If I were to say "Top Thanksgiving Wines. Go!", chances are Pinot Noir, Champagne, Zinfandel, Sancerre and Anything-that-gets-me-through-dinner-with-my-extended-family would be shouted out with zeal – and with good reason. BUT, what if I were to tell you that there is a whole other world out there: not in the creepy, Stranger-Things-upside-down way, but in the Aladdin-on-a-magic-carpet way.
(Hop on and I'll explain.)
Italy arguably produces the most food-friendly wines in the world. Tack on the incredible diversity that a single boot-shaped peninsula has to offer and you won't need to look at any other section of your local wine shop for your Thanksgiving wine needs.
Below are some favorites. Be brave and try something new! I'll even give you pronunciation tips.
BUBBLES // If you like Champagne
This light, sparkling white wine from the Veneto is inexpensive enough to enjoy every day, but still festive enough to bring to a special occasion. Its apple and pear flavor profile perfectly matches autumn's bounty and is an excellent way to start Thanksgiving right. Look for producers from the Valdobbiadene region.
If Prosecco won't do it because you're after that Champagne-method breadiness, then try Lombardy's Franciacorta. Made in the same way as Champagne and often using the same grapes (Chardonnay and Pinot Noir), Franciacorta will tickle your taste buds throughout Thanksgiving dinner.
DRY WHITES // If you like Sancerre
- Etna Bianco (ET-nah - bee-YAHN-co)
Both Etna Bianco (White) and Rosso (Red) make it on this list because they are simply incredible, versatile wines. Made on the steep slopes of Mt. Etna, Europe's largest active volcano, these wines boast a minerality envied by many a fine wine. Etna Bianco gives Sancerre a real run for its money: sometimes more herbal, sometimes offering lovely floral notes, always delightful.
- Roero Arneis (row-AIR-oh - are-NACE)
In the chalky, sandy soils of Piemonte's Roero region, you will find the white grape Arneis, which means "little rascal" in Piemontese dialect as it is a difficult grape to cultivate. In this appellation, Arneis expresses itself elegantly, with lovely aromas of apricot and almonds and a cheerful but not overpowering acidity. It gains structure and body when aged in oak.
ROSATO // If you like Rosé
For Thanksgiving, don't shy away from those darker shades of pink: Many Italian wine producers make rosé (rosato in Italian) with a longer contact with the grape skins, allowing the juice to absorb more color and even gather up some tannins. Sangiovese rosati from Tuscany are bold enough to not get lost when paired with turkey and the myriad of veggie sides and the light tannins will be appreciated by your palate when you slather everything with gravy.
RED WINE // If you like Pinot Noir + Beaujolais
- Etna Rosso (ET-nuh - ROW-so)
Depending on your family dynamic, you may not need another volcano at the table, but Etna Rosso is a perfect pairing for Thanksgiving Dinner. Made primarily from Nerello Mascalese (Nay-RELL-oh Mahsk-a-LAY-zay), this light-medium bodied, Sicilian red is actually a peacemaker, harmoniously combining fruit and earthy flavors, sweet and bitter, all the while with a bright acidity and firm tannins. It will reach across the table, working well with umami dishes and the sweeter ones.
- Nebbiolo d'Alba (neb-ee-OH-low - DAL-bah)
Nebbiolo is the grape responsible for Piemonte's great red wines: Barolo and Barbaresco. In its youth, in the form of Nebbiolo d'Alba or Roero, you will find a medium-bodied wine with robust tannins, tart red fruit (alla cranberry) and pretty notes of roses. Another versatile wine that will be a crowd pleaser.
- Valpolicella Classico (val-poll-ee-CHELL-ah - CLASS-ee-co)
If you like the fruitiness of a Beaujolais, try a Valpolicella Classico from the Veneto. Made from primarily the indigenous grape Corvina (often blended with some Rondinella and Corvinone), Valpolicella offers sour-cherry flavors along with a touch of spice, which pairs very well with the typical Thanksgiving spread. You can also experiment with Valpolicella Ripasso and Amarone di Valpolicella if you want to take the body and intensity up a notch.
RED WINE // If you like Zinfandel + Syrah
If your Thanksgiving dinner involves a ham or if you like fuller-bodied wines, check out these:
- Primitivo (preem-ee-TEE-voh)
Primitivo and Zinfandel are clonal brothers from the same mother (the Croatian grape Crljenak). Hailing from the heel of the boot (aka Puglia), Primitivo makes luscious, incredibly full-bodied wines with flavors like baked-berries, fig, violets and pepper. If it sounds like a Michelin-starred dessert in a glass, it is. But, don't worry: its backbone of big tannins balances the sweetness and body, making it a wonderful choice for the Thanksgiving table.
- Aglianico del Vulture (ah-lyi-AHN-ee-coh - dell - VOOL-toor-ay)
Aglianico is Primitivo's neighbor, thriving in the volcanic soils of northern Basilicata (mid-sole of the boot). Here, it makes beautifully balanced, full-bodied wines: Expect pronounced minerality, acidity and tannins, alongside a rustic earthiness and a touch of tart, red fruit. Considering that is called the Barolo of the South, it is surprising that Aglianico is relatively unknown. Give it a try!
Why not try some Italian grappa? There are many producers throughout Italy (the bulk in the north), making grappa from the pomace of different grape varieties. A few of my favorites: Nebbiolo, Moscato, and Arneis. After getting through the Thanksgiving feast, your digestive system will thank you!
BUON APPETTITO AND CIN CIN!