I very distinctly remember when I got hooked on Twitter and it is due, in part, to today’s guest. The interwebs are the perfect place to meet your tribe–people that share your tastes and passions. I imagine if Julia Child and Avis DeVoto were pen pals today, their relationship may have started because of a twitter exchange. We have bonded with Joe Garcia over dinner menus, font selections, and menswear. His Boxing Day Brunch is a legendary feast I hope to attend one day. So who could be better to teach us about the perfect wine to pair with our Thanksgiving feast? Without further ado, Joe Garcia…
Thanksgiving is nearly at our throats and, as this is the one holiday dedicated to the principle that one ought freely engage in lucullan self-abuse and be grateful for the opportunity, the motto of “What ought we drink?” is heard echoing throughout the top floors of JMG Tower in ringing baritones.
Passersby accost me, women of a certain age and lurid disposition sidle up to me in the produce section of our local supermarkets, and incomplete foodies look upon us pleadingly. They all are aware of the searing need for vinapedic guidance.
Which brings us – calloo, callay! — to today, your day of potable deliverance.
In order for us to tell you what you ought drink, we must first start with what you must specifically not drink: Beaujolais Nouveau. This is not some sort of atavistic Francophobia or anti-Gallic editorial policy or viticultural jingoism. It is based on the hard fact that Beaujolais Nouveau simply doesn’t make sweet, sweet music with the typical Thanksgiving Day menu. The marketing wizards will tell you Beaujolais Nouveau “goes with everything.” Which is a yes-and-no proposition. It is simple enough and fruity enough and et cetera enough to not stand athwart the groaning board hurling vile abuse at your palate.
But that’s hardly a rousing endorsement, is it?
Mind you, this isn’t limited to Beaujolais Nouveau; the Usual Suspects (even when they avoid the dreaded International StyleTM) are all in trouble with the foodstuffs of gratitude. There is only one wine that has the muscle to cope well with the sage and pepper inflected turkey’s dark meat and white meat, and the cornbread, and the sausage bedecked stuffing/dressing, and the gravy and the cranberries and even that thing with the green beans and the canned fried onions and condensed soup your least favorite aunt brings every year. We’re talking about Zinfandel.
Sadly, most Zinfandel gets recognition for “white Zinfandel” which is a role for which it is catastrophically ill-suited, i.e., to become a wine that is little more than a wine cooler without training wheels. No, no, no. We’re talking real Zinfandel. It even has the happy characteristic of not being one of those grapes that has been planted up one continent and down the other. It’s a cheerfully American thing, this Zinfandel.
Now, if you are having a Thanksgiving bash with 50 of your closest friends and family some of whom might be considered, in technical terms, philistines, you’ll want to pick a more accessible and affordable Zinfandel than if the party consisted of 20 or 8. Basically you want something with soft tannins, cherry-berry fruit, decent acidity and a good spice backbone. Here are the choices depending on how colossal your festivities are, from largest to smallest.
2012 Ravenswood Winery Zinfandel Vintner’s Blend California ($9 street price)
If you had to pick a Zinfandel with exactly zero research – blind, if you will – your safest bet is to reach for something from Ravenswood. At any price, this is a great wine. At $9, it’s practically pointing a Pilgrim’s blunderbuss at you and demanding to be taken home. The color is a standard red, not purple and not any of that rust/brick either. It has a berry brightness that is adorned with very notable spicy and mineral-ly characteristics, with a hint (just a hint, but I’m not crazy here) of citrus. Around this time you notice how deliciously unobtrusive the tannins are, lending just enough support to keep things smooth and sleek. The closer you get to the finish the more pronounced the berry thing becomes, which wraps up with a delicious cherry/spice character. Given that my Thanksgiving will consist of a medium-sized horde, I bought a case of this very thing. With the case discount, it really is an stunning bargain and will also pair up fantastically with grilled steaks. (You’re welcome.)
2012 Sandler Wine Company Zinfandel Buck Hill Vineyard Sonoma County ($23 street price)
Yes, it’s another zinfandel. I know. But this serves to underscore my point that, if you wanted the closest thing to a “foolproof” choice, Zinfandels are among the finalists. This one is clear scarlet, with the usual blackberry/raspberry aromas, with a smoky/herby edge. It has a gleeful acidity and a crisp minerality. Amazing finish, with a bit more tannin than its kid brother above. Good bet for cellaring. (If you can find the 2004, grab it and run, the extra year will have made it even more stellar.)
2012 Ridge Vineyards Geyserville Sonoma County ($36 street price)
Ridge is another of the realibly excellent Zinfandel producers. This one is a purple-red, with a huge bouquet of blackberries and cherries, assorted mineral-ness and herbes de Provence, with hints of star anise and pepper. The body is less than you’d expect from a Zinfandel, but it’s lush and supple and the tannins just poke their heads out to say “hi.” (This is also sometimes available in half-bottles at about $20.)