For most of us, Thanksgiving is primarily a celebration of family and friends eating food they have cooked at home. Some people eat a Thanksgiving meal in restaurants, but I hope the only people who find themselves there are those who, sadly, have no other choice.
As far as wine goes, then, the holiday is a celebration of wines obtained at a store rather than chosen off a menu. Most retailers spend a lot of time choosing and promoting the wines they personally love and, one hopes, honestly think will harmoniously accompany this beloved meal — this beloved meal of relatively humble foods which nonetheless offer myriad flavors in many directions.
So, today’s column might be best served by a collection of voices from the front lines of Thanksgiving wine sales: Retailers in Maine. I asked a broad array of representatives from wine- or wine-focused shops which one wine they’d recommend for next Thursday’s repast.
I offered no parameters or leading questions, but look what happened. All but one of the wines are from cool climates in northern latitudes: Alto Adige, Italy; Alsace and Burgundy, France; and Austria.
Yes, Austria, the clear vote-getting winner: Fresh, vibrant fruit (not fruitiness) with fat-and-sugars-gripping acidity; medium body and low alcohol for food flexibility and hours-long festivities endurance; exciting, unique taste and texture profiles. Yes.
Here are some terrific Thanksgiving starting points, in the lightly edited words of the respondents themselves. Editorial comments, if any, are added in parentheses at the end of the particular paragraph.
Sheri Jorden, The Wine Seller (Rockland) — Hillinger Secco Sparkling Pinot Noir NV (Burgenland, Austria), $19 (Crush): “This sparkler is a festive way to get the ball rolling with any variety of appetizers, but its velvety red berry fruit and relatively low alcohol level (12 percent) could carry you and your guests all the way through your entire Thanksgiving menu, no matter how eclectic. And, everybody loves sparkling wine!”
Eric Mihan, Bangor Wine & Cheese Co. — Alois Lageder Pinot Grigio 2009 (Alto Adige, Italy), $15 (Wicked): “What’s not to love about this versatile white? It’s delicious, it goes with a ton of foods, it is super-pure (made by one of the world’s leading biodynamic producers), it’s NOT Chard for those who can’t stand even the word ‘Chardonnay,’ it’s a screw-cap for easy access, and the bottle has enough heft that if you need to use it as a projectile weapon against your obnoxious cousin, you can!” (Appel: I too adore this complex, structured Pinot Grigio, and just about every other wine — especially the reds — from Lageder.)
Joe Fournier, Rosemont Market (Portland and Yarmouth) — Berger Zweigelt 2010 (Kremstal, Austria), $15 (SoPo): “The best affordable, versatile Thanksgiving wine there is.” (Appel: Full disclosure, I work for Rosemont too. Joe could be right, though: In this one-liter bottle, there are oodles of bright, fresh red fruits, and medium body to dance gracefully with so many foods. I’ll never forget an importer for a competing Zweigelt pantomime injecting himself with a hypodermic needle and entering druggy bliss when I mentioned the Berger.)
Scott Worcester, Sawyer’s Specialties (Southwest Harbor) — Domaine de Durban Beaumes-de-Venise Rouge 2010 (Rhone, France), $20 (Maine Distributors): “This blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre was made for Thanksgiving dinner: Bright fresh fruit for the ‘peas and beans,’ touch of pepper from the syrah lands on the turkey, and a hint of earth for the root vegetables.” (Appel: Note that this wine is not currently available in southern Maine, although if enough customers pester enough retailers down here, National could pick it up.)
Eric Fullagar, Freeport Cheese and Wine — Joseph Cattin Pinot Blanc 2010 (Alsace, France), $15 (Devenish): “Thanksgiving dinner has a lot going on on the table and in the room. There’s a bit of chaos on the table and in the air. We have dark meat, white meat, stuffing, gravy, root veggies, cranberry sauce, green beans, maybe asparagus and more. Each family has its own traditions. Each person has their own combination of food on the plate. It can all get confusing when it comes to the wine. Pinot Blanc is food-friendly. It’s only 12 percent alcohol, so it won’t go to your head quickly. This has vibrant fruit, crisp acidity. It’s simply delicious and great with a broad variety of foods.” (Appel: No one should be eating asparagus in November.)
Walt Manchester, The Good Life Market (Raymond) — Denis Dutron Macon-Fuisse 2010 (Burgundy, France) $16 (Wicked): “A fresh, vibrant style of Chardonnay, with ‘fall fruit’ flavors of ripe apple, crisp acidity and wet minerality. With a nice texture and fairly low alcohol (13.5 percent), it plays nicely with a classic roasted turkey, but doesn’t overpower the savory herbs, fresh vegetables and starchy components of a traditional Thanksgiving dinner.” (Appel: This is a beautiful, rich but crisp expression of Burgundy, and I’ve seen it selling for less than $16.)
Chris Ziagos, RSVP (Portland) — Hillinger Small Hill Red 2008 (Burgenland, Austria), $16 to $17 (Crush): “It’s a supple blend of Merlot, Pinot Noir and St. Laurent that caresses the palate with dark fruit and fine tannins. I had it with sushi, but it would work just as well with turkey and the variety of Thanksgiving dishes. Don’t forget to give it a slight chill.” (Appel: Sushi, wow! But Chris is right. Serve it — and most reds — at 60 degrees, max.)