Choosing wines for the Thanksgiving meal is a joyous task, calling for flexibility and creativity in equal measure. This is a time to bend the rules, forgetting any traditional meat-and-red-wine mantras. Turkey feels quite at ease in the company of full-bodied white wines, especially those with a thrilling backbone of acidity to balance the fruitiness and help them cope with a blizzard of sides — Alsace Riesling, Galician Godello and alpine whites from Switzerland all come to mind.
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If you’re more of a red person, forget those muscular, fruit-bombing kinds that will monopolize the party and instead focus on wines that will listen politely to the food while still keeping up their own end of the conversation. (I’m thinking of Pinot Noir, Grenache-dominated Rhone reds or Garnachas from Spain.) Or be creative: Offer a sparkling wine that will accompany the feast from start to finish.
And remember that much as you love wine, this is not the moment for geeky choices — that recently unearthed funky, natural wine should probably stay in the cellar. What’s needed are wines that are not overly demanding, yet interesting and original enough to make them a talking point without boring the non-wine geeks in the family.
Here’s my Euro-centric pick of wines that I’ve especially enjoyed this year, with one sparkling and a creative/flexible choice of still wines, both white and red.
Fraga do Corvo, Godello, Galicia, Spain
Godello is grown in tiny quantities in Galicia in northwest Spain, but it’s steadily gaining ground and gathering a faithful band of followers. Fruitier and fleshier than its better-known cousin Albariño — more mezzo than soprano — it’s a better bet for the Thanksgiving meal. This one comes from DO Monterrei, one of Galicia’s most dynamic designated regions, which hugs the Portuguese border. Made from low-yielding, 20-year-old vines grown on granite soils, it’s zesty, lively and packed with personality — a white wine for folks who think they only drink red.
Gusborne Blanc de Blancs, Gusborne Estate, Kent, England
English sparkling wine is having a moment, and the best estates, based mainly in the south of England with soils comparable to parts of Champagne, France, and blessed with an even longer growing season, are producing bubblies that are more than holding their own. You’ll be in good company if you serve up this buttery, baked-appley, fine-bubbled, Chardonnay-based beauty at your Thanksgiving table — its most recent outing was at Buckingham Palace, served at a reception for President Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia.
Riesling Grand Cru Pfersigberg, Emile Beyer, Eguisheim, Alsace
Alsace Riesling is a different animal altogether from its cousins from across the Rhine, meatier with more mouthfeel, slightly higher alcohol levels and a pronounced sense of place that reflects where it is grown. This one, from one of Alsace’s top Grand Cru vineyards, comes from a small family winery that’s in the process of converting to biodynamics and making waves with its range of elegant wines. (Its Pinot Gris Hohrain would be my other Thanksgiving candidate.) The Grand Cru name (meaning Peach Hill) suggests peachiness, but in fact it’s the bolder citrus and quince aromas and flavors that dominate, balanced by a beautiful backbone of acidity — a perfect poultry wine.
Ambassadeur des Domaines Diego Mathier Réserve, Cave Nouveau Salquenen, Valais, Switzerland
This is a big, white, Swiss alpine blend of Savagnin (think Jura), Marsanne (think Rhone) and Petite Arvine (pure Valais) recently introduced by star winemakers Adrien and Diego Mathier and a worthy winner of a Platinum (Best in Show) award at this year’s Decanter World Wine Awards. With its citrus aromas and discreet oaky tones, great body and spicy fruit balanced by thrilling acidity, it has all that’s needed to counteract and complement big, rich, salty-sweet foods.
Pinot Noir Passion, Donatsch, Malans, Graubünden, Switzerland
With steadily warming temperatures, even Switzerland’s more northerly cantons are producing some stunning Pinot Noirs today. Some of the finest have always come from the Bündner Herrschaft villages of Canton Graubünden in the east of the country, as this one from the Donatsch family, Pinot-Meisters in the village of Malans. Classic, perfumed Pinot nose, masterfully oaked with rounded tannins, it’s a lovely, lively mouthful that will complement but not overpower a turkey feast with all the trimmings.
Domaine Saint Amant, Grangeneuve, Suzette, Rhone, France
Most people associate Beaumes-de-Venise with sweet Muscat, but the appellation also covers red wines (of which this is an example), all of them blends. This sunny, southern Rhone red combines old-vine Grenache, Carignan and Syrah with a smidgen of the white grape Viognier. It is grown at 1,500 feet (500 meters) altitude, which gives it welcome freshness and bite to cut through the rich meal. Serve it slightly chilled for best effect.
Teixar, Vinyes Domenech, Montsant, Catalunya, Spain
Montsant, the Catalan, Spain, region that encircles Priorat, turns out some terrific wines at more approachable prices than its better-known neighbor. This distinguished red from Vinyes Domenech, from 100 percent old-vine Garnacha Peluda (one of Garnacha’s many mutations), is grown with love and huge respect for the environment in a nature reserve in a hidden corner of Montsant. Beautifully spicy with red fruit and berry aromas, it’s smooth as velvet with a long finish that will enable it to hold its own with whatever the festive meal can throw at it.