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7 Great Choices for Thanksgiving Wines

This year there’s lots to be thankful for, particularly for the exceptional recent vintages that offer a spectacular selection of wines to pair with your Thanksgiving feast. We’d like to introduce you to some classic wine choices for Thanksgiving as well as a few new intriguing options that you might not have considered.

Thanksgiving Wine Pairings (and why they work):

If you’re wondering why the following wines were chosen as ideal Thanksgiving matches, let’s take into account what these wines share in common. Each of the following red wines were chosen for their bold, red fruit flavors, subtle earthiness, light tannin, and moderate acidity. Why? Because these traits beautifully complement a traditional Thanksgiving menu and here’s how:
  • Red fruit flavors mimic the tartness of cranberry sauce and match well with autumn spices such as clove, allspice, and cinnamon.
  • Light tannin and moderate acidity pair perfectly with the texture and intensity of turkey.
  • Subtle earthiness complements the earthy, umami-rich flavor of the gravy.

Zinfandel

Zinfandel could very well be the #1 All-American Thanksgiving wine choice given that it was once the most planted variety in California (prior to the Prohibition era). Here’s how this wine will behave when paired with food:
  • It will amplify Thanksgiving spices such as clove, cinnamon, and allspice.
  • It often adds a touch of smokiness to the taste profile.
  • It’s typically bolder and richer (higher alcohol) and thus, pairs well with dark meat turkey.

Here is a great American Zin to get your mouth watering:

2011 Easton Wines Fiddletown Zinfandel (California, USA; $20)

Pinot Noir

Pinot Noir is the fine-wine lover’s #1 pick for Thanksgiving, which is due (in large part) to the grape’s prestigious pedigree tracing back to Burgundy, France.
  • A great pick for classic Thanksgiving dishes with simple spicing (salt + pepper) or cream-based dishes like creamy mashed potatoes or casserole.
  • Pinot works well with both dark and white meat turkey.
  • It will do great to accentuate cranberry-like flavors.

The following wines highlight Pinot Noir’s brilliant red fruit and spice flavors:

2016 Au Bon Climat Santa Barbara Pinot Noir (Santa Barbara County, CA; $25)
2014 Bacchus GingerS Cuvee Pinot Noir (California; $13)
2014 Calera Central Coast Pinot Noir (Santa Maria Valley, CA; $30)

Beaujolais

Beaujolais is the Francophiles #1 choice for Thanksgiving wines due to the perfectly timed arrival of Beaujolais Nouveau. This wine is made with 100% Gamay, which has a lot of similarities to Pinot Noir, except with way more bang-for-the-buck. Here’s why:
  • It pairs exceptionally well with wild rice, salads, roasted squash, and cranberries.
  • It balances Thanksgiving dinners that have a high sweetness factor (yams, etc.) with Bojo’s savory and earthy quality.
  • Its lighter, less tannic style works well with white meat turkey.

Here is our staff favorite:

2017 Domaine de la Madone Beaujolais-Villages Nouveau (Burgundy, France; $12)

GSM/Rhône Blends

This is the wine collector’s top pick for Thanksgiving because bottles are usually best served after aging (anywhere from 4–10 years). A GSM Blend contains Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvèdre as its main ingredients.
  • The bolder blending varieties of Mourvèdre and Syrah make this wine pair well with smoked turkey.
  • The tertiary flavors of fig or dried berries from a properly aged GSM Blend match well with roasted squash and stuffing.
  • The earthy and meaty quality of the wine accentuates the savory quality of turkey gravy.

A few examples of Rhône Blends from all over the world include:

2014 Domaine de la Graveirette Cotes du Rhone Rouge (Rhone Valley, France; $16)
2014 Domaine Andezon Cotes du Rhone (Rhone Valley, France; $16)

Rosé or Blanc de Noirs Champagne

This is a sommelier’s must-have wine for Thanksgiving because, for a somm, you can’t really start a meal without a splash of something sparkling wine. Here’s why:
  • It’s a great choice for a pre-Thanksgiving aperitif.
  • It’s bold enough to pair alongside dinner (for Champagne pairing with the main course).
  • Its strawberry, white currant and white raspberry flavors accentuate the cranberry flavors in the dish.
  • It acts as a palate cleanser to rich gravies and meats.

