20 November 2008

Thanksgiving Buying Guide for the Wine Novice

On wine blogs and in newspapers and elsewhere, you're going to see suggestion lists for great wines to try with Thanksgiving. Specific bottles and vintages will be listed, and when you print out that list and take it to your local wine shop you're going to be mostly out of luck. Even if it's available in your city, not every shop will have the exact wine on the list. (See also the annual publication of the Wine Spectator Top 100.)

That doesn't mean that wine reviews are worthless nor am I attacking other bloggers--why else would I have been writing this for nearly four years? But my most frustrating experience as a novice wine drinker was never being able to find the exciting, interesting bottles I'd read about. After trying a few thousand wines I'm confident enough to pick out something on my own, but it's a week before the big day and you don't have time for all that.

So instead of telling you to run out and purchase a 2007 Paso a Paso Verdejo (although it would be a really great Thanksgiving wine), here's my simplified advice:
  • Don't spend a lot of money per bottle. Try the $10-15 range. Why? As you hold that bottle of wine in your hand, imagine having it swiped to punch up the gravy, mixed with Sprite and consumed by a tipsy great aunt, or knocked over by a rambunctious child.
  • Think PIGS: Portugal, Italy, Greece, and Spain. There are tons of great bargain Italian and Spanish wines on the market right now, and they're very food friendly. Greek and Portuguese wines are going to be a little harder to find but you'll get a lot of bang for your buck, just stay away from the pine sap-infused Retsina. Stick to fruity whites and dry rosés if possible, and ask for help at the wine shop. You'll get a great tasting wine and you'll get a chance to broaden the palates of your friends and family. Don't be afraid to show off a little. Say you collected them all on a Mediterranean cruise.
  • If you're feeling adventurous, bring a sparkling wine. But remember the first rule: skip the vintage Champagne and go for a Prosecco, a Cava, a Vinho Verde, or even a sparkling Shiraz from Australia. Again, these are all generic styles of wines, not specific producers. Chill it, pop it, enjoy it. A crisp sparkler is also a great way to offset greasy, salty casseroles.
  • Bring your own corkscrew. Good luck trying to buy one at the last minute if Grandma doesn't have one. If you don't have a waiter's corkscrew, get one now. They're cheap and easily fit in the pocket, though you might want to practice at home before you try to use one in public for the first time.
  • Most importantly, have fun. There's no reason to stress out over your wine choices, and after the third bottle is open everyone is going to be in a good mood anyway.


Fredric Koeppel said...

excellent advice in every way! you have made all the other thanksgiving wine buying guides unnecessary.

Anonymous said...

Ben I love the PIGS!! Also the corkscrew advise. Man what a great post. I agree with Fredric nothing more is needed. Have a happy Thanksgiving. Can't wait to see that post.

Samantha Dugan said...

As a person that works in a retail wine shop I just have to say....Amen. People freak out trying to pair wines with the "traditional" Thanksgiving meal and finding a wine that is going to be perfect with Turkey, gravy, cranberries, sweet potatoes and "dressing", (which can have anything from fruit to oysters) just aint gonna happen.

We always tell people to first drink what you like and second keep it simple, someone has been working really hard on the meal...you don't want a wine that is going to crush all that effort so maybe save those Silver Oak and 2005 Bordeaux for another time. For MY palate it is always, Sparkling wine, (makes all the relatives infinitely more tolerable) Beaujolais, (Cru) and Vouvray, (shrugging) works for our meal.

Also speaking as a retailer, The Spectator Top 100....grumble.

Anonymous said...

Well said! Hear! Hear!

As you hold that bottle of wine in your hand, imagine having it swiped to punch up the gravy, mixed with Sprite and consumed by a tipsy great aunt, or knocked over by a rambunctious child.

OMIGOD! Yes. Had some neighbors over a couple of years ago and opened a nice (and pricey) bottle of Cab. The wife takes a few sips and says this is good, but it needs some seven-up and she walked right out into the kitchen and filled the glass with seven up.

Like Rosanadannadanna I THOUGHT I WAS GOING TO DIE!

Hard lessons learned.....I assumed that since they had solid cherry courthouse ceilings in the double fire place library of their 8,000 square foot mansion that they were a little more sophisticated than they actually are.

Benito said...

Thanks for the support, y'all. From the retail perspective I know this can be a rough time of year as already stressed shoppers try to purchase the one perfect wine they read about somewhere.

I should also probably point out that "PIGS" is an insult in European economics but here I mean no disrespect and hope to celebrate the culinary traditions of those countries. To anyone I may have offended, desculpe-me, mi scusi, με συγχωρείτε, and lo siento.

Anonymous said...

I agree--this is excellent advice. While I tend to promote the "Riesling/Pinot Noir" approach, the PIGS school of thought works very well also.

I hope you'll do a similar post for the Christmas-time holiday meals.

Steve said...

This is great advice for a Pennsylvanian, since many of the wines recommended by reviewers can't be found in PA's state-run liquor stores, or are so much more expensive than the prices cited by the reviewers that buying them is depressing!

Anonymous said...

@The Wine Commonsewer: It could have been worse. Years ago, when my then girlfriend and me started to date, I invited her to my appartment for a dinner, which I prepared. I opened one of my best (and most expensive) bottles of a Spain Gran Reserva. She did not like wine and mixed it with sparkling water. I cooked a dish with an expensive wilde Irish salmon. She did not like fish and I had to eat her share, while she was eating my sides. It turned out to be a complete culinary disaster. She is my wife now anyhow ...


Anonymous said...

She is my wife now anyhow ...

SmOL (smirking out loud)

Something to be said for that, Stephan.