By Wendy Aeschlimann
Thanksgiving is maybe not the best time to go against tradition. Changing out your great aunt’s green-bean casserole or your mother’s sweet-potato-marshmallow dish could get you fired from the family. Still, Thanksgiving can be predictable and boring, comprised of discordant sweet, tart and savory flavors that are not easy to match with one type of wine. You just know the meal will be heavy with fat, butter and cream. Turkey, the star protein, is frequently bland and dry. And, alas, the dinner lasts for hours; if you drink too heavily, you’ll be snoozing on the couch by four.
Beaujolais nouveau arrives in stores about a week before Thanksgiving. (Funny how that works, right?) Bottles of this popular red usually find their way to the table. Instead of going with that lightweight red, we suggest serving an oddball white wine. Or two.
White wines have a pronounced acidity and citrusy, mineral notes that cut through fatty foods and accent a variety of flavors. White wine is also lighter on the palate so you can drink plenty without blowing out your taste buds. In addition, whites are usually more reasonably priced than reds. You don’t have to default to routine California Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. Chardonnay tends to be over-oaked and so can make turkey taste like wood. Sauvignon Blanc is too often horrifyingly tart. Both varietals—especially in less expensive price ranges—can be dull and one-dimensional.
By branching out to oddball whites, you’re likely to get lucky in even the under-$15-a-bottle range. Shebnem Ince of Perman Wine Selections (802 West Washington) is a sommelier who knows a lot about unusual wines. I asked her to pick a weirdo white wine in three price categories. After we get her suggestions in each category, I’ll suggest a few of my own.
Wines for a Crowd (under $15 per bottle/case buys)
2012 Castell D’Age Macabeo, Penedès, Spain ($10/bottle, available at Perman Wine Selections). This is neither your average white wine nor your average Spanish white wine. Macabeo often produces overblown, forgettable wines that taste like canned fruit cocktail. Castell d’Age is produced from older vines with naturally restricted yields. The result is a clean, delicious white with dried peach and tangerine flavors, super clean and mellow. Because this wine has no oak, it won’t further dry out a lean protein like turkey.
Or May I Suggest…
2013 Domaine Skouras Moscofilero, Greece ($12.99/bottle, $148.09/case, available at Binny’s). Most people associate Greece with mediocre jug wine. The Skouras is a great buy and will please even devoted drinkers of Sauvignon Blanc: it’s pleasantly acidic, a little spicy, floral, tropical fruity and refreshing.
2013 Ravines Dry Riesling, Finger Lakes, New York ($14.99/bottle, $170.89/case, available at Binny’s). There’s a lot of good wine coming out of New York, and they’re great conversation starters. If you haven’t had Ravines’ dry Riesling, you’ll be pleasantly surprised at its versatility. Expect a dry wine with orchard fruit flavors like pear and apple that mesh nicely with fruit-based dishes; it also has a pronounced streak of acidity that also cuts through rich dishes.
2012 Brandini Arneis, Piedmont, Italy ($14.99/bottle, available at Vin Chicago, 1826 North Elston). Almost crystal-clear in color, this wine has interesting minerality that will pair well with any seafood in the meal.
For a Small Group ($15-$30/bottle)
2013 Viña Sastre “Flavus” Vino de la Tierra de Castilla y León, Spain ($20/bottle, available at Perman Wine Selections). The Sastre Family is famous for their intense structured bottlings of Tempranillo, and they make this delicious white from a single parcel of land called Viñedos Viejos Mezclados. Flavus is fresh and clean when drunk young, and it ages very well.
Or May I Suggest…
2012 Domaine Les Cantates, Vin de Savoie Chignin Bergeron, Rousanne ($17.99/bottle, available at Vin Chicago). This is a gorgeous wine for the price, grown in vineyards owned by the Taittinger family of Champagne makers. If you’re looking for a wine with a little heft to pour toward the end of the meal, this is it. It has greater weight on the palate, creamy texture, lots of tree fruits and a touch of vanilla. This wine might even pass muster with dedicated California Chardonnay drinkers in your gathering.
2012 Catherine Le Goeuil, Cotes du Rhône, France (about $16/bottle, available at Vin Chicago). This natural, organically farmed wine is raised in cement vats and bottled unfiltered and unfixed—so don’t be surprised by particulates in your glass; they’re harmless. There’s a lot of orchard fruit—particularly apple—and an acidity that makes it versatile enough to pair well with many dishes in this meal, especially those with fruit.
For a Splurge ($30 and up)
2012 Léon Barral Terret Blanc, Languedoc, France ($49.99/bottle, available at Perman Wine Selections). You want rare and unusual? Here you go. This is definitely in the natural wine camp, made without sulfur and ever so slightly oxidized. Drinking this wonderfully savory wine is fascinating.
Or May I Suggest…
2004 Koehler-Ruprecht Kallstadter Saumagen Riesling Auslese “Reserve” Trocken ($129.99/bottle, available at Perman Wine Selections). Aged Rieslings have a weight and complexity that enables them to easily stand in for red. Expect some signature secondary petrol notes on the ’04, which will definitely make for an interesting drinking experience. When it comes to Thanksgiving foods, you may be stuck with the classics. To enliven the meal, I suggest you pick a wine that’s maybe a little off-center, just to keep things interesting.