Thanksgiving Wines – What to Buy and Why!

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I’ve been waiting all year to share this series of articles about wines for Thanksgiving dinner because this is my favorite holiday – bar none! Not sure why that is quite frankly – it just is. I’m not going to bother with the meal itself, as this is packed with everyone’s traditions and far be it from me to screw this up, but the wine . . . that’s where I’m going to butt in.

This is a first in a series of articles that will discuss the wines I recommend one-by-one, starting with the first wine, which I think should be champagne. First courses can run the gamut at Thanksgiving, but typically think of pairing champagne with nibblers, a cheese course, hors-d’oeuvres or even by itself to wet the palate. If you have planned dinner by courses, champagne would be the first course pairing.

By virtue of its name and the fancy packaging, champagne screams “top shelf” before it even get’s poured. Why? To begin with, champagne is a gigantic pain in the neck to make and can only be made in towns within the region of Champagne. Have you ever wondered why “champagnes” are referred to by other names, such as Cava, sparkling wine, prosecco, in countries that are not France? This is because the French have trademarked the names of their wine regions, bestowing the name of champagne to the exclusivity of wines produced in the region Champagne. The trademark prohibits anyone else referring to their wine as champagne, thus the different names other countries have been forced to invent. Pretty cute of the French, eh?

Although most champagnes are “white” in appearance, they aren’t really a white wine. Why? Champagne is typically made from a blend of three grapes, two of which are red: Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. The third grape is Chardonnay, which usually amounts to a third of the blend. If the champagne is made with Chardonnay grapes only, it’s called blanc de blancs; if it’s made with all red grapes, it’s called blanc de noirs.
Rosé champagnes are usually made from a blend of white and red grapes, some of which are allowed to show off their salmony pink color. Rosé champagne is usually made by producing a batch of red wine and then blending it with a clear wine, though some producers go to the trouble to bleed the red color from the grapes into the white wine during fermentation, a technique called saignée.

The quality of olive oil is determined by which pressing it comes from, the first or second. Extra Virgin olive oil comes from the first pressing and is considered the best olive oil to buy. Prestige cuvée champagne is from the first pressing and can be very expensive. Most champagnes are produced from the second pressing of the grapes.

Champagne’s are categorized by how sweet they are and use strange terms (just more French weirdness). Here’s how to decipher the terms:

Brut: This is the driest, or no sweetness, of all champagnes. Extra dry: Less sweet. Sec: Means “dry” in French, but it indicates a wine that’s sweeter. Demi-sec: Means “half-dry,” in French and it’s even sweeter than Sec. Doux: very rare champagne and the sweetest of all. Though we just witnessed champagne being sprayed all over baseball players who’ve won various baseball league championships, it is more than just a wine for celebration; it pairs beautifully with almost all foods. Typically the more expensive the bottle, the more complex the champagne, so serve the vintage (single year) and prestige cuvées with the main courses. For red meats, consider a rosé champagne, which packs the power of real Pinot Noir. For dessert, consider a sweet demi-sec.

Here are my suggestions on which champagnes to buy for Thanksgiving. Prices can vary quite a bit, so I’ll group five of them in to price categories of low, medium and high. Regardless of your budget, they’re all delicious:

Low price champagnes:
Cristalino NV Brut Cava $6.98 (Spanish) Remy Pannier NV Marquis de la Tour Brut – $9.98 (French) “Best Buy” Wine Enthusiast Magazine P.J. Valckenberg Madonna Sekt Demi Sec Sparkling Wine – $10.98 (German)Sommariva Prosecco Conegliano – $11.98 (Italian) J Non Vintage Cuvee 20 Brut Sparkling Wine – $17.98 (American)
Medium price champagnes:
Gloria Ferrer 2001 Royal Cuvee Sparkling Wine – $21.98 (American) “93 Points” Wine Spectator MagazineMontaudon NV Brut Rose’ Champagne Grande Rose’ – $26.98 (French) “93 Points” Wine Spectator MagazineSchramsberg 2005 Blanc de Blanc – $27.98 (American) “91 Points” Wine Enthusiast Magazine Henri Abele Non Vintage Brut Champagne – $29.98 (French) “91 Points” Wine Enthusiast Magazine Duval-Leroy Non Vintage Brut Champagne – $35.98 (French) “93 Points” Wine Spectator Magazine High price champagnes:
Antinori Montenisa Non Vintage Franciacorta Brut Saten – $42.98 (Italian) Bruno Giacosa 2004 Spumante Extra Brut – $44.98 (Italian) Lenoble 1996 Grand Cru Blanc De Blancs – $56.98 (French) “95 Points” Wine Spectator Magazine Aubry 2002 Brut Le Nombre d’Or Campanae Veteres Vites – $57.98 (French)
“92 Points” Steve Tanzer-International Wine Cellar Billecart-Salmon Non Vintage Brut Rose’ Champagne – $84.98 (French)
“94 Points” Robert Parker-The Wine Advocate Journal