Hale to the Chief-tess: Wines to share at Thanksgiving

Giving thanks for Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, period. Always has been. For me, and I’ll spare you all the details, Thanksgiving at home with my family is when and where I was introduced to wine for the very first time, years and years ago. I’m forever grateful to you, Dad.

But, where did Thanksgiving come from? It’s a great story.

We in America truly owe it all to Sarah Josepha Hale, a 19th century writer and editor, for whom a literary prize is awarded today honoring her legacy. In addition to numerous novels and essays, she was also a poet, and the author of the nursery rhyme “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” In fact, the opening lines of that timeless rhyme were the first spoken words Thomas Edison ever recorded, in 1877, on his new invention, the phonograph. That was the very year Sarah had retired from her 40 year job as editor of Godey’s Lady’s Book, later renamed American Ladies’ Magazine.

Through all of her incredible list of achievements however, her most significant literary effort came in the form of a personal letter to Abraham Lincoln, in 1863, lobbying for a national holiday called Thanksgiving. Lincoln would learn that Hale had spent almost 30 years, writing to five presidents, requesting such a day of national recognition. It was Lincoln, however, who supported the idea through legislation; and in recognition of a unifying day of relief from the stresses of the Civil War, Thanksgiving was born. What a gift to us all.

As I mentioned, Thanksgiving, wine and I go way back. And the memories I have of Thanksgivings spent with my family and friends, as well from various times in my life, will last me forever. We’ve opened some great bottles over the years, and this year will be no different.

So, for this issue, I offer you a plethora of exciting wines to share with those you love.

Now, no matter the hour Thanksgiving dinner is served, sparkling wine is the best way to start the celebration off right. It’s lively, festive and enormously versatile when it comes to Thanksgiving food.

One of the hottest areas in the sparkling wine world today is the United Kingdom. And given our country’s English, Pilgrim settler origins, what an appropriate way to pay tribute to them.  

In 2008, Simon and Nicola Robinson founded Hattingley Valley, in Hampshire, England. A sparkling wine house (only), theirs is a beautiful property of 60 acres, with plantings of chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier – the traditional varietals of Champagne. Led by winemaker/director, and 2-time UK Winemaker of the Year, Emma Rice, Hattingley Valley sparkling wines are all made using strict, traditional production methods. Of their numerous bottlings, the Classic Reserve is my personal favorite. Using all three grapes mentioned, plus a splash Pinot Gris, the Classic Reserve is pale gold in color, with a well-developed nose of biscuit and subtle oak. On the palate, there’s crisp acidity and fine mousse, making it both refreshing and gentle. Yes, it’s a bit of a splurge at around $45, but the HVCR garnered an impressive 92 points from Wine Spectator; and if you need bubbly for your Thanksgiving Day survival, it will get you through the food fête, start to finish.

Moving towards the appetizers and main meal, especially if the less caloric ‘white meat’ is on your eating agenda, it would be an insult to grapes to not have some white wines sitting on the table. This holiday, what’s sure to be on my table are Alsace and Northern California.  

For over 200 years, the Domaine Bott-Geyl has been producing white wines from some of the greatest vineyards in Alsace. A bucolic region on the border of France and Germany, Alsace is known for wines of substance, elegance and complexity. Jean-Cristophe Bott, the family’s 11th generation to produce wine, is firmly committed to preserving his family’s legacy. This year, his wine of my choice is the Bott-Geyl Points Cardinaux Métiss (2015), formerly called Pinot d’Alsace. Métiss is a rich, aromatic, well-balanced blend of pinot blanc, pinot auxerrois, pinot gris and pinot noir; the last grape of course is red, but is used in the traditional “blanc de noirs” (white from black) method in which the colored grape skins are removed from the fermenting wine before any red appears. On the nose, Métiss offers up soft citrus notes, with mandarin peel accents. The palate transfers seamlessly, as a bright, luminous core of mouth-watering acidity and classic Alsatian spice make the total experience unforgettable. Métiss is expressive, charming and focused; and at $20, with 91 points from Wine Enthusiast, it’s the perfect refreshing white wine for the Thanksgiving table.

From the ephemeral to the timeless, no harvest meal is complete without a bottle of Northern California chardonnay.

