Unless you're signed up to bring the pie (and even if you are) it's nice to arrive on Thanksgiving Day with a gift for your host. No one is going to feel like eating a box of chocolates after the meal, and flowers require the busy kitchen master to fuss with a vase and trim the stems—a bottle of wine (chilled, if needed) adds to the festive atmosphere, complements the food, and eases the host's financial burden a little.
This is the time to shell out a bit more than your standard weeknight bottle, though there's no need to get into the triple digits.
Celebrate with Champagne
The pop of a cork signals that the festivities have begun, but there's no need to relegate Champagne to aperitif status. Though it's excellent with pre-dinner nibbles like oysters, cheese straws, or spiced nuts, Champagne can really shine with the meal itself, especially if it's a richer styled option. Be sure sparkling wines are well-chilled before opening so they don't get foam everywhere.
Instead of standard Veuve, it's fun (and often good value) to explore grower-made Champagnes, especially at the nonvintage level. For example, Joël Falmet NV Brut Tradition is made from 70% Pinot Noir, 20% Pinot Meunier, and 10% Chardonnay—it's a rich, mouthfilling, husky-toned Champagne with a scent of buttery almond croissants, but more red fruit flavors than you'd expect, toffee layered with hints of cranberry and cherry tartness. Turkey is a natural pairing for this wine, which backs up the berried fruit flavors with herbal character: notes of time, pine nuts, sage, and fennel seed that will latch nicely into the flavors of stuffing and other Thanksgiving sides. It's gloriously delicious wine, miles better than what you'd get from the big brands for this price. (About $38.)
Don't shy away from rosé Champagnes for Thanksgiving; we particularly love Champagne Pierre Moncuit Brut Rosé, a coral-colored, deliciously rich and vibrant wine packed with fresh tart fruit, like a buttery almond biscuit dipped in cranberry sauce, with hints of tiny wild strawberries dancing on your tongue, and a vein of limestone-rich minerality running through. It's great with turkey, and would work well with ham, too, as well as a smoked salmon appetizer. (About $45.)
Worthy White Wines
Domaine Huet is a benchmark producer in the Vouvray region of the Loire Valley that makes wonderful wines from the Chenin blanc grape. I can't get their 2010 Le Haut Lieu Vouvray Sec out of my mind; it's a beautifully integrated, shimmery wine that's lipsmackingly tasty, silky, silvery, and mineral with bright streams of lemony acidity. It's a rich but bright wine laced with heady floral aromas (like pressed roses and honeysuckle), ripe honeydew and citrus. A wonderful partner for turkey and mashed potatoes, though you might find yourself lost in a daze, enjoying it on its own. (Around $28)
Austrian Gelber Muskateller is another favorite of mine; if you can snag a bottle of the 2009 Heidi Schrock Gelber Muskateller, do. It's fresh and fruity, lightly spiced with fennel and jasmine, with a wild swirling aroma that hints at Thai basil and pineapple, elderflower and honeydew. It's awesome with root vegetables (and lots of other foods). I like the 2010, too, but it's much more tart. (Around $24) For truly mind-blowing muscat that's a bit more pricey, go with the 2006 Zind Humbrecht Goldert.
Cru Beaujolais is one of the most delicious things that can be drunk at Thanksgiving—it offers both elegance and brightness to complement the meal. Seek out Coudert Clos de la Roilette from the village of Fleurie, which offers smooth cassis-like fruit laced with tobacco, clove, and bay leaf. This polished wine made from 25 to 33 years-old vines is rich and refined, but retains the acidity to keep it food-friendly. (Around $20.) Jean Foillard "Cote du Py" Morgon is another truly special option, though it runs a bit more expensive.
A big bottle has 'fun' written all over it, and magnums allow everyone at the table to get a taste (or two) of the same wine. They also make excellent gifts for anyone with a wine cellar—big bottles age well because there's less air (compared to wine) in the bottle. If you bring a magnum to your host for Thanksgiving, consider telling them to set it aside—to consider it a gift to save for later, not just another bottle to open at the meal. When the chaos winds down, and they open your treat, they just might be thankful.
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!
Disclosure: All wines except the Heidi Schrock, Zind Humbrecht, and Foillard were received as samples for review consideration.