Domaine le Capitaine Vouvray Brut NV
As politically dubious a holiday as it is, Thanksgiving still has going for it that it’s the one day a year when not only is overeating tolerated, but you’re shamed if you do otherwise. So this month is all wines that you can indiscriminately throw on your Thanksgiving table and they’ll be a nearly universally great match for both the food and the people. And because there’s no more versatile wine with food than bubbles, you’re getting two this month.
The first is one of the least common, Vouvray brut. It’s not that they don’t make plenty of it – they do – it’s that the perception of still Vouvray in the U.S. is that it’s sickly sweet swill from the bottom shelf, and a bubbly version of that isn’t exactly appealing. The truth is that the best Vouvray in all its forms from dry to sweet to sparkling is some of the most profound and long-lived wine in the world, so we miss out on arguably the best fizz made outside of Champagne due to guilt by association. May this one encourage you to seek out other examples.
Then again, this example is going to be hard to beat. While lots of other bubbly made in the “traditional method” of a secondary fermentation in the bottle like to trumpet they’re made “just like Champagne,” that’s a bit of a reach. That decent little Cava at the store is not getting a minimum of 15 months en tirage like actual Champagne, and that’s fine, but le Capitaine gives this at least 18 months on the lees before disgorgement. The result is a fine mousse and certain savoriness through the mid-palate that just isn’t there in lesser fizz, and since the soils on their 20 organically farmed hectares are similar to the chalk and limestone of Champagne, the resemblance is hard to miss. But instead of Champagne’s usual chardonnay, pinot noir, and pinot meunier, the grape here is chenin blanc, whose broad, warm flavors are better suited to traditional Thanksgiving foods. Make sure it’s good and cold before opening it, then give it at least an hour open in the fridge (yes, it will still have plenty of bubbles left) to let the honeyed apricot, fresh citrus, and spiced quince flavors develop to the point where they put up a decent fight against the piercing minerality and wooliness bringing everything into balance.
Cantina Puianello Lambrusco Grasparossa Secco, Colli di Scandiano e di Canossa DOC NV
Yes, Lambrusco, and you’re gonna drink it and you’re gonna like it. I don’t care what you remember from Riunite, the Lambrusco they mercifully demanded you serve “on ice” because diluting it and making it as cold as possible was the only way to kill enough of the flavor so you could choke it down. This is not only as far from the fizzy red soda pop wine you may know, it’s one of the most distinctive Lambrusco wines out there, and one that needs to be in your life well past the holiday.
Specifically, this is made from the Grasparossa variety, one of the driest, fullest bodied, and most tannic of the more than 60 types of Lambrusco grapes, just to warn you that this isn’t something you’ll drink on its own. It makes you think it’s something you could gleefully chug, with gentle bubbles amplifying the violets, raspberries, and dark earth on the nose, but the chunky tannins and heavy body have more in common with big cabs than anything else. But as you’d expect of a wine from Emilia-Romagna, when this hits equally rich and intensely flavored food, there isn’t a much better pairing, especially with cured meats. Serve around 55˚ in a big glass or even a low tumbler in order to let the aromatics and dark flavors do their thing. This is going to surprise you.
Domaine de la Mongestine Rosé Les Monges Coteaux d’Aix en Provence 2017
Dry rosé’s now total ubiquity, while welcome, brings with it a lowering of the average quality of what’s available because everybody’s cashing in on the latest wine fad gold rush. All these new pink wines aren’t terrible, necessarily, but the chances of running across one that’s actually a serious wine as opposed to a pleasant diversion are a hell of a lot lower now. Finding one at an everyday price is something I’d given up on as I’ve had to do with Willamette Valley pinot noir, Cru Beaujolais, Barolo, and so many other formerly hidden secrets over the years. It’s still hard to believe that a wine like this made it into the club this month, but it’s right there in front of you and it’s going to be the best rosé most of us have all year. Mic drop.
Domaine de la Mongestine may not be that old, but in their short history they’ve made this one of the most decorated wines of rosés naturally best region, Provence. Capable of near term aging (you can drink this on Thanksgiving of 2020 and it’ll be as good if not better than it is now), this is the kind of complex, layered, and this sounds weird to say but this is where we’re at with rosé these days but vinous rosé that made wine fanatics start to fetishize Provence pink 40 years ago. Treat this more like a nice bottle of pinot than a lifestyle accessory and you’ll be shocked as to how it rises to the occasion. Yes, it’s still that briny, floral, apricots-and-sunshine style that defines Provence rosé, but the expanded sweep and detail of the aromas, flavors, and textures allow this to more than stand up to huge range of foods most of us see on our Thanksgiving tables. The body helps in this regard as well, and the acid in this vintage’s concentrated grapes cuts through the most indulgent foods while keeping the palate awake and alive. Serve this at about 50˚, decanted if you can, and pour your glass first because this will not last long once people get a taste of it.