A few examples that are both awesome and affordable:

Val de Mer French Sparkling Brut Nature Rose (Burgundy, France; $20)
Mousse Fils Effusion Rose Brut Champagne (Marne River Valley, Champagne; $59)

Sancerre

If you feature brussels sprouts or green beans prevalently in your meal, consider a lean, herbaceous Sauvignon Blanc as a highlight wine pairing. The 2015 vintage was exceptional in the Loire Valley and Sancerre is one of the international favorites of this region. Here’s why:
  • It pairs exceptionally well with green bean casserole, brussels sprouts, and roast asparagus.
  • It acts as a palate cleanser to rich gravies and meats.

A few examples include:

2016 Thomas-Labaille Les Monts Damnes Sancerre (Loire Valley, France; $30)
2015 Paul Bernier Silex Sancerre (Loire Valley, France; $29)
2016 Emile Balland 'Croq'caillotte' Sancerre (Loire Valley, France; $25)

 

Amarone della Valpolicella

If you’re featuring ham as your main dish this year, the rich dried-cherry and chocolately wines of Valpolicella are amazing. Here’s why:
  • Its redolent cherry flavors accentuate the sweetness of ham.
  • Its moderate acidity acts as a palate cleanser, which is ideal for complementing rich meats and gravies.
  • Its dried fruit aromas of fig and raisins add to the harvest taste palate.

Of course, Amarone della Valpolicella is an expensive wine due to its production process. Here are the best values we could find:

2011 Santi Amarone della Valpolicella DOC (Veneto, Italy; $45)

Most importantly, have a great Thanksgiving - from our table to yours!

Your Official Holiday Pairing Guide for 2016

If you're anything like me, you've been planning your holiday dinner festivities for months now. Every little detail, down to the seasonings and plating, is ready to go in your head. Well, except for one. Deciding what beverage to serve with your celebratory culinary creation is the final step, the garniture that ties everything together.

Lucky for you, I put together my sip schedule early this year, and with you all in mind. Here are my top pairings for classic holiday dishes that you and your loved ones might be enjoying this season.
  • Oysters: If we're going to be classic here, both Champagne and Chablis are just that for a reason. But it's the end of a wacky 2016, and the only thing that makes sense is to throw your inhibitions to the wind and go big: Mezcal. One of my favorite drinks this year was a Mezcal Greenpoint, featuring VIDA Mezcal. It's a little smokey, a little herbal, but still bright and citrus forward enough to perfectly pair with your pre-dinner oysters. Be mindful of your portions here, because it's going to be a long week(end). Not a fan of Chartreuse? Fix yourself a VIDA Negroni instead, with more of an orange forward bitter finish but less viscous on the palate, letting the sweetness of your oysters shine through a bit more, but also showcasing the booze in warmer fashion.
Del Maguey VIDA San Luis Del Rio Single Village Mezcal

 

