Sparkling wine is a great problem solver. It raises the festivity level at any occasion, it tends to appeal to everyone, and it is insanely food-friendly. It’s not always incredibly wallet-friendly, however, and certain special-occasion-grade Champagnes are so complex and grand they should probably stand alone as aperitifs. Happily, especially if you’re feeding a large crowd on Thanksgiving, there are tons of affordable beauties from all over the world who won’t hog the spotlight but who will elevate the menu, enliven the conversation, and smooth over awkward situations with all but the most impossible in-laws.
Pinot noir is the most arguably drag-and-drop red still wine to serve with turkey, so if you lean that way you might consider an all pinot sparkling wine (“Blanc de noirs” or pink) as a Thanksgiving dinner accompaniment, but sparkling wines can be made from a vast array of grapes and they are almost always food-crazy. So play!
Limoux, France ($13)
An affordable French sparkler from a great maker. A pale salmon-pink blend of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc, this is a soft, light, easygoing wine at an equally easygoing price. Some sparkling wines are showoffs; this one isn’t and it won’t argue with anything on your table. Hints of honeysuckle, peach, apricot and wet stone, with a palate-refreshing finish of grapefruit and blood orange zest. There’s some spiciness, a dried-flower element. The person I tasted this with felt it leaned pretty hard toward cherries, and while that’s a typical pinot note, I didn’t really get it as much as the peachy tones. Either way, it’s suitable as an aperitif or an accompaniment to the main event, and it’s priced so you won’t die if you’re feeding a crowd.
A.O.C. Bordeaux ($17.00)
Your friend for any winter-season celebration, this is a super-pale-gold wine with a crisp nature and feisty, persistent bubbles. A seafood wine without a doubt, but certainly also no enemy of turkey. Made from Semillon, this is a complex, layered bubbly that delivers a lot of citrus notes (meyer lemon and grapefruit are prominent), with berry, almond and pastry notes following. It’s smooth, pleasant and versatile.
Pale gold, this crémant is made from Sémillion with Cabernet Franc and Muscadelle, so the flavor profile is a little bit eccentric. In a really good way. Brisk acidity and an almost tentative feel to the bubbles. There’s a powdery-floral opening on the nose (I get acacia or locust flowers) and before a big berry-citrusy finale there is a mid-palate with unexpected spice and coffee notes.
This is the flagship Moët & Chandon champagne and it’s a pretty iconic one. Made from the Champagne Three (Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier), it’s a blend of over 100 different wine batches, of which 20%-30% are reserve wines specially selected to enhance its maturity, complexity and consistancy. The word you’re looking for is “nuanced.” These guys run a very large operation and have many fans; if there’s a downside here it’s that it is the opposite of “different.” So, if you’re one to hunt down oddities, rarities and Things Unique, these guys are not your guys. Classic, refined, genre-defining? They gotcha. Very dry, apples and lime on the palate, smooth acidity, goes with everything.
Reggio-Emilia, Italy ($10)
On the other end of the spectrum from “goes with everything” is Lambrusco, a love it or hate it sparkling red from Italy. It can be dry or sweet, light or heavy, and depending on your style it can be divine or confusing. Lambrusco often carries a strong hint of cranberries, which makes it a fun find for the holiday table. I Quercioli has both dry and sweet iterations, both of which I recommend. The Secco (dry) has a highly perfumed nose leading with wild violets (gorgeous actually). Fruity, brisk, cranberry-raspberry finish. Festive. The sweet version (“Dolce”) is perhaps better served as a dessert wine-it’s a lot like its dry cousin only with a higher sugar content. I think it’s a fine choice for cheeses too and probably lots of other things if you have an adventurous palate.
Another bargain to look out for, this cava is Catalan’s Champagne, a blend of Macabeo, Parellado and Xarel-lo grapes that combine to form a profile of aromatics that’s long on peach blossoms, ripe pears and toast. Baking spices haunt the mid-palate (ginger for me) and the luxurious finish has a pleasant orange marmalade quality. Fresh-faced, pleasant and versatile, and a steal. I don’t have solid data on how cava ages (Champagnes are cellar bosses) but at this price point it’s not a bad idea to try and grab some extra bottles and play around with time. Meanwhile, nothing on your holiday table will fight with this stuff.
Champagne, France ($50)
From the “something really special” department, this bio-dynamically farmed small-producer selection is also in the “to die for” department. 100% Chardonnay (“blanc de blancs”), this is an aromatically explosive wine with brioche and baked apples upfront, unfolding into an array of fennel flowers, seawater, chalk, saffron and nutmeg. Flowery and mineral notes compete on the long finish (which ends in a tie). This is one of those special occasion wines that can make an ordinary occasion special. A splurge and worth it.