What To Drink With Your Bird This Thanksgiving

You may want to sit down for this: Thanksgiving is less than a week away! How nuts is that?!? But ready or not, here it comes. Which means not only does your menu need to start rapidly coming together, but so does the wine lineup for the evening. Even if you are not hosting  (which makes life that much easier) you can still have a huge impact on the meal and overall holiday enjoyment by bringing the right wines for your family and friends to enjoy. I mean, who doesn’t love the guy who rolls in with a few bottles of really good juice?! Which then begs the question… what are the right wines to pair with a traditional Thanksgiving meal?

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The great thing about oven roasted turkey and all the trimmins is that there are a ton of wines that will pair well with that type of meal. It just depends on what style of wine you and your crew prefer. The one trick is to avoid any overpowering wines with high tannins. Turkey doesn’t have the fat content of red meat, which typically will bind with those tannins. Instead, the tannins can take center stage rendering the turkey and stuffing as bland as opposed to full of flavor.  So while just about any wine will work, here are some that may complement your meal better than others.

The classic white wine pairing with turkey is Riesling. The low alcohol and high acid can be a refreshing complement to the inherent richness of the meal. I prefer to stick with the drier style (Kabinett) as opposed to those that have a sweeter profile (Spatlese). The 2011 Fox Run Reserve Riesling is a stunning option for under $25, and allows you to drink local! For a real value the Chateau Ste. Michelle Riesling is consistently solid and goes for under $10 at most retailers.

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If you like your whites a little bigger and bolder then a buttery, oaky Chardonnay or Burgundy may be the way to go. Although be careful of the super oaked options, as even those woody tannins can stifle the richness of the bird. My favorites right now are from Davis Bynum and Byron, but on the value side you can grab the Seaglass Chard from Santa Barbara. It is unoaked, clean and vibrant… a delightfully refreshing option for around $10.

If you Google red wine pairings for Thanksgiving Turkey, the most commonly recommended wines are Pinot Noir, Zinfandel and Rhone Blends. Pinot is arguably the best option as the higher acid levels, vibrant fruit and peppery spice really bring out the best in just about any poultry dish. The problem in my family is that no one drinks Pinot. They prefer their wines big and opulent and tend to reach more towards a bomby Napa Cab than an elegant red Burgundy. Although I guarantee that bottle of the 2013 Papapietro  RRV Pinot will be in attendance this year for my Turkey Day meal.

2013 Papapietro Perry "Peter's Vineyard" Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

So the pairing that usually works best for my crew is a hearty Zinfandel from California… and no, not the pink stuff. It tends to have loads of big, dark and spicy fruit but a little lighter body and softer tannins than Cab. Seghesio is always my dad’s go to, but personally I prefer the Terra d’Oro Zin from Amador for a few bucks less. Forward, rich and ripe with a nice balance of medium to high acid and tannins, this one is always a crowd pleaser.  And if I’m feeling a little frisky, I will break out one of the Zichichi Zins from my stash. Steve Zichichi is a Zin genius and making some of the best Zin to come out of Dry Creek and all of California really. It ain’t cheap and pretty hard to find, but if you can get your hands on any of his juice I highly recommend it.

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The classic Rhone blend consists of Grenache, Syrah and Mouvedre with Grenache usually taking center stage. Somewhat like Zin, Grenache leans on the lighter side in terms of body with good acid, spicy berry fruit and plush tannins. Blend in some meaty Syrah and a dollup of dark Mouvedre and you have an ideal blend for your Thanksgiving table. Cotes du Rhone Villages wines offer a step up in quality (usually) over the standard CDRs, and still can be found for less than $20.  However they have a hard time standing up to those bigger and more complex Chateauneuf du Pape and Gigondas wines, which is why those are just about impossible to find for under $40. Some value producers include Barville, Santa Duc and Louis Bernard. But if you are from the ‘Go Big or Go Home’ mentality then you can’t go wrong with any of the big dogs such as Domaine de Pegau, Vieux Telegraphe, Chateau de Beaucastel or Chapoutier. Just be sure to give those bigger wines some oxygen before you get start digging into them, or they may come off a little tight and inexpressive.

 

Red, White and Blue Wines for the 4th!