  • Cheeses: Of course, it depends on your cheese of choice, but I think this is an excellent opportunity to present two different options for everyone in attendance. For the soft cheese, go with a non-Champagne bubbly, done in the traditional Champenois method. Raventos i Blanc 'de Nit' fits the bill, one of the most magical sparkling wines I've had out of Spain in a long time. It's bright red fruits up front give way to damp rose petal, ripe strawberry, and a rich mousse that reminds me of pink Champagne I've had at more than double the price. For the hard cheeses, challenge your guests to an adventure in Agricole, French-style rum distilled from squeezed cane juice, rather than molasses. Rhum J.M. White Rum is, well, intense, but if sipped before one of their heartier cheeses, it provides a fun, tropical backdrop for the nuttier aspects of cheeses like Manchego.
Raventós i Blanc Conca del Riu Anoia Brut Rosé de Nit
  • Caviar: If you're splurging on caviar, what's another $50 to experience the full performance art that is the classic caviar/Champagne pairing? My first experience with this was last year for my 27th birthday, and it changed me forever. Get down with one of my favorite Champagnes on the market, Charles Heisieck Brut Reserve. Yes, I love Grower Champagne too, but there's a reason why some of these houses have been as successful as they have: their stuff is good. With this holiday gift set that you see above, you'll also get two Tulip Glasses, which are the glasses Sommeliers everywhere prefer to drink their bubbles from. Heidsieck is classic, with its creamy mousse and rich texture coming through right off the bat. What gives this House its signature for me, though, is the backbone of acidity, giving the wine lift and elegance to balance out the power of fruit. Champagne and caviar...it just works.
  • Brisket: As much as I love oysters, caviar, and everything else you see here, few things bring me as much holiday comfort as a tender roast of brisket. When looking for pairings, sometimes it's as much about the feeling you get with each as much as the flavor profiles or structures. For me, that's Burgundy, specifically a red Burgundy like the 2010 Olivier Leflaive Pommard. Pommard is one of three villages in the Cote de Beaune celebrating Pinot Noir (this is Chardonnay country down here) and it does so in a fashion that can be enjoyed young and without much pretense. Yes, this isn't the cheapest bottle of wine on the shelf, but brisket isn't the most expensive cut at the butcher, so we're meeting half way here. Olivier's family is steeped in tradition around these parts, specifically the village of Puligny-Montrachet just to the southwest, and it comes through in the bottle. While many Pommard in this age range tend to be a bit unapproachable, stuck between the elegant floral notes of its southern neighbor Volnay and the fruit of somewhere like Santenay, Olivier's negociant project comes through clean, focused even. There are few better deals worldwide on excellent Pinot Noir than this one right here.
  • Prime Rib: The thing I love most about pairing wines with Prime Rib is that, given its decadent, rich, bold nature as a dish, I have as much or more freedom with wine as I would with anything else in the world. I can go Italy, California, Australia, Argentina, South Africa...wines from everywhere in the world will work. Even better, young wines will work. This year, go to southern Bordeaux, on the left bank of the Garonne, and drink the 2014 Chateau Haut Vigneau Pessac-Leognan. Classically, this is where you'll find wines dominated by Cabernet Sauvignon and blended with Merlot (perhaps, though more prevalent on the right bank, Cabernet Franc). Grippy tannins, lush black fruits, mocha, mint, baking spices...yet not overwhelming at all. That's what makes this a perfect pairing for your beef, letting the food do the talking in between sips.
Chateau Haut Vigneau Pessac-Leognan Rouge
  • Roasted Turkey: Don't let my aversion to turkey fool you, eating it with the right wine can completely change the experience. Every Thanksgiving, I'm tasked with finding the right wines for my friends and lately, I've gone Pinot Noir for them as opposed to Riesling. This year, I recommended the 2014 Banshee Pinot Noir and it wasn't just a hit, many of them went right back to their stores to pick it up by the case. It manages to straddle the line between classic Cali Pinot, bold fruit and rich texture, and a more restrained style with higher acidity and more of a floral component. If this is the direction of Pinot in Sonoma, count me in (I'll save you a spot on the bandwagon).
Banshee Sonoma County Pinot Noir

 

