Come November every year, while others are obsessing over perfect Thanksgiving sides, I’m studying my options for what to pour—wines that not only meet the challenges of all those savory, sweet, tart, spicy dishes, but go beyond. What varieties are perfect foils, echoing the flavors on the table or contrasting in ways that don’t fight? They not only need to make most bites better, but also fit the spirit of the day. West Coast Pinot Noir is a natural; its typical red berry flavors flecked with baking spices do a whole lot of echoing and it lacks a hefty tannin structure that goes bitter in the face of spiciness and sweetness. Zinfandel has a lot to offer too, as the closest we come in the U.S. to our own grape variety, and one that handles a lot of spice with its dark, sweet-seeming fruit.
This year, though, recent tastings brought on an epiphany: The perfect Thanksgiving wine has been hiding in plain sight all along. With its juicy red fruit (cherry, cranberry, even pomegranate) and warm spices (cloves, sometimes cinnamon), California Grenache can showcase (and tame) all the herbs and spices, fruit and root veggies Thanksgiving dinner can throw at it.
That was my theory, at least. But since food and wine pairing just can’t be done on paper (it’s a humbling business to have one’s “expert” suppositions dismantled by real life), I put Grenache to the test with a premature feast. The bottles I put through their paces were from the Central Coast, where, taking advantage of warm growing seasons and sweet-spot microclimates, winemakers are turning out lovely versions of the Southern Rhône’s great red blender. My turkey leaned savory, with loads of thyme, while the stuffing starred mushrooms and spicy sausage. Cranberry sauce got the whole-cloves and cinnamon treatment and a side of coleslaw a garnish of dried cherries.
All I can say now is, my work is done. The wine and food danced around each other, echoing and punching up beloved flavors, contrasting with others in surprising and tasty ways. Savory notes popped out in some of the wines, in the face of thyme, sage and bay, while the various combinations of red fruit and spice in the Grenache made a bit of cranberry sauce with a bite of anything else de rigueur. And for the first time in my memory, wine actually tasted good with coleslaw.
I heartily recommend these Central Coast beauties:
Booker Vineyard 2019 Ripper Grenache Paso Robles
The nose on the latest Booker Grenache opens with beautiful layers of earth, exotic spice and a sprinkling of cinnamon over cherry and dried cranberry aromas. Mouth-watering red fruit—pomegranate teaming up with the cherry—marks the juicy palate, which is also not afraid to show its tart, savory side or a bit of grippy tannin.
Caliza Winery 2018 Grenache Willow Creek District, Paso Robles
This Grenache from Caliza manages to be spicy and savory at the same time, its clove and cinnamon aromas joined by black cherry, a hint of anise and wet stones followed by more dark cherries and other tart red fruits, layered with pepper, baking spices, savory herbs and a minerally finish.
Talley Vineyards 2019 Rincon Vineyard Grenache Arroyo Grande Valley
Don’t let the light color of this new, sprightly cool-climate Grenache from Talley fool you. The nose is perfumed with lightly turned loam and rose petals over strawberry, raspberry and crushed herbs. Vibrant red and blue fruit flavors run the gamut from bright cherry and cranberry to blueberry, with appealing underlying minerality
So provision-up with Grenache, and start throwing bridges into your menu: if not dried cherries in the slaw, pomegranate seeds in the green salad. Don’t make the cranberry sauce too sweet. Don’t make anything too sweet, for that matter. (Add some heat to the sweet potatoes with fresh ginger.) And those pesky Brussels sprouts? (Pesky only in the sense that they belong to the wine-challenging, cruciferous Brassica family.) Crisp them up with bacon—Grenache has a secret crush on our fatty porcine friend.