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Thanksgiving Wine Has Changed

Five progressive wine store owners weigh in on how the holiday’s “it” wines have evolved. Plus, five to seek out.

That Thanksgiving has turned many of us into wine lemmings isn’t exactly surprising. Maybe we’re just too overwhelmed to think outside the box by the time we get to the wine shop, or we’re still hewing to the advice we read in some magazine five years ago, ignoring the effort that wine editors put into reinventing the wheel every single November.

Having been one at a glossy food magazine for a decade, I can understand the inclination to just stick with what works when you find it. Ten years ago, we declared riesling the end all, be all Thanksgiving wine. Before that, it was zinfandel, which campaigned as “America’s grape” (something I had nothing to do with, I swear). Pinot took several turns for its versatility. At some point, we were giving permission to drink rosé. Then followed Beaujolais Nouveau, which paved the way for cru Beaujolais to become The Best Thanksgiving Wine, a title it’s held ever since.

That title isn’t unwarranted. Cru Beaujolais has the right body, right acidity, right juiciness—and many of the producers in the region work in a way that appeals to those of us who don’t want a bunch of chemicals in our wine. But there are many wines that fit the bill, especially now that the stylistic pendulum has swung back in the direction of, above all, easy drinking.

The question is, with all this new wine diversity, are people actually buying broader this time of year? To get a sense of how Thanksgiving’s “it” wines have evolved—and what is poised to be this year’s breakout wine—we talked to five of the country’s most progressive shop owners. Here’s what they had to say.

Domaine LA | Los Angeles

 Since Jill Bernheimer opened Domaine LA 10 years ago, the shop has become one of the country’s most influential natural wine stores. In addition to providing a venue for up-and-coming international producers, she’s been a fierce supporter of new California wines.

As one of the few stores around that stays open the morning of Thanksgiving for last-minute wine shopping, Bernheimer says she sees less and less of the ‘I want Beaujolais Nouveau’ or ‘I want an American wine’ thing in her shop. “It feels a little bit less rote now,” she says. “Today’s age is looking for pét-nats, chillable reds, lower alcohol—all things I would recommend for the holiday.”

Top sellers last year were what she calls “light, fun” wines like Clos du Jaugueyron Le Clairet ($17), “an old-school, lighter style Bordeaux”; Kewin Descombes Beaujolais Cuvée Kéké ($23), made by the son of legendary Morgon winemaker Georges Descombes; and Furlani Bianco Frizzante ($30), a beloved alpine pét-nat from Italy’s Trentino region.

“This year, I think the trend will be as it has been all year: All anyone seems to want to drink is orange wine,” says Bernheimer. “Luckily, it’s perfect for the meal, so people will be well-served by that desire.”

Bernheimer’s still keeping the Beaujolais Nouveau constituency in mind, but she says it’s hard to find good options for nouveau wines from France. She’s been pleasantly surprised with the domestic nouveau offerings, like those from J. Brix ($22), Methode Sauvage ($25) and Martha Stoumen ($30)—none of which is made from gamay, but still have the same joie de vivre as Beaujolais. She’ll have five California nouveaux on her shelves this year.

Bi-Rite Market | San Francisco

Between its two San Francisco locations, Bi-Rite Market sells 1,800 turkeys every Thanksgiving. Not to be outdone by poultry and produce, the shops host a massive wine sale the week before, offering a 20 percent case discount on wines from up-and-coming California producers as well as organic and natural wines from elsewhere in the world, particularly France and Italy. Liz Rubin, the market’s new head alcohol buyer, says last year’s shoppers came in looking for “crowd-pleasers and easy-to-pair reds,” like Turley Cinsault ($25), the lightest-bodied option from California’s cult zinfandel producer, as well as gamays and pinots, such as Beaujolais Nouveau from Domaine Dupeuble ($17) and Analemma Pinot Noir ($34) from Oregon’s Columbia Gorge.

While Rubin will always keep Beaujolais and California at the ready, this year she’s casting a wider geographical net. “Younger folks love light-bodied reds and don’t care what the variety is,” Rubin says. This means she can confidently diversify with aromatic red wines like Les Athlètes du Vin Pineau d’Aunis ($20), a peppery négociant wine from the Loire, and La Miraja Ruché di Castagnole Monferrato ($28), a soft, fragrant red from Piedmont.

As for whites, it’s Rubin’s personal goal to steer customers toward the more opulent and savory end of the spectrum with wines like La Pergola Arneis ($15) from Piedmont’s Roero region, a wine she says is “more salty and minerally than most arneis,” and Chablis from Christophe et Fils ($33), ideal wines for an herb-roasted turkey, she says.

Diversey Wines | Chicago

Bradford Taylor is co-owner of two natural wine shops—Ordinaire in Oakland, California, and Diversey Wines in Chicago’s Logan Square—which gives him a unique take on Thanksgiving wines at a national level.

Last year’s Thanksgiving go-tos were Beaujolais from Julie Balagny, a favorite producer of Taylor’s; one-liter bottles of organic grignolino from Cellario E Grino ($17); and pinots and macerated white wines from Jean Ginglinger, who seemingly works with just about every variety in Alsace.

“I actively discourage people from buying fancy wine for Thanksgiving,” says Taylor. “It should be more about the meal; the wines should recede into the background.”

He predicts that this year he will move a lot of affordable magnums, like Domaine Mosse Moussamoussettes ($70), a dry, fruity pét-nat rosé and unfiltered Alsatian pinot noir from Chrisian Binner ($84).

“The worst is when you have a 750 [mL bottle] of wine and you’re trying to serve it to 12 people—everyone has a taste and it becomes really precious,” says Taylor. “If you can’t find a large-format bottle, get two of the same 750 mL bottle.”