  • Glazed ham: Of all the wine and food pairings in the world like foie gras with Sauternes, lamb with Bordeaux, risotto with Nebbiolo, there may not one that makes more sense to me than pork and Rioja. Here, we've got the La Antigua Clasico Rioja Reserva from 2008. Why does this so often work well? Rioja, at its best, often has a slight saline minerality to it and a texture that makes me reminisce on days spent eating jamon Iberico in Madrid. With something as salty and textured as a glazed ham, my mind goes right to a Rioja with some age, so that the wood and fruit have calmed down a bit and made way for those tertiary earth tones to come through on the palate with more clarity.
  • Filet Mignon: While working as a sommelier, one of my tasks was to pair a fine bottle of wine with our nightly tasting menu, a collaboration between myself and the kitchen to find the right flavors, textures, and mood in each dish throughout the meal. For our final beef course, we were serving seared beef filet with various root vegetables, greens, and mushrooms. To celebrate the lean nature of the meat, as well as the savory components alongside it, we went Barolo. For your holiday, I encourage you to do the same with the 2010 Marziano Abbona Barolo. While it will need some time in a decanter, few wines globally are of more regal pedigree, something that will shine through once the first thirty minutes of being open have gone by. Truffles, black cherry, forest floor, shiitake mushroom, violets, rose petals...it's all here. If this is your first time drinking Nebbiolo from its most famous village, welcome to the party. If not, then you already know what you're in store for!
Marziano Abbona Barolo Terlo Ravera
  • Dessert: Okay, let's get the story out of the way regarding this stunning example of the most famous wine region in the world for sweet wines. The bottle? 2010 Chateau Rieussec-Carmes De Rieussec Sauternes. The story? In Sauternes, the best wines are made in years where botrytis affects the grapes in the vineyard. Botrytis, also known as the Noble Rot, is a white rot that overtakes the grape, punctures the skin, and concentrates both sugar and acidity, resulting in a grape that can vinified to a full ABV while still retaining enough sugar for sweetness and enough acidity to keep the wine mouth watering and clean. This estate, classified as a 1er Cru Classe in Sauternes, has been among the great wines in one of the world's great wine regions forever. But unfortunately, with greatness comes exclusivity. With exclusivity, comes market demand and, of course, higher prices. That is why some of the best estates in the region, and even throughout Bordeaux, release second labels as an introduction to their efforts. With the Carmes de Rieussec, you get the best value in Sauternes that I've ever seen. This wine is rich with candied lemon peel, dried apricot, ginger, and honeysuckle. Is it sweet? Yes, this is Sauternes after all, but the vintage of 2010 brought more acidity if less Noble Rot than 2011, helping give the wine impeccable balance. Here, you don't need food. You don't want food. Just drink the damn wine.

Hillrock Estate Distillery Trip

Hillrock Estate Distillery

Earlier this month, our team was lucky enough get a behind-the-scenes peek of Hillrock Estate Distillery. The distillery is nestled deep in the rolling hills of the Hudson Valley at the historic 200-year-old Hillrock Estate. The estate, originally built in 1806 by a Revolutionary War Captain, was restored in 2006 by the current owner, Jeff Baker. An avid enthusiast of fine spirits, Baker teamed up with Master Distiller and whiskey legend, Dave Pickerell, to produce one of the nation's first estate grown whiskeys.


Arguably the most important factor for making a great whiskey is the quality of the grain used. Similar to fine estate wineries, Hillrock uses their estate grains, naturally farmed and harvested on Hillrock’s estate and surrounding farms without the use of pesticides, herbicides or chemical fertilizers. By raising their grain, Hillrock highlights the subtle nuances between their spirits, showcasing a unique terroir that is an exceptional representation of Hudson Valley spirits.

Here's what we tasted that day:

Hillrock Estate Distillery Single Malt Whiskey - Hillrock’s flagship whiskey is one of the first single malt whiskeys produced in New York since Prohibition. It is made with barley exclusively grown at the estate and is malted at the Hillrock Malthouse.

Dark amber in color. The texture is rich with strong notes of malt and vanilla on the nose. Traces of honey, caramel and butterscotch appear and are complimented by chewy notes of cinnamon, oak, and woody spices. Finish is everlasting and pleasantly spicy.

Hillrock Estate Distillery Double Cask Rye Whiskey: Made with their organic estate rye, this is a limited bottled whiskey that has been double-barreled, or finished, in secondary casks.

Rich amber color with notes of sweet black cherry and dried currants dominate the nose. This whiskey is hot and heavy on the palate with spicy cinnamon and rye flavors. The finish is satisfyingly complex, with oak coming through clearly with more rye and berry notes.

Hillrock Estate Distillery Solera Aged Bourbon Whiskey: This is the first and only Solera aged bourbon produced in the world. Solera aging is a common practice for aging rums. It involves blending in younger spirit with older spirit to ensure consistent product from year to year.

Corn is immediately detected on the nose followed by more complex notes of raisins, root beer, and light honey. Smooth on the palate with long finishing flavors of honey, vanilla and oak.

Hillrock Estate Distillery Whiskeys - Grain & Vine