Thanksgiving Values

hanksgiving is a special occasion, but save your special bottles of wine for another holiday. First, no one is really focused on the wine. I remember being disappointed that my rare bottle of Riesling could only muster a comment of “not bad!” one year. Second, wines of great complexity, structure or depth seem to conflict with the spirit of the dinner, which is centered on comfort food that accentuates togetherness and celebrates the wealth of the harvest.

The key is to find avuncular wines—friendly and forthright with good, honest fruit. Avoid tannic, high alcohol wines, or those with high acidity or dryness. A bit of sweetness helps. After all, we’re enjoying the bird with cranberry dressing and sweet potatoes. Good candidates for white wines include Riesling, Pinot Gris (or a rich Pinot Grigio) and Semillon.

For reds, try Pinot Noir, Tempranillos from Spain such as Rioja, or a fresh Grenache; a blended wine like a fruity Cotes du Rhone. Don’t serve the whites too cold or the reds too warm (easy to do in hot kitchens). A festive way to serve them is in a decorative pitcher so you can pour freely. The following are some of my favorites retailing under $15 that should be readily available in the Madison market.

Chateau Ste. Michelle Pinot Gris

Columbia Valley, Washington 2007, $10.25

Lovely aromas of spring flowers and ripe pears. On the palate, this is round and rich, with fig-like flavors that resemble more the Pinot Gris from Alsace than Italy.

Evergreen Vineyards Riesling

Oregon 2007, $14

Apples and more apples, with hints of spice and mineral. The perfect level of sweetness rounds out the wine’s balanced acidity.

Campos Reales Tempranillo

Spain 2007, $10

Easy drinking and fresh, with tangy cranberry flavors and a hint of carob and anise. Try with grilled turkey.

Armador Carmenere

Chile 2005, $13.50

Enveloping aromas of plums and vanilla that come through on the palate with a soft spiciness and hints of sweet peppers.

Simon Hackett Old Vine Grenache McLaren Vale

Australia 2005 $14

Extroverted and juicy, earnest spiced cherry notes greet the palate followed by accents of eucalyptus and plum.

The featured vintages are available at Madison’s finer wine stores. If unavailable, most purveyors will special order from their wholesalers if requested.

Michael Kwas is wine director at L’Etoile restaurant. He writes this column monthly.