What Virginia Wines You should Serve for Thanksgiving
Wine is central to the Thanksgiving table, even in a pandemic year like this, but choosing what’s best can be tricky. There are a lot of different types of food on the table at one time, from sweet potatoes and savory stuffing to gamey dark turkey meat and glazed hams. Finding one or two wines that can work with everything means you may have to step away from your mainstays like an oaky Chardonnay or powerful Cabernet Sauvignon.
You should by all means drink what you enjoy — it IS your mouth after all — but you may run into some unfavorable flavor combinations from wines with strong oak or heavy tannin flavors.
Fortunately, many of Virginia’s best grape varieties fit the bill for what the Thanksgiving holiday requires. Whether you are shopping from your local store’s selection or hitting the road to explore our many great area wineries, you can have a memorable meal this holiday enhanced by wines from our own backyard. There are strengths and weaknesses at every winery, so you will probably want to do some experimenting, but we hope these guidelines can help you find exactly what you’re looking for this season. The recommendations below represent some favorites that can be found at our store, local wineries, or other area retailers, but they are by no means a comprehensive list. One beauty of wine is that it can take a lifetime to explore, even this close to home!
Clean, crisp wines with minimal oak tend to go best with a variety of foods, and even a touch of sweetness goes a long way. The Viognier from Veritas has always been one of Virginia’s most consistent varietals, as it shows well in so many forms. Some Viogners may be crisper and show more acidity. Others, like King Family’s, may be richer and even see some oak aging, while always showing off the grape’s telltale flowery perfume even when blended with other grapes. Many people may mistake the fragrance for sweetness, but Viognier usually tastes much less sweet than expected.
Alternatively–when you can find them–unoaked Chardonnay from Jefferson Vineyards, or less aggressively oaked like Early Mountain’s, can be great as well, especially when served with something like oyster dressing or a salter ham.
Many wineries will work with the Vidal Blanc, such as the grapes at Horton Vineyards, a hybrid variety that can handle the relative wine-making challenges of Virginia weather. This makes a lot of off-dry wines consistently from vintage to vintage and, more importantly, they tend to be very solid values. Other varietals like Pinot Gris from Pollak Vineyards and Riesling from Ox-Eye Vineyards are beginning to appear around the area, and can run the gamut of sweetness levels depending on what each winery wants to do with them. Thanksgiving is a perfect time of year to explore some of these.
Softer, less tannic wines are ideal because they won’t overpower your food. Cabernet Franc routinely makes Virginia’s best reds from year to year, even in the more difficult vintages. Lovingston Vineyards’s is a worthy example, and the silkier tannins naturally make for a great pairing with holiday dishes. The aromatics are usually more pretty than intense, often showing peppery, or savory red fruits, brighter red fruits and violets/dark flowers, such as the Cab Franc from Hark Vineyards. This helps the wine match very well with dark poultry meat and game birds without overpowering the rest of the dishes on the table.
Merlot (a good one comes from Gabriele Rausse Winery) also does quite well here, delivering a bit more weight and plummy dark fruit for those who prefer it. Be wary of more intensive oak usage if you aren’t a fan, however, especially in more expensive versions. Pinot Noir, such as that of Ankida Ridge, is very tricky for our environment so, while there are few that try to grow it, those that do have some nice selections. Some wineries, such as Thatch Winery, are experimenting with Lemberger, or Blaufrankisch, a grape popular in Germany and Austria which can make soft and silky wines and is much more durable in our climate. Also, don’t forget about trying a dry Rose (we like Michael Shaps’ from Virginia Wine Works) to provide red wine flavors without the heavy tannin. Remember, you don’t have to wait until summer to enjoy them!
For Charlottesville Guide’s comprehensive list of area wineries, click HERE.
Charlottesville native Matthew Brown has managed Wine Warehouse for over 20 years. His palate, like his pen, has matured alongside our area’s heartiest vines, and he loves sharing their stories.