Putting The Sparkle Back Into Thanksgiving

Food & Drink

Why wait til end of year to pop a celebratory cork?

The biggest eating holiday of the year deserves to be celebrated, especially as the first Thanksgiving with the coronavirus pandemic well behind us. And what better way to toast the times than a bottle of sparkling wine? Many hold off until end of year to pop the bubbly, but sparkling wine on turkey day can start off pre-dinner appetizers, stay the course all through dinner and keep on going through dessert.

“I personally love setting a celebratory tone with sparkling wine for the Thanksgiving meal,” says Remi Cohen, chief executive officer at Napa’s Domaine Carneros estate, and herself a former winemaker. “It pairs beautifully with so many different types of food, making it a great accompaniment to a Thanksgiving table, which usually features not only turkey but an array of sides.” Cohen suggests starting the meal with classic pairings such as caviar (she’s keen on Tsar Nicoulai, sustainably sourced in California) or oysters, and keeping your glass at hand throughout the meal.

“The bright acidity and citrusy flavors of sparkling wine complement the richness of turkey, gravy, stuffing, mashed potatoes and casseroles,” she said, adding “not to forget the pie.”

Well, cheers to that! And, to help you toast, here are a few stateside sparklers to go with America’s favorite eating holiday.

Domaine Carneros. The pioneering winery founded by the Taittinger Champagne family produces traditional method sparkling wines that can rival their French cousins in depth, flavor and sophistication. Named for the courtesan and mistress of Louis XV, the Cuvee de la Pompadour is a sassy fruit- and floral-forward Brut rose, slightly more weighted toward Pinot Noir. It has plenty of fresh strawberry and bright cherry and a hint of orchard stone fruit. Enough yeasty notes to place in firmly in the category of TM, but not as rich as its sister wines. A fun quaff for pre-gaming the big meal. The estate’s signature Brut rests on its lees in bottle for three years before release, offering a core of yeasty, creamy roundness that’s surrounded by orchard fruits and citrus notes of lemon and grapefruit, and a tinge of almond nut skin. I want this with apple pie, but it will hold its own with turkey and the trimmings. Le Rêve (“the dream”) is appropriately named. This 100% Chardonnay (Blanc de Blancs if you want to get fancy) from very select parcels is the pinnacle of the estate’s winemaking, aged for six years. The result is a deeper, ethereal expression of brioche and caramelized buttery baked apples, sweet baked pear, marzipan, nut skin and bright ginger spice notes. Have this with the Tsar Nicoulai caviar or oysters before the meal as Cohen suggests, or with the crispiest part of the bird. Heck, have it on its own because it can hold its own.

Domaine Chandon. Another of California’s French-inspired sparkling houses, two bottlings should make your list: the 50th anniversary “Winemaker’s Blend,” a cuvée collaboration of past and present winemakers. Made with grapes sourced from the estate’s three signature parcels in Carneros, Yountville and Mt. Veeder—representing three different terroirs—this wine has all the markers of the traditional method process: steady bubbles, creamy texture, notes of brioche, tinges of honey-candied lemon, baked apples and poached pears firmly on display. Good match with sweet potatoes. The Etoile Brut is made from the three traditional grapes of Champagne, aged for at least five years before release. The yeast profile is deeper and so are the fruits: baked Asian pear, golden apples, Meyer lemon compote. There’s an interplay of bright ginger and baking spice along with warm nut skin. This could go with that caviar or oysters, but also with the juiciest, sweetest part of the turkey, and a winner with my mother’s cranberry sauce recipe. (Sadly, the recipe went to the grave with her, or I’d share!)

Frank Family Vineyards. With nearly five years of aging on lees, this Blanc de Blancs from Napa relies on grapes sourced exclusively from the Lewis Vineyard in the cool-climate Carneros AVA.

As such, it is a richer style showing expected yeasty notes, leaning toward a buttery brioche, but still manages to be light on its feet with crisp green apple, not-quite-ripe pear and a lemony twist. Pretty bubbles complete this sophisticated package. FFV’s Brut Rose has all the charm you’d expect from a pink sparkler—sweet, small red berries, red flowers and a pretty creaminess. Though this spent four years on the lees, it’s very fruit forward and fresh. It’s a medium-weighted wine that will be a good “plus one” at the dinner table, keeping company with turkey but also the sweeter side dishes.

Gloria Ferrer. Bucking the French-to-California trend, José and Gloria Ferrer hail from Barcelona, and were the first to establish Carneros as a ground zero for sparkling wine. The non-vintage Sonoma Brut is an attractively priced bubbly based on Pinot Noir that shows pear, apple and white floral primary notes, then a bit of roasted almond on the finish. Versatile from toast to table. The Carneros Cuvée, the winery’s Tête de Cuvée is the sophisticated big sister, aged up to nine years (depending on the vintage), slightly more weighted with Pinot Noir and subsequently showing more depth in its toasty notes and fruit—think red apple instead of green, black cherry instead of bright red, sweet Meyer lemon instead of the garden variety lemon. A definite team player with the roast bird, but also can be enjoyed after the meal with pumpkin pie and, if you’re serving one, a cheese plate.

Joseph Phelps. In its third vintage, “Ovation” is the most recent offering from this well-regarded Napa producer, made in the traditional method and driven by 80% Chardonnay with Pinot Noir comprising the remainder. Grapes are sourced from the Freestone Vineyard on the western Sonoma Coast. Sliced green apple and pear, citrus zest, stone fruit and toasty brioche on the nose—some marzipan, too. Then on the palate, a creamier expression of white peach and raspberry, and a bit of a saline character, thanks to that coastal influence. Dry, full bodied with medium bubbles and enough acid to define the wine, without edging toward austerity.

Roederer Estate. The “L’Ermitage” Brut Rose hails from the French outpost established in Anderson Valley. This sparkler is made only in exceptional years using estate-grown Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes. The color of wild-caught salmon, this is creamy and rich, and might compete with the myriad flavors on the table. But save this one for the after party: This is for the sweet things on your table, with its slightly candied profile (in a good way) and fleshy ripe fruits. The sister white Brut is made from the three traditional Champagne grapes (+4.9% reserve wine) and expresses buttered pastry, quince, Asian pear (not tasted; notes provided by producer).

Domaine Serene. Well, we can’t let California have all the fun, so sharing a bit of the limelight is this Champagne “look alike” from Oregon’s Dundee Hills. The “Evenstad Reserve” Brut is a multi-vintage blend from the estate’s single-vineyard sites, nearly evenly split between Pinot Noir and Chardonnay with about 9-10% from reserve wines. It leans toward the lush and plush with creamy bubbles, a white-chalk and white truffle richness and some candied ginger and marzipan in the midpalate.

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