Kent Humphrey is the owner/partner and chief winemaker at Eric Kent Wine Cellars, and his sole drive is to make the best California wines possible. Sonoma County is home for him and his wife/business partner, and art curator, Colleen; and it is there that they produce outstanding wines from some of the best sites in the county. His roster of bottlings includes a clean, crisp Sauvignon Blanc, a Pinot Noir second to none and two very unique, single vineyard Syrah’s. But, as great as those wines are, his 1 KM West Chardonnay 2015 is in a class of its own. Out of the glass, you’re immediately taken by 1 KM West’s unique green and gold color. Aromatically, citrus oil and peel, as well as baked quince, dominate the nose, and these overwhelming explosions fold beautifully into a palate parade of lemon curd and white cream. The mouthfeel extends just beyond medium bodied, with plenty of acidity, carving out a finish that travels long and deep. Only 264 cases of this jewel were made, from three clones and four vineyard sites. It’s a world-class, NoCal chardonnay that deserves a spot at your Thanksgiving table. Priced around $45, its magnificence is worth every penny.

So, you’ve gotten through the first course or two, and you’re ready for more savory helpings. In other words, it’s red wine time.  

For years now, Cru Beaujolais has been a staple for my Thanksgiving table. Beaujolais is a wine producing region in the southern reaches of Burgundy, France, and is home to the grape gamay, a thin-skinned, low tannic cousin to pinot noir. It produces lighter bodied, acidic, fruity red wines, with sour cherries, red berries and black pepper notes. It is also comes in a very youthful delivery, known as Beaujolais Nouveau, which has an almost Bazooka Joe essence to it. The Cru wines, however, are a different beast, as they hail from 10 different communes that produce much more complex and meal-worthy wines. I won’t name them all, but my favorite comes from the commune Moulin à Vent, often called the “Seigneur des Beaujolais” (Lord of Beaujolais).

Domain Perrachon is a 6th generation property that dates back to 1877, and the family produces a Cru Moulin à Vent “Terres Roses” 2016 that’s out of this world. The perfect wine for dark turkey meat, with all the trimmings, Terres Roses is robust, with a ruby color and a bouquet dominated by iris and rose, spices and ripe red fruit aromas. The acidity is sharp, and there’s a slight grip towards the end that will surprise but not derail you. At a mere $20, it’s an absolute must for the hardcore Thanksgiving-Beaujolais traditionalist.

And finally, the ‘big red wine’ has to have its place as well, and the wine I choose is the one that my dad introduced me to a few decades ago, on Thanksgiving night, when my wine life began – Amarone della Valpolicella.

From Veneto, Italy, and one of the most unique wines in the world, Amarone is produced with native grapes – corvina, rondinella and molinara – that are dried on straw mats for 4 months, then pressed, fermented and aged in oak for a few years, then again in the bottle for at least another year.  My choice this year is Marchesi Biscardo Amarone Della Valpolicella 2013. A powerhouse wine, it’s defined by a very deep garnet-red core, with bright orange highlights, and a nose that starts from spicy, earthy aromas to ripe, deep cherry and cassis, with a hint of prune. A full-bodied specimen, dark cherries, leather and chocolate are all accented with orange peel and date. The finish is a mile long. The Bisacardo family is four generations deep in winemaking, and they are stalwarts of the both Veneto region and Amarone wines. It will set you back about $75, but believe me, you’ll never forget it.

So, this Thanksgiving, wherever you are and whomever you are with, take a moment to thank Sarah Joespha Hale, for the gift she gave us and the years we’ve been blessed to enjoy it. Until December, Happy Thanksgiving and Happy Vino’ing!

Mark Luna
About Mark Luna 10 Articles
Mark Luna is a Portfolio Rep for Roanoke Valley Wine Company. He has a Level 3 Advanced Certification from the Wine & Spirits Education Trust (WSET) and is a member of the prestigious Wine Scholar Guild, where he’s finishing his Italian Wine Scholar post-nominal accreditation. Through and beyond his work for RVWC, Mark writes, teaches and guest-speaks about wine in a variety of both industry and privately held events. He lives in Nokesville with his family. For events, Mark can be reached at mluna96@gmail.com.

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