Going Low Shelf for Thanksgiving

As almost all of you realize, Thanksgiving is just a couple days away and that presents a host of different emotions. For many (most?) it represents what it is “supposed” to be: a day of thanks punctuated by a fabulous meal.

For others, it is certainly a day that delivers angst, at best, and at worst downright dread. Dread since Thanksgiving for many is a poorly thought out holiday. It is unlike any other holiday since it is on a Thursday every year which for everyone fortunate enough not to work in retail, it means it is an automatic four-day weekend. Every year.

Sure, depending on when they fall, other holidays can turn into four-day weekends, but Thanksgiving has it every damned year. Now, if you are one of the really lucky few to actually enjoy spending time with your family, Thanksgiving might actually be seen as too short. But for an ever-growing segment of the population, Thanksgiving represents four days of anxiety, stress, even hell.

There are many reasons to abhor Thanksgiving: congested roads, price-gouging by airlines, exceedingly dry turkey, the Detroit Lions, I could go on (but I won’t). But for some wine geeks it has always been wine.

Yes, you read that right, some wine nerds actually dislike Thanksgiving because of wine.

Objectively speaking, Thanksgiving should be the Super Bowl of sorts for wine geeks; there are so many flavors on the table that it requires several different wines–a wine pairing task that gets wine dorks all excited.

Ah, but if it were only that simple.

A “normal” pour.

One of the, if not the, largest goals for the wine geek is to share a wine with someone who will appreciate the wine. They do not have to be a fellow wine geek, they do not even have to know the difference between Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc, but the geek hopes that they will at least recognize that the wine is good.

But for every relative that might appreciate his or her wine, the wine geek has two or three that are usually clueless when it comes to fermented grape juice.

And let’s face it: it’s usually a brother-in-law.

They all know that the wine geek is going to bring “something good” to Thanksgiving, and they apparently think “well, if it’s ‘good’ I need to have a sheet-ton of it!’

No, they have no idea why it’s “good” but they figure they better fill their glass with the stuff before it’s all gone.

The “brother-in-law pour.”

This precise scenario played out for me more than once with my family, each time when I had returned home with perfectly aged Burgundies (both red and white). And I watched in horror as a brother-in-law (who has since been divorced from my sister, thankfully), filled his wine glass as if he were pouring a beer, took one sip, then left the glass, never revisiting the wine again.

I sat there befuddled and calculated that there was about $83.29 of wine just sitting there, waiting to be poured down the drain.

At that moment, I realized it was my fault that the tragedy had unfolded thusly. I was trying to impress people with beautiful wines and they could not care any less. Thus, like most wine geeks out there, I realized that Thanksgiving is not about the wine. At all. So get over it.

Don’t get me wrong, wine geeks are still expected to bring wine but no matter what they bring, their relatives will simply assume it’s “good.”

My advice? Don’t be a moron: bring some inexpensive wines since most of it will end up going down the drain. Still, it should be palatable since you are going to have to drink it too (the hiding the good bottle for yourself while serving up plonk to the rest does not work–trust me).

A few days ago, I went to my local grocery store and surfed the bottom two shelves in search of Thanksgiving wines under $15. Here are a sparkler and two whites (that I actually paid for myself) that I would be happy to see on any Thanksgiving table. Tomorrow I will have a few reds and a rosé.

2018 Rodney Strong Chardonnay, California: Retail $10. I can honestly say that I have never tried this wine. Yes, I have visited the winery several times and have more than my fair share of samples from the winery, but never this one. And that is too bad since it is pretty darned good. A bit funky on the nose, with green apple and a bit of peach on the nose. The palate is rather delightful with abundant fruit, plenty of tartness, and just a touch of creaminess. Look, this is not a Chablis in disguise, nor is it a Montrachet wannabe. But it is pretty close to perfect for your Aunt Melba who will likely want to add an ice cube or a bit of Sprite. When they do, you can simply sip, sit back, and smile since you only spent a sawbuck and the wine is pretty darned good. Very Good. 87-89 Points. If you are looking for a bit more sophistication, try the Rodney Strong Chalk Hill Chardonnay at around $15. Is it 50% better? Maybe. But it depends on how much more you like your guests.

Rodney Strong also makes a Chalk Hill Chardonnay, which is also a bargain at $15.

2017 Mezzacorona Pinot Grigio Trentino: Retail $8. A few years ago, I was the guest of Mezzacorona in Trentino on a press trip. I would like to think that the visit has no effect on what I am about to say, but I stand by it 100%. This is the single wine that I have ever had that has the highest quality to price ratio (i.e., “biggest bang for the buck”). Before you start rolling your eyes, consider the following: I really do not like Italian Pinot Grigio. At. All. Sure, there have been exceptions, but those were a heck of a lot more expensive than this wine. A. Lot. Trust me: the first time I found this on sale at the H.E.B. here in Houston for $6.93 (plus tax), I bought a case. And I regret that I did not buy more. Lemon and a touch of grassiness, this is an acid-lovers best friend and a fruit-lovers dream. Really. Mezzacorona’s “Cliffhanger” wine is twice the price as this bottom shelf dweller, but don’t be fooled, this $8 wine delivers well above both price points. I have made this my house white. And I really hate Pinot Grigio. No joke. The last time I saw my Mezzacorona friends, they indicated that they were taking my advice and they were going to raise the price to around $12-15 a bottle. While I was initially flattered that they listened to me, I also realized that one of the best sub-$10/bottle wines was about to come close to doubling in price. I felt bad. Even really bad. But the price has not gone up yet, so go getcha some. Excellent. 90-92 Points.

Yep, it’s waaaay down there on the bottom.

There it is! Also in Magnum!

NV Gruet Brut Rosé, NM: Retail $15. 100% Pinot Noir. Everyone loves bubbles. At least everyone with whom I choose to associate. That all changes when relatives are included in the mix: most (all?) of my family associates effervescence with beer. Lots and lots of beer (usually Miller Lite). Or, more often, with Pepsi. Or Coke. Or fill in the blank soda-pop. So when I toss a dry (or close) sparkler into the mix, people can become confused. Thus, I have a sweet liqueur on hand to mix in with the bubbles (think Crème de Cassis or Chambord). That way, I can sip on some killer juice while my family gets their sweet on. Should I take the time to educate? To extoll the virtues of dry (ish?) wines? Yeah, probably, but I am far too busy trying to avoid political discussions–being pro-active is exhausting. Good fruit, minerality, and an iota of funk (I love the funk). Make no mistake, this is a wine to hold back in case nothing else is working, just have the Sprite mixer at the ready. Very Good. 87-89 Points.

Go to bubbles!

The Blanc de Noirs is also stellar (and roughly the same price).



About the drunken cyclist

I have been an occasional cycling tour guide in Europe for the past 20 years, visiting most of the wine regions of France. Through this "job" I developed a love for wine and the stories that often accompany the pulling of a cork. I live in Houston with my lovely wife and two wonderful sons.
This entry was posted in Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, Pinot Noir, Sparkling Wine, Wine. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Going Low Shelf for Thanksgiving

  1. lulu says:

    I’m still trying to decide what to serve. One, I think, will be a sparkling rose.


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