For your next holiday gathering, a wine director and craft-beer expert offer their picks for drinks both lower-priced and high-end.
Bringing wine may look like the easiest and least stressful solution if you’re just a guest. But wine pairing during Thanksgiving isn’t easy. It’s not the turkey but the many sides with diverging flavor profiles that make it challenging.
So I asked a couple of experts for advice — about wine, yes, but because Washington is such a hoppy, beer-loving state, also a certified cicerone.
Martin Beally, wine director for Wild Ginger, and Chris Elford, co-owner of the new craft-beer bar No Anchor, in Belltown, are our guides.
I gave them three parameters:
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1. Give me a few lower-priced but excellent wines and beers that make your money go a long way.
2. Give me a few pricier or unusual pairing suggestions, for if I wanted to impress the in-laws.
3. The selection must be easy to find in wine and beer stores.
The wines and beers below you can find respectively at Esquin Wine Merchant and at The Beer Junction, among other specialty stores. But do call ahead to make sure they’re still in stock.
Martin Beally, wine director for Wild Ginger, suggests:
Cleto Chiarli Vecchia Modena Lambrusco di Modena NV, Emilia-Romagna, Italy ($14.99)
Most people will probably associate Lambrusco with the disco era and, honestly, it was a victim of its own success. But modern Lambrusco is one of the most versatile table wines. It’s dry, high acid and a bit spritzy, with some of the fruit character of Pinot Noir, and is equally at home with turkey, a roast or any number of side dishes. If I could only bring one bottle to the table at a Thanksgiving dinner, this would be it.
Badenhorst Family Wines Secateurs Chenin Blanc 2015, Swartland, South Africa ($13.99)
South African wines are great bridge wines for a table. The climate develops some intense fruit flavors which will satisfy those who like a bit of California in their glass while still giving you razor-sharp acidity, which lends the wine to food. The vines used for this Chenin Blanc are more than 50 years old, which means you get intense notes of marmalade, white peach and honey.
Savage Grace Underwood Mountain Vineyard Grüner Veltliner 2014, Columbia Gorge, Washington ($19.99)
When it comes to putting a wine on the table that everyone will like, many will reach for a Pinot Gris, but how often have you been wowed by a Pinot Gris? Grüner Veltliner is like Pinot Gris’ more intense and interesting cousin: Meyer lemon, Golden Delicious apple and honey with a tart finish. There’s also hints of white pepper and radish that make it a fantastic pairing with any heavy vegetable dishes.
Tenet “Le Fervent” Syrah, Costieres de Nimes 2013, France ($16.99)
If you ask someone if they’d like a big, bold red or something a bit more delicate and refined, most people will tend to choose big and bold as if it’s a point of honor. This wine gives you that punch with intense black raspberry compote, sage and black-pepper notes. It already sounds like Thanksgiving, and we haven’t even gotten to the table yet.
Higher-end and unusual wines:
Von Winning Kalkofen Grosses Gewachs Riesling 2013, Pfalz, Germany ($79.99)
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A lot of people will dismiss a German Riesling as being too sweet, but when you see “Grosses Gewachs” you can be assured of two things: the wine is bone dry, and the grapes are from one of the winemaker’s best vineyards. Von Winning is located in the Pfalz, one of the warmest regions in Germany, which allows them to craft a wine that has intense fruit aromas of yellow peach and ripe mango. With a lush body and an almost saline finish, this wine is one of the most intense, pure expressions of a dry Riesling that you’ll ever encounter.
Beaux Frères Vineyard Pinot Noir 2011, Willamette Valley, Oregon ($77.99)
You love Pinot Noir, but how do you get your friend who loves to brag about 100 point Cabs to even try it? Beaux Frères is co-owned by Robert Parker Jr. of The Wine Advocate and Michael Etzel, who has become one of the most admired winemakers in the Willamette Valley. This wine brings you all the elegance of Pinot Noir and offers some subtle gamey notes with silky tannins. You just might make a convert with this wine.
Tommasi Amarone 2012, Veneto, Italy ($71.99)
What I love about Amarone is that it is an intensely handmade wine. After the harvest, you take your grapes and put them on racks in these rooms called fruttai where you then let them dry to about half of their original weight before you press them. The result is a wine that is deeply colored and has heady aromas, with notes of dried cherries and plums, green peppercorn, and a hint of leather and cloves. This might make your California-focused friend change her mind about her favorite wine.
Chris Elford, co-owner of No Anchor, suggests:
Bale Breaker’s Field 41 Pale Ale ($9.99 for six-pack)
It’s a killer example of what this part of the world does better than anywhere else: hops. From Yakima, this beer is low enough in alcohol that you won’t fall off your chair, and the initial bracing bitterness gives way to a refreshing juiciness. It’s becoming a modern classic. They might not necessarily be considered the cool kids on the block because of the wide availability of their beers, but this one is a total banger, not to be missed.
Firestone Walker’s Pivo Pils ($9.49 for six-pack)
If you want to step it up but aren’t into the fruitiness and character of an ale, check out Pivo Pils. This is to West Coast bartenders what Victory’s Prima Pils is to bartenders back East — incredibly consistent with spicy floral hops and a crisp finish with a hint of a bread-crust sweetness. This beer has a place at the Thanksgiving table next to wine. It would crush with traditional stuffing as it has the levity of carbonation and that honey kiss of malt.
Unusual and/or pricier beers:
Belgian “Dubbel” ($12.99 for a 750ml bottle is midrange for this style in the Seattle market)
When you’re reaching for red wine to serve next to turkey or duck (if you’re fancy), consider pouring a dark Belgian “Dubbel” instead. Dubbels are great because they not only feature dark fruit flavors like plums, grapes and figs, but they have tight carbonation to clean up the fattiness of meat and gravy. The benchmark of the style is from the Trappist abbey Westmalle.
Orval ($5.99 for 330ml)
There’s a joke in the world of beer that if you don’t know what to pair with a challenging food, try Orval. This Trappist monastery only makes one beer for sale, and it is arguably the best in the world. The floral and spicy dry-hop aroma erupts from its effervescence (thanks, bottle-conditioning!) and opens into a wild, dry Belgian ale. The spicy hop qualities pair well with pumpkin pie, the drying bubbles could lift the most savory of meat dishes, and that delicate copper toffee hit would pair great with any bread dish.
Anchorage Brewery White IPA ($13.99 for 750ml)
Hop haters, fear not. The microbes and spices are the stars, as this is a tart, spiced variation on the style. Open the cork and you’ll see why it’s easy to elevate this beer to places typically only reserved for Champagne. The citrusy and peppery kick from kumquats, coriander and black peppercorns will dance perfectly with briny, mineral qualities.