Yeah, that’s right… blue wine. I know, I know…. I had the same reaction. But why? How? And, why? It seems some entrepreneurial producers in Spain thought it would be a clever idea to craft a blue colored wine targeted at the all encompassing market of the millennials. Apparently it is a blend of Spanish red and white grapes which gains its color from anthocyanin, a pigment found in grape skins, and iodine that is extracted from the Isatis tinctoria plant. It is reportedly a sweet, young refreshing style of wine meant to pair with sushi and nachos with guac. Having never tried this blue wine before I cannot offer any opinion on the quality or value… but I can say that my expectations are fairly low.

Now for the REAL 4th of July recommendations! Is it me, or did it get super hot super quick to start the summer? I feel like the Chardonnay season came and went and I am
already reaching for more refreshing white options. While Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio are always popular, as an overly broad generalization, they tend to seem a little too simplistic (sorry Santa Margherita and Brancott fans). As of late I find myself reaching for that dry style of Riesling from a multitude of regions as well as Chenin Blancs from the Loire and South Africa. The nice part about all of these wines is that they typically offer a solid value.

The Fox Run Rie2015 Den Chenin Blancsling (Finger Lakes) is a staple in my house over the summer months, and the bone dry Willm Reserve Riesling (Alsace) is a tremendously food friendly wine to pair with all kinds of shellfish and chilled seafood starters. The Painted Wolf ‘The Den’ Chenin Blanc is crisp, tropical with just a hint of oaky notes, and their Pinotage from the same line is pretty stellar as well. The Sauvon Vouvray (Chenin Blanc grape) is a value superstar every vintage with its floral character and subtle honey notes, and can actually gain complexity with a few years of age. The best part… all of these wines are under $20.

 

Red wines that are suitable for the 4th, and the summer in general, need to be grill friendly that can pair up with anything from burgers and dogs to filet and lobster surf & turf. That means they have to be versatile, hearty and food friendly (which typically means they need a good dose of acidity). Let’s not forget that it’s hot out there… so some lighter, thirst quenching reds (which can even be served slightly chilled) are integral to any successful July 4th BBQ. I get made fun of all the time for my infatuation with the Seaglass Santa Barbara Pinot Noir, but it remains the best Pinot under $15 for my money. This is one of those lighter style wines that can benefit from a few minutes in the fridge before opening,  accentuating the lively acidity and bright cherry and berry fruit.

I find myself leaning towards the Northern Rhone wines during the grilling season. The smoky and meaty style of Crozes Hermitage and Saint Joseph wines (Syrah based) complement just about any sort of beef you decide to toss on the grill. The Jean Luc Colombo Crozes ‘Les Fees Brunes’ is a stellar under $25 option while the J.L. Chave Saint Joseph ‘Offerus’  is solid just about every vintage and can be found for just a few bucks more. Of course if you are feeling saucy and looking to splurge on something, how about a Cote Rotie for the 4th this year? E. Guigal, Vidal Fleury and St. Cosme are all quality producers and their wines come at a somewhat ‘value’ price under $80. Top tier Cote Rotie wines are easily $100 and up so yes, $50-75 is considered a value for this particular region.

But if you want to keep it simple and patriotic for the 4th, grab some California Zin and Petite Sirah. Both are as American as you can get when it comes to grape varieties, and are big enough to stand up to just about any of your standard BBQ fare. They can offer various spices and boast a firm tannic character to offset those fatty and saucy pork and beef dishes. Zichichi (Dry Creek Valley) is one of my perennial favorites for both varieties, but they are not the easiest to come by. On the Zin side, I always find the Terra d’Oro wines exude great complexity and character without breaking the bank both at their entry level as well as their old vine single vineyard higher end offerings.  Of course if you are from the ‘Go Big or Go Home’ camp, then seek out one of the many Zins from Turley. They range from the entry Juvenille level up to several single vineyard options, all opulent and killer! As far as Petite Sirah goes, Handcraft has a nice one out for under $15 that will certainly please the palate. But for about $40 you can find the Stag’s Leap Winery P.S. which slams you with dark berry, peppery spice and is flat out tasty juice. Talk about a wine that screams out for BBQ ribs and wings! But this is a big boy for sure, so give it a little time to show it’s true colors…none of which are blue 😉

 

 

 

Think While You Drink!

