinfandel and the Pacific coastal regions are creating Pinot Noir to die for, the world has opened up with tasty reds from all over that can happily take their place on the festive table.

Always the effervescent romantic, bringing color to the table, is the “real” Italian Lambrusco such as the dry (non-sweet) Vignetto Saetti. Good Lambruscos are versatile, delicious, and energetic enough to break the fatigue of a long meal. Some like the powerful carbonation, others look for “frizzante” on the label for a softer fizz. Around $18.

Mais oui—of course, the classic pairing for a traditional turkey Thanksgiving meal is Beaujolais, a light fruity red wine with pleasant sour cherry notes. It’s not the Beaujolais Nouveau we’re partying with, but rather ask for a regular Beaujolais.

With all that said, the most important thing to bring to the table, of course, is a humble and grateful heart.

For next week’s column Dan Sullivan of Dan’s Wine Shop in Palm Desert will offer up his Thanksgiving wine picks.