November 25, 2015

Thanksgiving is nearly here, and if you're not hosting, you'll probably be dashing through a train station, airport, or ferry terminal en route to your host's house. If you weren't asked to bring a side dish and you drink booze, etiquette dictates that you grab a bottle or two of wine en route. 

Happily enough, you don't have to break the bank doing so, and picking a bottle should be relatively easy; because of the variety of foods on offer, Thanksgiving is mercifully forgiving. But there are a few extra-smart picks, and a few types of vino to avoid. Michelle Biscieglia, wine director of Blue Hill New York, is a pairings pro, and gave us tips on the choosing best wines, each for about $20 or less, in the sparkling, white, and red categories. 

Sparkling

"I always like to start with sparkling, no matter what," says Biscieglia. "It's a nice way to welcome people into your house." (And what host is disappointed to see a bottle of bubbly?) It's ideal as a starter because it's both celebratory and palate-cleansing, which one needs for the variety of fare to come: "Bubbles work really well with different types of food." 

Think: Crémant (the less-expensive sibling to Champagne), Cava, and even dry sparkling cider. In the first category, Biscieglia likes the lively, complex Crémant de Loire from the Domaine de la Bergerie. As for cider, she loves Northern Spy from Eve's Cidery in New York State, a sparkler made using traditional Champagne methods and 100 percent Northern Spy apples. It tastes of fruit, sure, but also "has an elegant style and is beautiful and dry," she says. 

White

Biscieglia likes to have a bottle of white and red on the table, which should be flexible enough to pair with a variety of dishes. Whites should have "a little more body, not be too fruity, and be a little more savory or herbaceous." This could be entail a fruity Sicilian white, a dry Finger Lakes Riesling, a bright Sauvignon Blanc, or a Pinot Gris from Oregon State, but avoid a "super-oaky Chardonnay, which only works for one particular type of palate, and is not terribly versatile," warns Biscieglia. 

For a French Sauv Blanc, Biscieglia likes Quincy, made in the Loire Valley by Domaine Mardon (2013), an inexpensive charmer with mass appeal. It's "not your average Sauvignon Blanc," she says, but "is more earthy, a bit more savory and herbaceous—not grapefruit juice in your face." Pinot Gris fans might look for a bottle from The Eyrie Vineyards in Oregon's Willamette Valley (2013), which Biscieglia says is "herbal and tropical, with spice and earth—rich, but with great acidity." 

Red

When it comes to reds, don't go nuts and buy a fancy Barolo or Cabernet Sauvignon. "I like reds to be savory for Thanksgiving, but they still need to be elegant and smooth," says Biscieglia. That means most super-tannic wines are out, so consider Sicilian reds, Burgundy wines, the food-friendly Cabernet Franc grape, and Blaufränkisch, a newly popular Austrian wine.  

With its "nice cross between smokiness and fruit," Benanti's Etna 'Rossodiverzella,' from the area around Mount Etna in Sicily, tops Biscieglia's list, as does the Carnuntum Blaufränkisch from Muhr Van der Niepoort in Austria—a somewhat lighter, lovely introduction to that grape. 

Overall, as you're poking around the wine shop, says Biscieglia, it's smart to keep acid in mind. In the same way that you might leaven a pasta dish or gratin with a spritz of lemon juice or vinegar, wine can help break up the parade of heavy dishes. You want, she says, "something that has nice acidity that pairs well with a variety of foods. You don't want it to overpower" the fare at hand. 

Sounds good to us. Happy feasting! 

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