There are many Theories of Thanksgiving Drinking, all of them perfect and correct. Classic (Burgundy, Cru Beaujolais, German Riesling) works. All-American (Zinfandel, Oregon Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris, Finger Lakes Riesling, cider) works. Play-It-Safe (random California Pinot Noir, Jack Daniels, decent Pinot Grigio or stainless-fermented Chardonnay) works. Cool-and-Offbeat (Gueuze or off-dry lambic beer, Gewurztraminer, Lambrusco, Sercial or Verdelho Madeira, Negroamaro) definitely works. I’m not a fan of Beaujolais Nouveau, but it probably works too.
Good, but if you have “decider” status for Thanksgiving wine, just mix it up a bit. If you always pull out Grand Cru Burgundy, throw in a Gueuze to start. If for you this holiday means Buy American, try a Vouvray. If you’re a stuck-up, overeducated wine critic, drink the Nouveau.
The holiday celebrates lots of stuff getting pulled out of the fields, cooked and eaten in honor of cross-cultural interaction. In this untidy, polyglot spirit, here’s a ragtag assortment of wines that meet the important criteria: They’re delicious and unlikely to weird anyone out; they’re not fussy or expensive; and they quickly figure out ways to play “best supporting actor” (rather than prima donna) in the festive-meal drama.
They are simply wines I love that go well with food, and their usefulness extends far past Thursday. (Several of them I’ve written about previously, but in reference to older vintages.) Hold onto these suggestions for any time you find yourself seeking something new-to-you to drink.
For anyone who likes a little theory to go with their practice, here are a few unifying themes that I realized after compiling my list connecting these wines: Many of the whites are vigorously aromatic and somewhat spicy, full-figured rather than skinny. Many of the reds mingle a primary-fruit attack (the better to charm you with, my dear) with something drying, herbal and intensifying through the mid-palate and finish.
Alois Lageder Vogelmaier Moscato Giallo 2011, $20 (Wicked). Grand, dry, stony Muscat. If you think white Burgundy will be impressive with the festive meal, you are forgetting this wine and spending at least $20 too much.
Geil Scheurebe Kabinett 2011, $19 (SoPo). Scheurebe is Germany’s “other” great grape. It offers much of the multifarious complexity of Riesling, with less stinging acidity, less flintiness, more Sauv-Blanc-y herbal bite, no less balance among disparate components. There is a touch of delicious sweetness, and a fleshy, sultry middle. It wants you.
Two domestic dry Gewurztraminers. If not now, when? Ravines Gewurztraminer 2011, $19 (Crush). Civil, believe-it-or-not delicate Gewurz, from New York’s Finger Lakes. Soft and full, though it retains the slightest touch of carbonation from fermentation to stay on this side of refreshing. (So many more florid Gewurztraminers get exhausting, fast). Great Indian-spice notes, dry roses.
Claiborne & Churchill Dry Gewurztraminer 2011, $19 (SoPo). Ah, what’s the word for this much flavor, this much unfamiliar life? Teeming, that’s it. This wine is teeming with rare fragrances and spices, and the classic lychee profusion, but clean and finishing dry. Think of yourself on the fourth-floor balcony of a downtown building, watching a crowd of people from all walks of life go about their daily routines.
Statti Gaglioppo 2010, $15 (Pine State). I’m running out of ways to get more people to drink good Beaujolais, but here’s one. Drink this lean, silky, floral, medium-bodied Gaglioppo from a terrific producer in Calabria. Super friendly, oh-so pretty, thirst-quenching, low in alcohol and ready for you to almost gulp as you make your way through a big meal without big meat.
Chateau Musar (Easterly). This is not the time for the great Chateau Musar red or white. But it so, so, so is the time for the great Lebanese winery’s young, mineral Jeune wines: white, pink and red (each $21). The Blanc 2012, a salty caramel, expresses golden raisin and baking spices, with a toned, crunchy texture. The Rose 2011, of Cinsault, offers that grape’s copious freshness, but in a slightly oxidized package and laden with rocks. It’s actually kind of an enormous wine, in the end quite serious, oily and black. For something more smoky and incense-rich, touching on natural, stinky earth notes but still fresh-tasting, the Hochar Pere et Fils 2007 ($28) is a show-stopper.
Speaking of earth and rocks, the wine its maker calls “liquid rock” has arrived in the latest vintage: Cornelissen Contadino 10, $27 (Devenish). I first tasted this wine (Contadino 9 and Munjebel 8) early last winter, and then wrote two exhilarated articles on it and the Belgian Frank Cornelissen’s uncompromisingly naturalistic approach to making wine on the volcanic Mount Etna of Sicily. I’ve often wondered since then whether I was overstating the case.
I was not. It is extraordinary. Cornelissen hikes the price of his top-tier Magma wine (around $200) so that he can artificially lower the price of Contadino. This 10th iteration of the majority Nerello Mascalese wine is more dense and concentrated, less fruity, than the ninth. It is very, very big (doesn’t remind me of Pinot Noir anymore) but always in an open-knit, porous sort of way.
I drank it recently with Ned Swain, the wine’s Maine distributor, and he said “furry.” It is that, if “furry” means warm and deep. (He said he actually got a sense of fur, of adhesive prickle). We collaborated on a metaphor: Thick, damp morning fog; then the sun breaks through to lighten the mood; then a move to forested hills, ferns and moss.
Whatever. The wine is so damn fascinating, but so huggable too, with the most amazing tannins, which hold on but not too tight, just firmly enough to let you know you’re not alone. For this vivid, comforting sensation, as well the depth and breadth of its savory character, it will take center stage at my own Thanksgiving meal, and many more occasions as well.
Joe Appel works at Rosemont Market. His blog is soulofwine.com, and he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Not all the wines mentioned in this column are necessarily sold at Rosemont, but distributor information listed in parentheses permits special orders through any Maine retailer.