What To Drink on Thanksgiving
Glorious American cabernets.
What kind of wine should chase your turkey? In an article from 2009, Mike Steinberger rescues Napa cabernets from the blanket scorn they often receive. His roundup of fowl-friendly American cabernets is reprinted below.
In an ironic twist on recent wine history, some of the finest cabernets coming out of Napa these days are the work of a Frenchman, Christian Moueix, whose family owns a clutch of venerable properties in Bordeaux, notably Château Pétrus. In the early 1980s, Moueix took in a stake in Napa's acclaimed Napanook vineyard and began producing a wine called Dominus Estate, which has since established itself as one of the valley's best. The 2006 Dominus ($110) is a great cabernet—it is a voluptuous wine bursting with rich, warm flavors but has ample structure to parry the fruit and demonstrates an almost balletic poise. It is a testament both to the quality of the terroir and to Moueix's formidable talent. Dominus also makes a second wine—think of it as the JV offering—and the 2006 Napanook ($43) is a gem in its own right. While it doesn't have the depth of the grand vin, it is an exquisite cabernet that is vastly superior to many Napa wines selling for double, even triple the price. Message to reader: Buy this wine.
The top white wine at the Judgment of Paris was the 1973 Chateau Montelena chardonnay, but Montelena is better known for its legendary cabernets. The 2005 Chateau Montelena the Montelena Estate Cabernet Sauvignon ($105) is another winner in a long hit parade, a sumptuous wine that blends black-currant fruit with a silky texture and an appealing mineral edge. A classic Napa cab, it exudes elegance and completeness. Like Dominus, Montelena also makes a second-label cabernet, and while the 2006 Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon ($45) is not at the same level as the Napanook, it is a supple, very satisfying red that is also attractively priced as Napa cabs go.
Randy Dunn is an iconic figure in Napa, famed for his muscular, long-lived Cabernets. Lately, he has been an outspoken critic of the trend toward high-alcohol wines. The 2005 Dunn Vineyards Howell Mountain CabernetSauvignon ($100) is listed at 13.8 percent alcohol and is an excellent wine. It has a textbook cabernet nose, redolent of black currants, violets, and bell pepper, and while the tannins are big, they are plenty ripe and perfectly integrated; a really impressive effort. Smith-Madrone Vineyards and Winery, located in Napa's Spring Mountain district, is the best California winery that you've never heard of, turning out exemplary cabernets, chardonnays, and rieslings. With its purity of fruit and impeccable balance, the 2004 Smith-Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon ($37) is a radical and thoroughly toothsome departure from your garden-variety Napa cab. It is also a bargain, a word not often heard along Highway 29.
There are some other Napa estates whose cabernets are also worth seeking out. In no particular order, they are: Corison Winery, Mayacamas Vineyards, Clark-Claudon Vineyards, Spottswoode Estate Vineyard & Winery, and Frog's Leap Winery.
A few things to note: It would be a good idea to decant all of these wines for an hour or two before serving, and some of them can probably be found for better prices than I have listed here. If you feel like shopping around, Wine-Searcher.com is a good place to do it. And if all of these cabernets are too rich for your wallet, I've got two noncabernet, non-Napa suggestions for Thanksgiving: The 2007 Ridge Vineyards Three Valleys Zinfandel is a delectable wine that can be picked up for under $20, as can the 2007 Marcel Lapierre Morgon, a lovely Beaujolais from a brilliant winemaker.
Illustration by Rob Donnelly.