The Beer Drinker’s Guide to Holiday Wine Buying

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The time of year is fast approaching when you are going to be called on to appease some oenophile on your gift-list, or show up to a Thanksgiving gathering or other holiday celebration with a suitably debonair host-token, or impress that “Person You Want To Impress” with the gift of high-class tipsiness. Following are a handful of my picks for the Wine Person in your life or Wine-Oriented Occasion you just can’t show up to with a six-pack of Coronas. I’ve divided this list into sections that ought to give you a well-vetted idea or two for just about any circumstances.

A few of the wines I’m going to talk about fall into more than one category and will show up accordingly. Some of them apply to more than one category but I won’t mention them four times. Just deal with it, man—this is a Choose Your Own Adventure kind of thing. The point is, there is something for everyone and you can use this list as a starting point with reasonable confidence that you’ll score a hit.

First things first: Thanksgiving is going to be here faster than you want it to.

So, someone knocked herself (or himself) out creating a give-thanks feast, and you want to bring something that suitably conveys your gratitude. And pumpkin pie just isn’t your strong suit (my mother has now managed to delight the troops with a pumpkin pie to which she absentmindedly forgot to add sugar. We delegate dessert now). A great wine is always in style, always appreciated, and generally benefits from an absence of sugar so let’s survey the landscape here.

For many, the generally acknowledged Emperor of the Thanksgiving table is Pinot Noir; for others it is Zinfandel; for some, it is simply unthinkable to pair a red wine with a white meat if you are a traditional sort. (I have not yet found the right pairing for Tofurkey; please feel free to ring in with suggestions.) We have happily stepped away from the pairing strictures of past generations and the reigning attitude among all but the snobbiest wine snobs is “if it tastes good to you, it tastes good to you.” That said, I personally don’t recommend a Malbec or a Gewurtztraminer with the usual Thanksgiving subjects.

So, following are a handful of special occasion worthy wines I happen to think are pretty awesome and imminently suitable playmates for a Thanksgiving meal.

Gary Farrell 2012 Rocchioli Vineyard Pinot Noir

At $70.00, this is not a weekday wine for a lot of us, but this isn’t just any weekday, and these guys are my out and out favorite discovery of the year. Grape-magus Theresa Heredia is a terroirista of very high caliber, and any of the blended or single vineyard Pinot Noir bottlings from this winery will delight anyone who likes wine. They sell out, so act quickly if you want to show up with a bottle of this stuff and score points for elevating the whole occasion. Expect a floral approach (rosy, mostly), with pronounced cola, strawberry and cherry notes. There are velvety tannins and good aging potential, but trust me, you won’t ever find out about that because it will be gone before the potatoes are mashed.

Quivira Grenache 2012

About $32.00. Probably best known for their Dry Creek Valley Zinfandels, Quivira also makes a kick-butt Grenache. While bountifully planted and certainly available in varietal form (especially from Spain, where the grape probably originated), it’s often a supporting actor in blended wines (It does play the major role in Chateauneuf-du-Pape, at up to 80% of the blend). 100% Grenache wines are relatively rare because they can be sketchy. This one? Stellar. It’s spicy, slightly herbaceous, with a soft and incredibly aromatic strawberry and cherry character. Playful tannins. I hear this bottle also has good cellar potential and again, I will never find out. (Note: blanket endorsement for Quivira’s Zins are a given. They’re classy, classic, and delicious.)

Preston 2012 Marsanne

$30.00. There are those who will probably disagree that Marsanne is a Great Thanksgiving Wine. Sorry, but there’s just no accounting for taste. Long appreciated as a friend to cheese and seafood, this opulent white has a creamy, mouth-coating texture that is pleasantly counterbalanced by a haunting orange-blossom and pear bouquet and a nutty (almond, I think) and mineral-forward palate. If your stuffing style is wild mushroom oriented, get your hands on this stuff. Or maybe you’re not into wild mushroom stuffing—I still say pour this, it’s yummy.

Cantina Terlan 2010 “Quarz” Sauvignon Blanc

Around $50.00. This will not be the perfect wine for every single iteration of Thanksgiving dinner, but it’s a pretty perfect wine. This heavily-laureled white from Alto Adige has a beautiful straw yellow color, and a rather exotic nose that leans toward lemongrass and mint and, I think, tea, and the rich, rounded minerality that characterizes the whites of this region. Palate: rich, slightly woodsy, with exotic florals and hints of elderflower and apricot. Long finish. Gorgeous.

Obviously, this is a teensy little jumping-off point intended to point out how many different directions you can go with classic Thanksgiving dishes. My examples are only examples. If you like pinots, know that amazing varietal Pinot Noirs come out of the Russian River Valley in California and Oregon’s Willamette Valley, as well as tons of other places. Other light-bodied reds that play well with turkey include Zinfandel (not always, some are heavy-hitters, others delicate. Ask. Taste. Err on the side of restraint with this one) Beaujolais, and Nebbiolo.

If you’re going white, it is this humble vinomaniac’s opinion that you want to avoid California Chardonnays for this day. Too. Much. Oak. A bone-dry Gewurztraminer (Gundlach-Bunschu of Sonoma makes a great one), or a citrusy Albarino or a soft, appley Pinot Blanc will make a lot less noise, certainly holding their own but not overwhelming the food.

And of course, when in doubt… good champagne nearly always makes people glad you showed up. More on that later. Meanwhile, give thanks for the thousands of years of trial and error, study and training, art and science that have brought us so many lyrical, gorgeous wines that you can’t even pick a favorite.