This is the fifth year we’ve gathered here for Uncorked DC, to enjoy a traditional Thanksgiving meal and help out a very worthy cause, So Others Might Eat. I’ve always admired Kris and Tracy Schroeder for initiating and sustaining this philanthropic effort, and I’ve admired all of you for coming, despite knowing that you’ll be eating this same meal next week. And as the crowd continues to grow each year, I marvel at how brilliant Kris was to schedule this the week before Thanksgiving, rather than the week after.
Several myths have developed over the years to complicate the question of what wine to enjoy with your Thanksgiving meal. These myths have been perpetrated on you by wine writers, the parasitical profession that I represent before you tonight.
The most perfidious of these myths is that no wine goes with the turkey meal. Like most myths, there’s a kernel of logic here. Our traditional Thanksgiving feast is not the orderly progression of courses in a European meal or a restaurant tasting menu, but rather a cacophony of flavors on our plates all at once. Start with some poached oysters, and your sommelier might recommend a steely, minerally Chablis. Follow that with roast partridge and a wild mushroom fricas√©e, and the somm may suggest a Grand Cru Burgundy or a well-aged Barolo. But stuff those oysters inside a turkey, serve it alongside candied sweet potatoes and marshmallows, then slather it all with mushroom gravy and cranberry sauce — well, the sommelier runs screaming from the room.
The simple answer to this dilemma is to turn the Thanksgiving feast into a wine and food pairing laboratory by opening several different wines, as we have each year here at Uncorked DC. I know I’ve repeated my favorite Thanksgiving refrain in this context: Open one of everything – any wine is likely to go with something on your plate. And you’re going to have enough family members over that you’ll probably need more than one bottle anyway.
Another popular Thanksgiving wine myth is that the wine has to be American, since this is a uniquely American holiday. Again, I think writers are stretching for a theme. We are supposedly a nation of immigrants, and I see nothing wrong with celebrating our European, South American or antipodean heritage with drinks from our ancestral homelands. Of course, taking this thought to its logical conclusion, I should be drinking Scotch.
There’s nothing wrong with going the all-American route of course. And as it turns out, we have purely by coincidence offered you an all-American list tonight. We toasted you with the Thibaut-Janisson FIZZ, a sparkling wine made near Charlottesville, Virginia. Those of you who are repeat offenders will recall that we have included one Virginia wine each year. I actually asked Kris if he’d be willing to go exclusively local this year, because I’m confident we could find seven wines to excite us, but he turned slightly white and gave a shudder. I think he saw the bidding going lower than last year.
The white wines arrayed before you begin with the Sean Minor Sauvignon Blanc from Sonoma County. This is a textbook California style for Sauvignon Blanc, without the grassy aggressiveness of New Zealand, and an emphasis on tropical fruit flavors – but still with good acidity to match with complex foods. The second white is the Mer Soleil Silver, an unoaked Chardonnay from Monterey County. Kris likes the bottle – we both liked the freshness of this wine and its pure Chardonnay flavors unencumbered with the flavor of barrels.
The third white is my favorite of the night, the Dunham Cellars Riesling from the Columbia Valley in Washington state. This region produces some stunning Rieslings, and Eric Dunham is one of its star winemakers. This rich full-bodied wine has a touch of sweetness to it without actually being sweet. Riesling can do that, and that’s one reason why you will see Riesling recommended often for Thanksgiving.
So onto the reds! Our first is the Martin Ray 2010 Pinot Noir from the Russian River Valley in Sonoma County. Pinot, like Riesling, is amazingly versatile with food, and therefore a turkey favorite. The Russian River Valley is known for its pinots because it is cooler than vineyard areas further inland. The river captures the Pacific fogs and breezes and channels them throughout the valley. This moderates daytime temperatures and helps maintain acidity in the grapes. This wine is very young and last year was not a typical California harvest – it rained quite a lot – so here’s a chance to see what this region and this producer can do.
The Kunin Pape Star is a Rhone style blend of Grenache, mourv√®dre and Syrah, primarily from Santa Barbara and Paso Robles. It features lush California ripeness with impressive balance and a velvety texture. And our final wine is probably no stranger to many of you if you have been exploring wine for long. Ridge Vineyards produces some of California’s best Zinfandels, and the Lytton Springs vineyard is one of its most famous. This comes from the Geyserville area of Sonoma County – inland and much warmer than the Russian River Valley. So differences in grapes aside – and no Pinot should taste like a Zinfandel – you might be able to get a sense from these wines of the effect of climate just a few miles apart.
Wine is a generous beverage. It makes us feel generous. You don’t see cognac auctions to benefit charity, but wine auctions are famous, from the Hospice in Beaune this time each year, to the Napa Valley Wine Auction, to the American Heart Association’s Hearts Delight each May here in D.C. – and of course, Uncorked D.C.
Wine is fleeting. Once the bottle is opened, it begins to die. It demands to be shared. I’ve never met an ungenerous wine lover, and it’s a testament to this quality in wine that you are here tonight to support such a worthy cause.