If out-of-town relatives are descending on your home, you do need to have a couple of local wines on hand. Roanoke's AmRhein Wine Cellars Cabernet Franc 2002 ($14-$16) is a good study in local flavor from a medium-bodied red grape. It's also a superb Virginia vintage that won't be around forever, as the newer wines come into stores. The 2002 vintage lacked what we had an abundance of in 2003 and 2004, namely rain. This wine is spicy enough to pair well with the stuffing, fruity enough for the cranberries and medium in tannin to work with the turkey.
White Hall Merlot 2002 ($14-$16) from Charlottesville will please both the novice and sophisticate at the table. Merlot tends to be loaded with juicy flavors that won't collide with anything on your plate. It is both soft and loaded with structure. If your only experience with the 2002 vintage in Virginia was at a festival while munching down on a bratwurst with mustard and onions, then you need to try these wines at the dinner table. There are a number of these superb 2002s out there, so keep your eyes peeled.
I have found over the years that the bird, the cranberries, the grapes and the vintage seldom combine better than with a cool, refreshing Riesling in your glass. Germany has done the best work with this grape for well over 1,000 years. The 2002 vintage in Germany ranks with the finest over the past 30 years. Our choice of Manfried Breit Piesporter Goldtropfchen Riesling Kabinett 2002 ($12-$13) is not only a mouthful of names, but also a superior mouthful of wine. Goldtropfchen means "little drop of gold," after the vineyard where the grapes come from. There's a touch of sweetness in this cornucopia of peach and mineral flavors.
Lighter, non-oaked whites work well with Thanksgiving, but if you select your reds with finesse and not power in mind, you will do just as well. Keep the red on the light side and avoid the tannins that can run over all the flavors on the table.
Pinot noir is just the right red for the occasion. It's a finicky and tricky grape. It should be luscious and silky and have a touch of wild mushroom flavor lurking in the fruit. Edna Valley Pinot Noir, Edna Valley, 2002 ($18-$20) is just that kind of step forward in complexity. Combine the superior vintage with just a right amount of bottle-age to marry the flavors, and the chances are good that you won't even care that there's a ballgame on after the turkey. Castle Rock Pinot Noir, Carneros, 2003 ($10-$12) is selected from a variety of lots and is bottled for their brand. It is a very good wine for the money.
California chardonnays are usually a bit too bold and buttery to complement Thanksgiving dinner. A unique wine that's perfect for the entire meal is Ch. St. Clement Carneros/Napa 2002 ($16-$18). Unfortunately, not a lot of Chardonnays pull off this little magic trick as well as this one. What makes this wine unique is that it combines grapes from the warmer Napa Valley climate with grapes from the cooler Carneros region to produce a wine with plenty of body, as well as finesse. It is lean and loaded with flavor.
The thing that really works - though too few people think of it is high-quality bubbly. Let's face it, the flavors really do work with everything, especially at Thanksgiving when there's a preponderance of sweet flavors in the main courses. Chandon Blanc de Noirs, n.v. California, $18. You get the zing of the sparkler, plus the wine is made predominately from red grapes (pinot noir and meunier), which gives a pale salmon color and delivers a fabulous sophisticated strawberry flavor. It finishes with a creamy texture. Bubbly doesn't have to be from a vintage, it just has to be good. S