Thanksgiving can be a wine pairing challenge, but you know that already. Chefs and home cooks alike have grown weary of the task of putting a new spin on the wine menu for this traditional meal. Since all the dishes are generally served up family style, with people filling every inch of their their plate with all their favorites, there’s not really a graceful way to present wine in any semblance of course pairing. So we often look for the most crowd-pleasing and food-friendly bottles and have at it. Eat, drink, and be merry.
But there is another way to to look at this. What if the wines served prompted conversation, if they were part of the connection we build when we sit down to share a festive meal with friends and family? Take the pressure off that perfectly tuned pairing and instead pour easy-to-enjoy bottles that have interesting backstories. Here are a set of conversation-starting wines that will be lovely with the meal, meanwhile adding a side of chat to bring everyone together.
For a cool historical twist, try Rusack Santa Catalina Island Vineyards Zinfandel 2018 ($72)
The first of two suggested Zinfandels (by coincidence), this one sparks interest because of where it is grown. There are eight coastal channel islands in central and southern California — one of which is Santa Catalina Island, where this wine originates. The Rusack team actually propagated cuttings from vines on neighboring Santa Cruz island, which had survived wild after being abandoned during prohibition. With permission from the The Nature Conservancy, these Santa Cruz Island Zinfandel vines are at now home in Rusack’s El Rancho Escondido vineyard on Catalina Island. Restrained, elegant, balanced.
To highlight an inclusive new wine brand, try Altrosero Sonoma Valley Zinfandel 2021 ($30)
Alexandra Schrecengost is a Black wine professional and entrepreneur, named a Wine Enthusiast 2021 Tastemaker. This year she launched her first wine with the goal of increasing diversity among wine producers. This release arrives through Culture With Us, the gifting e-commerce platform opened this year by Schrecengost. “It’s my hope that by incorporating flavors and aromas that represent my own history, those who open these bottles with friends will be inspired to look forward to the future, and toast to long-awaited togetherness,” says Schrecengost. Juicy, spicy, rich.
To celebrate organic farming, try Troon Vineyard Druid’s Fluid White 2020 ($25)
Troon Vineyard, in Oregon’s Applegate Valley is Demeter Biodynamic Certified and Regenerative Organic Certified. The Troon team crafts a portfolio of interesting, low-intervention wines that are also food-friendly and satisfying. As one of only a very small handful of Regenerative Organic Certified vineyards in the world, the farming methods here are all about biodiversity, soil health, and terroir-expression. Like all Troon wines, Druid’s Fluid White is fermented with native yeasts and no commercial acids, sugar, enzymes, or additives have been put to use. Lean, refreshing, crisp.
For something most people haven’t tried yet, pour Alpamanta Breva Pet-Nat Criolla (around $26)
This is one of those wines with a label that leaps off the table. With the iconic pet-nat crown cap, brightly colored artwork, and clear cherry liquid color this bottle is not traditional. But it’s fun, and so is the wine inside. This frothy and fresh bubbly is fermented with native yeasts and made biodynamically with the Argentine variety Criolla (in Chile it’s known as País and in California they call it Mission). The winery is a collaboration of three European friends who came to Mendoza to stretch their winemaking heritage in the Southern Hemisphere. High-toned, dry, mouthwatering.