I know that may sound like an oxymoron to some, so allow me to elaborate. My colleague and I curate and teach a wine education and tasting program for our internal staff . It’s meant to provide not only a basic overall knowledge of wine, but to learn how to taste and utilize all of your senses. Granted, we start the class at 5:15 so there are some that are just looking for a drink after a long day of work. But as I was reminding everyone that we are “tasting” not drinking, I inadvertently came up with a catch phrase that I like to iterate as much as possible during these classes… that everyone should be “thinking while your drinking”.

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That doesn’t mean you should be figuring out your dinner plans or performing high level mathematics while sipping on some lovely juice. It means that you should be examining the wine to some extent in terms of its aromas, flavors, mouth feel, texture, finish, length, possible food pairings and most importantly…if you are enjoying it and why or why not. It is easy to predetermine whether you think you will enjoy a wine based on the grape, region or even price. But we try and present  classic examples of each grape variety produced in different regions to really determine its characteristics and how it can vary from region to region and why that may be. So by actually experiencing various wines from all over the world, everyone is beginning to figure out their own palate without being influenced by stereotypes or predisposed opinions.

For example, this week we took on Riesling…a very polarizing grape as most people either love it or hate it. Regardless, there is a general connotation out there that Riesling is sweet. Guess what, not so much! Of course there are many sweet Rieslings and some are even meant to be dessert wines. But they can also be made in a dry, crisp style and have very little residual sugar. In German wines you will often see Kabinett or Trocken on the label, which will note that it is in fact a dry Riesling. It was great to see some people come into the class “knowing” they didn’t like Riesling, but by the end of the class enjoying some of the selections that they weren’t aware even existed.

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So by thinking while you’re drinking, you start to take into account all the different characteristics that make a wine what it is. How intense the aromas are on the nose, what kind of fruit aromas and flavors are present, how much oak was used and what kind, how acidic or tannic a wine is, what kind of food would make an enjoyable pairing and of course if you find a particular wine pleasing. After all a wine can be well made, expensive and have a 95+ rating…but if it doesn’t itch you where your scratchin’ than all of that don’t mean a thing.

Cheers!

Top Thanksgiving Wines Under $15!

It’s completely ludicrous to think that Thanksgiving is just a little over a week away…but ready or not here it comes. Seems like there is always so much to do before this holiday: figuring out who is hosting, planning menus, ironing out the guest list and of course deciding which wines will make it to the table.

Wine lovers will often inquire about what wine makes the best paring for a Thanksgiving meal. The simplest answer is Riesling or Chardonnay for the whites and Zinfandel, Pinot Noir and Rhones for the reds as the peppery spice in all of those reds match up well with the traditionally prepared Thanksgiving bird. I have tasted some value/inexpensive options over the past month that clearly distinguished themselves as wines that would only enhance this food driven holiday…so I thought I would share.

If you plan on serving white wine with the meal you want to check out the 2012 Wilim Alsace Riesling and the 2012 Chateau Ste. Michelle Columbia Valley Chardonnay. The Wilim Riesling is made in typical Alsace fashion with bright citrus and apple fruit, lovely balance (not a very sweet wine) and a dry, minerally finish. The CSM Chard is such a food friendly wine offering supple pear, apple and melon flavors with just the right amount of that oaky and buttery character rounding out the palate. Both are steals that can be found for under $15 retail.

When it comes to Pinot, there are two clear standouts in this value price range…the 2012 Santa Rita Pinot Noir 120 Central Valley and the Seaglass 2012 Santa Barbara Pinot. You will be SHOCKED when you taste that Santa Rita 120 and realize it is from Chile. No dirty, muddy undertones that most inexpensive Chilean reds carry. Just pure, clean and expressive Pinot character with loads of vibrant berry fruit, black pepper and spice…and at under $10 it is a no brainer! The Seaglass is a perennial favorite of mine as it is delicate in nature but well structured with a lingering finish. Easily mistaken for a sub appellation Santa Barbara Pinot twice the price.