When asked what he thinks people will be seeking out this year, he says: “I think they will hunt for what they always hunt for: love. And maybe a big bottle of orange wine for good measure.”

Peoples | New York City

When it opens this week, Peoples will be the first retail outlet—with a wine bar next door—from the team behind Contra and Wildair, two Lower East Side restaurants that have made natural wine central to their identities. The setup for the new shop is a little different from most wine stores, in that it’s laid out according to wine importer, with each featured importer getting to design its own carved-out space within the 1,000-square-foot store. One of these cubbies will be reserved for Daryl Nuhn, Peoples’ managing partner, and organized according to a theme. Her first iteration will—surprise, surprise—be filled with wines she’s picked out for Thanksgiving.

“Thanksgiving seems like it’s about a little indulgence, and that the wines should be drunk for pure pleasure—which really should be the case every day,” she says. To Nuhn, this means high-acid, carbonic red wines. “You’re eating and drinking so much at Thanksgiving that you want a wine that’s juicy, with good acidity and not too much alcohol—something that’s a little playful,” like Marie et Vincent Tricot’s Les Petits Fleurs, a gamay from France’s Auvergne, or Milan Nestarec’s barrel-aged pinot noir called Forks & Knives ($28) from the Czech Republic.

Nuhn’s also on a mission to get her new customers into aromatic white wines like Serragghia Zibibbo ($88), an amphora-aged orange wine from idiosyncratic winemaker Gabrio Bini, and Sete Flora ($32), a moscato bianco from Lazio that’s only 9.5 percent ABV. “They’re celebratory. They’re intoxicatingly aromatic and they feel luxe.”

Graft | Charleston, South Carolina

Graft owners Femi Oyediran and Miles White have an old-school aesthetic, driven by a love for the wines and producers that offer the most classic interpretations of their regions and styles. With this stash, they’re able to dial in wines for both people with a vision and those without a clue.

“Coming from working in restaurants, I thought we’d sell a lot of gamay, pinot noir and cab for Thanksgiving, but that’s not always the case,” says Oyediran. “Most people come in with an idea of the textures and the flavors of what they want,” or, he continues, they “don’t necessarily have much of a plan, and come in basically like, ‘Make me look good.’” Last year, this meant Lapierre’s Raisins Gaulois Beaujolais ($16), as well as Chateau Yvonne Saumur Blanc ($50), the pinnacle of Loire Valley chenin blanc.

Last year’s breakout category was northern Italian reds, like teroldego from Elisabetta Foradori, and barbera, freisa and nebbiolo from the likes of Fratelli Alessandria. This year, Oyediran expects more of the same, plus an overall surge in chillable red sales.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if that is going to be the major keyword this holiday. People really enjoy this category of wines that flirt with the line between a light red and a rosé,” he says. “Mostly, we’re just trying to make sure the shelves are full,” Oyediran adds. “Everyone seems to have a cousin in Charleston that they’re spending Thanksgiving with.”

This Year’s Thanksgiving “It” Wines

While any of these retailers would obviously be more than happy to steer their customers to the right bottle of Beaujolais for their Thanksgiving tables, they also have some other ideas when it comes to the ideal Thanksgiving wine. Here are the bottles that they’ll be championing into the wee hours next Wednesday.

Ettore Germano Langhe Nebbiolo

“For one, I think this is great with vegetarian dishes, but it definitely goes well with poultry and all of the sides—including the cranberry sauce,” says Bi-Rite’s Liz Rubin of this light-bodied, floral, strawberry-scented nebbiolo. Winemaker Sergio Germano’s vineyards sit in Piedmont’s Serralunga area, which means this wine could technically be called a Barolo. Germano chooses to downgrade his younger vines, which are between three and 10 years old, to make this Langhe nebbiolo. Rubin recommends serving it lightly chilled.

  • Price: $22
  • Vintage: 2017

Martha Stoumen Patatino

One of the growing number of domestic nouveau-style wines this fall is this juicy blend of nero d’avola, zinfandel and valdiguie, from California’s Martha Stoumen. The wine’s name means “little potato,” a moniker often bestowed upon Italian babies by their mothers. “It’s a wine meant to honor not just the season, but Martha’s first baby, born during the 2019 harvest,” says Domaine LA owner Jill Bernheimer.

  • Price: $30
  • Vintage: 2019

Cantina Giardino Bianco

“It’s technically an orange wine, but the maceration really just gives aromatic lift and color—it’s not tannic or heavy,” promises Bradford Taylor of Diversey Wines. This versatile, electric orange magnum from Campania is a blend of fiano, greco di tufo and coda di volpe. “It comes in a clear bottle that’s extremely beautiful; it has an iridescent glow that looks so good on a table, it draws in attention,” says Taylor.

  • Price: $50
  • Vintage: 2018

Le Petit Domaine de Gimios Muscat Sec des Roumanis

From a tiny biodynamic producer in France’s Minervois, this wine is made from old-vine muscat à petits grains—a gentle and fragrant grape. “All of their wines are made without sulfur, but they are so stable, expressive and aromatic,” says Daryl Nuhn of New York’s Peoples. “The intense tropical fruit reminds me of being in East Los Angeles and getting those cut-up mangoes, pineapples and jicama that have been warming in the sun, sprinkled with a little salt.”

  • Price: $38
  • Vintage: 2018

Philippe Tessier Le Point du Jour Cheverny Rouge

While not entirely prepared to deviate from the gamay party line, Graft’s Femi Oyediran recommends looking outside of Beaujolais, specifically to the Loire’s natural-wine gurus, like Philippe Tessier. “While Cheverny’s not a region people are necessarily looking for when they walk in, they take our word for it,” Oyediran says. A blend of pinot noir and gamay, this bottling offers the same desired juicy-fruit drinkability.

  • Price: $29
  • Vintage: 2016

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