Troy Knapp is executive chef at the Hyatt Hill Country Resort, including Antlers Lodge. He's also a Certified Sommelier and Certified Specialist of Wine. His column, Spectacular Brilliance, appears monthly on SavorSA.
By Troy Knapp
Thanksgiving and other memorable holiday dinners are priceless, so, for Pete’s sake, don’t skimp on the wine!
To save a few dollars in these occasions that are few and far between would be, in my opinion, the wrong place. Yes, great wines come with a cost, however I’m sure, you will discover the extra money is well worth it. For these rare holiday occasions when friends and family come together, why not seek out something truly special that will enhance the experience?
When making holiday selections, quality always overrules quantity! I’ll never understand the fixation with buying cheap food or wine. This is the one area in life that I’m not willing to skimp. Quality comes with a cost and requires you to seek it out. "The best you can afford,” is a great motto to live by. Conscious food is what we need to strive toward, as it not only tastes better, it is significantly better for the environment as well as our health. So, when it comes to the Thanksgiving table, look for all-natural turkey, lots of beautiful, organic vegetables and of course, great wine!
Riesling, Gewürztraminer and Gamay (Beaujolais) are frequently purchased to accompany the Thanksgiving table as they have a good relation with the traditional dishes we all love. There are a wide variety of these wines, so beware of some common misconceptions. You can easily find many of these wines in the “$10 and less category” that will be quaffable, however, they pale in comparison to what these varietals can offer.
Riesling is quite an amazing grape variety; ranging from common and unexciting wine to truly extraordinary examples that are very well respected in the world of wine aficionados. Grand Cru Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Sylvaner and Pinot Gris (known as Tokay) from Alsace in France are all great options for Thanksgiving dinner.
The wines of Alsace France are typically full bodied and dry where as the sweeter styles hail from Germany and the residual sugar is wonderfully contrasted with bracing acidity. These wines typically start in the $40- $60 price range and can be found at a specialty grocer or wine shop. Germany has a complex system of classification and reading the label can be intimidating. A little research, or simply asking for assistance in the wine shop, will go a long way in finding your selection.
Beaujolais Nouveau is released every year on the third Thursday of November. This wine is readily on display at most markets and meant to be consumed young. However, I recommend you seek out premium bottling of Beaujolais from one of the ten specific village/sites that have been awarded Cru status. “Cru” is a French term that refers to “growth place,” so wines from certain “Cru” regions have strict standards that result in depth and complexity not found in common Beaujolais bottling. Ask for Morgon [moor - gah] or Moulin au Vent [moo-lahn-ah-vah]. Both of these bottlings typically start in the $30 price range.
Pinot Noir pairs rather well at the Thanksgiving table, and Premier Cru or Grand Cru Red Burgundies are simply spectacular. Pinot Noir from Germany and New Zealand are not as abundant, however, both are well worth tracking down. Both options are much lighter than their California counterparts and showcase the delicate and lighter side of Pinot Noir. For something in the middle try Oregon Pinot Noir. It is readily available and shares a common elegance as other cool climate pinots. This region offers characteristics between the earth-driven wines of Burgundy, France and the fruit-driven Pinots of California. A great choice for a group of diverse palates.
Regardless of your selection, quality should be the focus and will certainly be worthy of a few extra bucks.
My most memorable dining experiences are those with special friends and family, enjoying conversation over great wine. My wife and I will always remember a few specific bottles that we shared long ago. They were supported by great ambience and hold a place in our memories. We look forward to drinking these same wines on special occasions, especially during the holidays; just as hearing a piece of music can bring us to a certain place in time, wine shares a similar relation. Pulling a cork from a special bottle is like opening a time capsule, our senses connect with memories and thoughts are re-lived.
So seek out that special bottle. It’s a small price for lasting memories.
From my family to yours, in health and happiness, have a happy Thanksgiving.