Recommending wines for Thanksgiving is a prickly proposition. On the one hand, there are the proponents of food-friendly Gewürztraminer and Gamay-based Beaujolais; on the other, there are the advocates of drinking your biggest, baddest magnums of rich red wines. In between there are the fans of Champagne all meal long and the no-wine lobby wanting only cider and beer.
I’ve written every version of the above, depending on the year and the audience. This year, I’m throwing down the gauntlet for Zinfandel from Napa and Sonoma.
I don’t believe one wine will pair with everything on your table, but the fruity, spicy character of Zinfandel will jive with aspects of your Turkey Day meal. Typically soft and unobtrusive in terms of tannin, these bottles won’t offend anyone’s palate.
Because many Zinfandel vineyards in California are relatively historic, growing the grape is a labor of love, as it’s simply not as profitable as Pinot Noir or Cabernet. These wines offer the chance to look back and reflect on vines planted 20, 30, 50 years ago or more, inviting conversation about the wine’s history and, quite possibly, the shared connections of those around your table.
Armida 2013 Maple Vineyards Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel, $40
From a beloved head-pruned, dry-farmed vineyard source in the heart of the appellation, this classic Zin-Petite Sirah is perfumed from the start, aromatically memorable with dried cranberry and ripe plum. Elegant in style, it offers soft, integrated tannins around a juicy core of brambly blackberry and brown sugar.
Carlisle 2013 Monte Rosso Vineyard Sonoma Valley Zinfandel, $47
Structured and elegant behind its layers and layers of coconut fritter, vanilla and strawberry-raspberry jam, this substantial wine will age beautifully through 2023. Beguiling in floral violets and lavender, it has streaks of black pepper too, with earthy dust on its finish.
Chase Cellars 2013 Hayne Vineyard St. Helena Zinfandel, $45
Katie Hayne Simpson is the fifth-generation owner and farmer of the spectacular Hayne Vineyard in the heart of St. Helena, which has over 100 years of age on its heritage, dry-farmed and head-trained Zinfandel vines. In 2012, Russell Bevans came on to blend the wines made with Joel Aiken. As of 2013, Bevans is solely responsible for the wines. This is an incredible, special occasion bottle for under $50, offering both the quintessential elements of an old-vine wine in its leathery, spicy components, while maintaining an exuberance of deep, rich black and red berries.
Kokomo Pauline’s Vineyard Winemaker’s Reserve Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel, $34
This lovely wine sings in rich red and black berries, a celebration of juicy, ripe fruit that’s balanced by a firmness of acidity. Inviting wafts of clove and vanilla play backup with finesse, atop soft tannins.
Novy 2013 Limerick Lane Vineyard Russian River Valley Zinfandel, $34
Grippy, somewhat subdued and tightly wound, this wine is all black: in color and profile. Blackberry and black licorice open the proceedings, before powerful hits of black pepper. Leather and game are in the mix, too, giving the wine a wild edge. Drink now through 2023.
Quivira 2013 Black Boar Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel, $45
A new, bold, high-end offering from the producer also known for its prowess with Rhone varieties, Black Boar includes 12% Petite Sirah and 5% Carignan in this blend. Rich, round and expressive in juicy red berry, with a punch of tannin, it offers integrated oak and spicy pepper in a fulsome, full-bodied and memorable way.
Robert Biale 2013 R.W. Moore Vineyard Coombsville Zinfandel, $50
From a vineyard east of Napa first planted in 1905, Moore is densely structured and deceptively elegant, all while maintaining an intensity of tart cherry and wild blackberry. Spicy in black pepper and a dusting of cinnamon, it remains vibrant on the palate from start to lengthy finish, a knockout among the producer’s consistently high-achieving Zinfandels that should stand the test of time. Cellar through 2023.
Williams Selyem 2013 Papera Vineyard Russian River Valley Zinfandel, $55
Continuing to preserve this historic vineyard, a rare planting of Zinfandel within the appellation, this is an elegant yet explosive bottling. Blackberry and stone fruit are framed by soft, gentle tannins, and then sprinkled liberally with cardamom. A floral aroma permeates gently refreshing acidity and a finish of dark chocolate.