For all the ZinHeads out there, my under $15 choice for Turkey Day this year has to be the 2011 Joel Gott California Zinfandel. My family has spent many Thanksgivings with Mr. Gott (well, his wines anyway) and he never disappoints. All that blueberry and blackberry fruit layered over baking and peppery spices make for a wonderful accompaniment to a well stuffed bird and all the trimmins. And at right around $15 it is a serious value as well.

Cotes du Rhones are usually not my favorite, as I tend to find them overly tart and on the light side (yes, I am completely overgeneralizing). However the 2011 Selection Laurence Feraud CDR brought about that WOW feeling which these wines rarely elicit. Considering the wine was produced by the famed CDP Domaine du Pegau winemaker I shouldn’t have been so surprised. It is super approachable with vibrant berry and red cherry fruit surrounded by hints of dark chocolate and spice. The tannins are mellow and the mouthfeel is soft and lush. You’d be hard pressed to find a better CDR at this price point as well as one that will enhance your Turkey like this beauty.

Here’s wishing all of you and yours a very healthy and Happy Thanksgiving filled with family, friends, good food and better juice 😉

Cheers!

Some BBQ Wine Tips For The Grillin’ Season!

 

Now that we are in the thick of summer grilling season, you’ve probably overheard conversations about a wine being a “good BBQ wine”. But what makes a wine better than others for a BBQ? After all, it’s not like you’re tossing the bottle on the grill! For me, there are 3 characteristics that a wine has to possess in order for it to qualify as BBQ-worthy.

1) For a white wine, it needs to have crisp acidity and lots of citrus and/or tropical fruit flavors. With the heat we’ve had this summer, I’m not looking for a white that will weigh me down like some of the big, oaky Chardonnays tend to do. I want something light on its feet and refreshing to help cool down on these hot summer days. So typically I will reach for a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, Sancerre, Vouvray or even a dry Riesling (not all Rieslings are sweet people). Plus, these wines typically make great pairings for chilled shellfish and seafood salads which always seem to find their way to the appetizer course before the grillin’ starts.

2) For a red wine, it’s gotta have enough structure to hold up to those typical grilled meat dishes (steaks, ribs, burgers, etc.) as well as enough tannins and spice to stand up to various BBQ sauces. Lighter wines like Pinot are good for openers, but they will get overpowered by most BBQ menus. So for me, BBQ reds are all about big fruit, gripping tannins and zesty spice that you will find in California Zinfandel and Petite Sirah, Rhone Reds (CDP, Gigonadas, Cotes du Rhone), Priorat and Mendoza Malbecs. Sure I’ll grab a Napa Cab here and there, but only if I know that nice piece of NY Strip or Ribeye is coming off the grill.

3) It needs to be affordable! There are very few BBQs that offer a fine dining experience. Meaning you are typically drinking out of plastic cups on a hot summer day and probably even mixing in some beer, sangria or those fruity summer cocktails. So BBQ wines are all about having fun and hopefully finding an enjoyable pairing somewhere in the mix. Plus these BBQs can sometimes carry some big crowds, and there’s nothing worse than cracking open something really nice and finding an empty bottle when you go to get your first taste of it!

The last “X” factor in selecting a BBQ wine is this… make sure its a wine that suits your palate. If you are going to have family and friends ransacking your home while you slave over a hot grill all day for them, the least you can do is drink some juice that you like! Pairings don’t mean a thing if the wines don’t mesh with your palate. Below are some of my favorite selections for the BBQ season, use in good health!

Whites  (all under $20)

Brancott Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, NZ

Sancerre La Reine Blanche, Dom. Jean Reverdy et Fils

Eroica Riesling, Columbia Valley, WA Chateau Ste. Michelle & Dr. Loosen

Vouvray Sauvion

Conundrum (Caymus) White, CA

Reds (all under $20)

Terra D’oro Zinfandel Amador, CA

Cotes du Rhone Villages Cuvee Centenaire, Domaine La Grand Ribe

McMannis Petite Sirah, CA

Vall Llach “Embruix” Priorat

Bodega Norton  Malbec Reserva, Mendoza

Premium Selections (over $50)

Napanook (2nd Label Dominus) Cabernet Blend, Napa Valley, CA

Zaca Mesa Black Bear Block Syrah Santa Ynez Valley, CA