Quinta dos Currais Síria, Beira Interior 2015
Every year I think “This is it, this is the year Portugal gets discovered and the wines start costing more than a Taco Bell Double Chalupa Box,” and every year I’m wrong. Don’t interpret this as a complaint, because I’m happy to keep paying less for good Portuguese wine than some bottled waters, but there’s an insidious side effect to a surplus of delicious and practically free good Portuguese wine: It’s preventing folks from embracing slightly pricier but truly great Portuguese wine. Stepping up just a few bucks opens up a tier of Portuguese wines that are on par with any in the world.
And yes, this is but one of those many wines. Located far inland, along the granite slopes of the Spanish border, this is a totally different white wine experience than the Vinhos Verdes and other crisp, coastal whites we see most often in the U.S. Here, the combination of stony soils, high altitude, and plenty of sun produce fleshy, full-bodied white wines of startling clarity and purity akin to what you’d see in Alsace, and fortunately for us are similarly versatile with food, and not only the usual Thanksgiving fare. This particular wine is more similar to a dry riesling than anything else with its pretty, flower-laced citrus aromatics and broad, rich, exotic palate all fortified by a serious bed of minerality. Riesling’s dramatic, sometimes petrol-ish undertones, though, are replaced here by a nutty, musky warmth that softens the impact of the focused acid and makes it a cozier sipping wine that somehow feels more right under the pale, cooler skies of fall.
As for serving suggestions, you have some choices to make. If you need an aperitif wine for pre-dinner snacks, serve this nice and chilled, and get that cheese tray and chips and onion dip going. If you intend to serve this with Thanksgiving dinner, give it a good few hours in a decanter at room temperature, then chill it just a bit below cellar temperature to serve. If you only have two of you at dinner and you already drank the other wines in this bag and passed out before you open this, serve it next year and let the quick-oxidizing qualities of the síria grape from which this is made deepen this into the perfect leftover turkey hangover sandwich.
Quinta del Obispo Mencía, Bierzo 2016
It’s always amusing to see the newspaper articles every year about “The Best 20 Thanksgiving Wines” or whatever, presented like they’re the result of years of highly technical research, when in reality pairing wines for Thanksgiving could not be simpler: Softer fruit-forward bright reds, rich but high-acid whites, and anything bubbly and/or pink. If it’s just as good out of a tumbler as a Zalto glass because stemware is a dangerous proposition at a busy and crowded table, so much the better. That’s it. With that little to think about when writing these articles, you’d think they’d have the bandwidth to have elevated mencía to its place in the pantheon of Alsace, Beaujolais, Loire, barbera, and pinot noir that’s quite correctly trotted out each year, because it’s eminently deserving of such a spot.
While it’s capable of making age worthy wines of considerable depth, to me, mencía’s coolest attribute and most useful form is as a young, unoaked wine made for pure, fast, simple pleasure. Naturally reflecting the cool, damp climate of its home in northwest Spain with a lighter body and fresher fruit reminiscent of the aforementioned Thanksgiving reds, its dark fruit and aggressive spice offer something different while still being an easy match for everything from turkey to sweet potatoes. Its powerful aromatics that lean less on the spice and more on the black cherry, plum, and violet make it friendly to the less adventurous drinkers at your table, while the faint but undeniable leather edges add a certain frisson to those of you who need a little more to think about while you destroy another helping of stuffing. Ultimately, though, the silky texture, energized fruit, and gentle acidity appeal to so many palates that not only does it deserve to be mentioned alongside riesling, gamay, cabernet franc, and all those warhorses as a can’t miss Thanksgiving wine, it may very well turn out to be your favorite. No need to chill or decant this one. Grip it and rip it at any temperature and you’ll be fine.
Mortilla Frappato Seforha, Terre Siciliane 2016
Hot, arid Sicily doesn’t generally evoke sensations of freshness and light when it comes to food and wine, especially since most folks’ only exposure to Sicilian wine is through cheap, thick, sweet bottles of factory-made nero d’avola, maybe even to wash down plates of arancini or one of their famous deep-fried, organ-meat-stuffed sandwiches. Their reputation as purveyors of delicious but massive palate-wrecking delights is the only plausible explanation for frappato not being poured at every Thanksgiving, because not only is it shockingly light enough to work well, its exuberant friendliness is impossible to resist even for those who scoff at anything short of monolithic cult Napa cabs. In fact, it’s the one wine that is a non-negotiable feature of any Thanksgiving that I’m attending, usually in multiple large format bottles, because to me there’s no better suited wine for that menu.
Usually blended with nero d’avola into Sicily’s famous but often insipid Cerasuolo di Vittoria, frappato is far better off vinified by itself. With nero’s alcohol and viscosity stripped away, frappato bursts with such character that it seems impossible you could contain it all in such a delicate wine. A nose more like gewürztraminer or other aromatic white wines is disorienting at first with its white rose, oranges, and spice, but let it open up a bit and some tart cherry and more pungent floral components emerge. At first sip, it’s still unusually soft and light on the attack, but over time and with some food the fine tannins start to build and the fruit deepens to an earthier, more concentrated cherry and raspberry redness that perfectly walks that line between satisfying and enticing. The more you drink, the more you want because there’s so much to smell, taste, and feel in frappato it’s tough to think of drinking anything else once you get started. Serve a touch chilled if you want, but it’s not necessary. If you’ve got any spicy food on the table, this is what you want with it.