two fine italian wines for thanksgiving 2008

wines with thanksgiving dinner

Thanksgiving, a time to celebrate with family and friends, can be a daunting food and wine holiday. Perhaps more time and energy is expended on planning and preparing the Thanksgiving meal than any other. Then, there’s the challenge of choosing the right wine for this holiday dinner. Since Thanksgiving is the quintessential American holiday, you probably want to serve an American wine with the big bird. There, I said it – but not without some difficulty. However, if you’re into Italian wines, as I am, you may just want to serve Italian wines and think of it as a blending of different cultural influences – just like the U.S. What better way to celebrate America’s diverse cultural patrimony?

But what wine to serve? If it was just turkey, it would be easy since turkey by itself is a rather bland meat. But it is not just turkey that holds center stage, it’s also the stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, vegetables, cranberry sauce and rice dishes, among others.  The many dishes and flavors on the Thanksgiving table make it difficult to choose just one wine. But then there’s no reason to limit yourself to just one wine. A white wine and red wine may be desirable in order to accommodate the many flavors on the Thanksgiving table.

However, some general guidelines for choosing wines are in order. White wines with lively fruit and good acidity but with little or no oak ageing are usually best. For red wines, fruit-forward, light-to-medium-bodied reds with soft tannins and good acidity also work best. It is probably best to avoid big, full-bodied, high alcohol, sleep-inducing wines at Thanksgiving, such as big Zinfandels. They will overpower most Thanksgiving dishes and the high alcohol may also overpower your Uncle Andy who might fall asleep again half-way through dinner.

Below are two wines that pair very nicely with most Thanksgiving dinners. One is an inexpensive white and the other is only a slightly more expensive red.

Wine for November – Under $25

Inama, Soave Classico 2006 (about $18)

Soave wines are a little like some characters in Dashiell Hammett’s hardboiled detective novels – they have a past to live down. Similarly, Soave wines have had a bad reputation in the United States and it’s not entirely undeserved. Once one of the US’s most popular imported white wines, its commercial success led producers in the 1960’s and 1970’s to emphasize quantity at the expense of quality. Where’s the incentive to produce quality wines if you can produce inexpensive, insipid wines and make a profit? Soave wine continue to suffer from its negative image in the international markets.

However, a handful of producers, appalled at the state to which Soave wines had sunk, independently decided that Soave’s main grape variety, Garganega (gar gah’ nae gah), needed to have its image buffed up. This small group of “mavericks” included producers like Pieropan, Anselmi, Pra, Gini and Inama, among others, who demonstrated that when grown in optimum hillside sites, yields are kept low with stringent pruning and grapes are optimally harvested, the Garganega varietal can produce lovely, elegant wines of character and distinction. As a result of their initiatives, Soave, in my opinion, now qualifies as one Italy’s best kept wine secrets.

Just a few miles to the east of Verona in the Veneto is the little town of Soave, a picture postcard pretty town whose town walls, gates and medieval castle are in remarkably good condition. If you can ignore the cars and Vespas, a walk through the southern entrance portal is like stepping back into history. While the Soave DOC area encompasses the foothills and plains surrounding the town of Soave and nearby Monteforte d’Alpone, it is the premier hillside sites that comprise the historic Soave Classico zone, where the grapes for the best Soaves are grown.

2006 Inama SoaveTraditionally, Soave is a blended wine consisting of a minimum of 70 percent Garganega with the optional addition of other selected white wines, primarily Trebbiano di Soave. Some quality-oriented producers produce single-vineyard Soaves that are 100 percent Garganega. While most Soaves are meant to be drunk young, some of the better Soave wines can last much longer and even benefit from additional ageing, in some cases up to 10 years or more.

One taste of the 2006 Inama Soave Classico will convince you that you are on to something good. It is made entirely from hand-harvested Garganega grapes from 30 year old vines in the delimited Soave Classico zone in the hills above the towns of Soave and Monteforte d’Alpone. Fermented in stainless steel tanks, the wine spends an additional eight months in stainless steel tanks prior to bottling and release.

Straw-yellow in color with a tinge of green it has enticing aromas of ripe pears, peaches and apricots. It is dry and refreshing with an aromatic, concentrated apricot taste that is balanced with bright acidity and a hint of almonds on the finish. This is a wine for savoring and it will keep you coming back for more. The Inama estate also produces more expensive versions of Soave such as the single vineyard Soave, Vigneto du Lot

Where can I buy this wine? - Available at The Wine Specialist, Circle Wine and Liquor (’07 vintage) and Pearson’s Wine and Spirits (’07 vintage).


Wine for November – $25 and over

Jermann, Pinot Nero  “Red Angel on the Moonlight” 2005  (about $35)

The Friuli region in northeastern Italy is generally recognized as the source of some of Italy’s best white wines and Silvio Jermann is one of Friuli’s best white wine producers. Heir to an established Friulian winery dating back to the late 1800’s, Silvio took an extended sabbatical to study in Canada after graduating from not one but two highly-regarded Italian wine academies. After returning home to the family winery and after overcoming his traditional father’s initial reluctance, he implemented some of the wine world’s most innovative approaches to producing white wines. His decidedly, “modern style” wines are rich with aromas and flavors and strong personalities. Some of his whites, like Tunina and Dreams, have achieved cult status in Italy and the intJermann Red Angel on the Moonlighternational market and are not inexpensive.

Jermann also produces three finely-crafted red wines as well, one of which is his Pinot Nero based “Red Angel on the Moonlight.”  Despite it’s frivolous name, it’s a serious wine. The grapes for Red Angel are hand selected, vinified in small, stainless steel tanks but spend some time in small oak barrels prior to bottling and sale.

Made from 90 percent Pinot Nero (Pinot Noir) and 10 percent Merlot, the 2006 Red Angel offers Pinot Noir color and varietal fruit. It has a vivid red color, medium-body, aromas of raspberries and cherries and diverse, lingering flavors that call to mind a sweet and spicy berry tart. There’s not a rough edge to be found here – fresh and floral, elegant without being overstated and balanced acidity. It’s full of life and character and just bursting with personality that begs to be served with a festive meal.

The ’06 Red Angel is not meant to be socked away in your cellar for a decade. In fact, enjoy it this year with your Thanksgiving turkey and the fixings. It’s a great match for Thanksgiving fare and your guests will at a minimum find it interesting and have a fun time trying to figure out how and why Jermann came up with this name for the wine.

Note – prices indicated are generally the lowest available and will vary from store to store. While in stock at time of writing, stores may sell out of the selections so availability is not guaranteed. Call to check on price and availability before making the trip.

Richard Marcis
November 12, 2008



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