Italian Wines, American Tradition: What to Pour at Thanksgiving
Anthony Giglio recalls his first Thanksgiving in Rome and tries to remember what was poured that day. Then he suggests what we should be pouring at the Thanksgiving table this year. We give thanks for his help.
by Anthony Giglio
In my junior year of college (was it really a quarter-century ago?), I was living in Rome. It was my first Thanksgiving outside the U.S. With a communal nostalgia, my fellow American students and I tried to celebrate Thanksgiving in the Loyola cafeteria, where our beloved kitchen staff had no idea how to serve a turkey, let alone make sauce from cranberries, which don’t grow in Italy. Imagine our amazement when we saw a stuffed bird sitting on a huge slicing machine—big enough to hold a standard torpedo of mortadella—as Signora Anna began to cut thick, half-inch slices from the entire turkey, straight through the bones.
What they draped across each of our plates looked more like an anatomical cross-section for a science class than dinner. Of course, by the end of the meal all was forgiven, because le signore poured us glass after glass of a chilled vino da tavola rosso that I recall was slightly effervescent.
Was it Brachetto? Lambrusco? It’s doubtful that mystery red was even equal to those modest table wines, but we loved the gulpable fermented grape juice so much that many of us missed our morning classes the next day.
I will probably never find the wine we drank that night in Rome, but an important lesson stuck with me: the abbondanza, or abundance, of a feast isn’t complete without an equal abundance of wine. It cleanses the palate, settles the stomach and lifts spirits. Back in the states, I couldn’t get the memory of that perfectly chilled red wine out of my head. Thankfully, there is no shortage of excellent Italian wines fit for the season of eating, wines that beg to be bought by the case but don’t break the bank.
The Thanksgiving meal is so vast in scope and usually attended by so many guests that selecting wines is an annual exercise in angst for many of my friends, especially those who, like me, are Italian-American. Just look at my family’s typical Thanksgiving:
First there are platters of antipasti (salumi drizzled with anchovy oil, celery dipped in peppery pinzimonio, stuffed mushrooms, pane “origanato”—my late Nanna Madeline’s garlicky, salty oregano bread, my mom’s sausage bread, my mother-in-law’s artichoke fritters, assorted hard cheeses, olives and more). Some years there’s a soup (usually Italian Wedding soup, with tiny polpettini and orzo pasta), then comes the pasta al forno (usually lasagna or baked ziti) accompanied by “the meats” (bracciole, salsiccie, polpette), followed by a salad to cleanse the palate. After a nap or a board game or two, we reconvene for the turkey and all the fixings (stuffing, roasted potatoes, candied yams, greens sautéed with garlic and peperoncino). We finish with homemade apple pies, cream puffs, rice pudding, gelato and espresso, before all the leftovers are divvied up for late-night snacks and tomorrow’s lunch. All told, it takes about 36 hours to prepare what is consumed in eight hours of marathon eating.
Whether your Thanksgiving menu is as insane as ours, prepped to feed dozens with dozens of dishes, or a more traditional event, hewing to the classics, there are countless Italian wines that will be at home on your table.
In the spirit of abbondanza and in light of the need to balance quality and quantity, we dug into the La Cucina Italiana cellar with an eye for selections under $20 (with the exception of a couple we couldn’t resist). We’ve divided our Suggested Bottles into six essential categories: Prosecco, Lambrusco, Bianco, Rosato, Rosso and Moscato—something for everyone and every course, with additional wine selections that are easy to find to help fill the bill.
In Italy, Prosecco is a classic opener. Whether at aperitivo hour or to kick off dinner, the effervescent, floral, fruity and light wine is the perfect complement for the range of salty, savory snacks that pave the way to the main course. Most are reasonably priced, and the best bottles have DOCG status, often with Conegliano and/or Valdobbiadene on the label.
Look for: Mionetto Prosecco Valdobbiadene, DOCG, NV, $19. You will recognize this newbie from Mionetto by its distinctively curvaceous bottle, but this easy-to-find non-vintage sparkler is more notable for offering consistent, reliable fruity refreshment from bottle to bottle ($19).
Also try: Zardetto Prosecco di Conegliano Brut ($14), Nino Franco Prosecco di Valdobbiadene Brut ($17), Sorelle Bronca Prosecco di Valdobbiadene Extra Dry ($18), Bisol Prosecco “Crede” ($19).
This is not the Riunite red of your disco past, if you had one. A relative newcomer to American tables, a bevy of these mouthwatering, slightly fruity (think sour cherry), bubbly reds from Emilia-Romagna have become increasingly popular. They can carry you straight through an entire meal, standing up to bold, rich flavors with their well-balanced acidity and bracing flavor.
Look for: Medici Ermete Quercioli, Lambrusco Secco, Emilia-Romagna, 2010. This sparkling, dry red wine is fruit-forward and simply delicious. Made from the Lambrusco Salamino and Lambrusco Marani grapes, you’ll notice pleasing aromas of blackberry, cassis and violet. ($11).
Also try: Cantina Di Sorbara Lambrusco Amabile ($9), Cleto Chiarli Lambrusco di Grasparossa di Castelvetro “Centenario” ($9), 2009 Lini Lambrusco Rosso “Labrusca” ($16), Pederzana Lambrusco Grasparossa ($20).
Given all the spices typically deployed for the Thanksgiving feast, white wines need to possess either a solid backbone of acidity to stand up to such bold flavors, or have their own built-in spiciness to work in parity with what’s
on the plate.
Look for: Cantina di Soave, Re Midas Soave Re midas soave, Veneto, 2010. This cooperative winery seems to have the golden touch with Garganega, the most prevalent grape in Veneto. The reasonably priced white is lively and fresh with bright flavors of peach, cantaloupe and grapefruit. ($11)
Livio Felluga Pinot Grigio, Collio, Friuli, 2010. Livio Felluga decided to make Friuli wines in the 1930s, but WWII kept him from buying vineyards until the 1950s. It was worth the wait. This is a classic Pinot Grigio with bright notes of white fruit, orange, mineral and spice. ($25)
Tasca D’Almerita, Regaleali Bianco, Sicily, 2010. Founded in 1986, this winery has made great progress specializing in Campania’s distinctive grapes. Their Aglianico-based rosé, with fresh red berry flavors and great concentration, demonstrates its world-class potential. ($12)
Also try: 2010 Salviano Orvieto Classico Superiore ($12), 2010 Cantina di Soave Rocca Sveva Soave ($14), 2009 Mastroberardino Falanghina ($16), 2009 Venica & Venica Ronco delle Cime, Tocai Friulano ($27).
There are many lovers of wine who can’t wrap their head around drinking a pink wine. I’m here to tell you: Beautiful, rose-colored wines can be a revelation. They may look like delicate flowers, but they’re actually medium-bodied red wines in disguise. Their light color is achieved by limiting the contact during fermentation between freshly pressed juice from red wine grapes and the grape skins (where most of a red wine’s color comes from), which yields wine without the deep red color. These wines can be the best of both worlds, rich in red wine flavors while lighter than their full-fledged bretheren. Served chilled, rosato has exceptional versatility andmakes a refreshing break during a filling meal.
Look for: Feudi di San Gregorio Ros’Aura Rosato, Campania, 2010. Founded in 1986, this winery has made great progress specializing in Campania’s distinctive grapes. Their Aglianico-based rosé, with fresh red berry flavors and great concentration, demonstrates its world-class potential. ($12).
Also try: 2009 Falesco Vitiano Rosato ($10), 2010 Mastroberardino Lacrimarosa ($15), 2010 Tasca d’Almerita “Le Rosé” di Regaleali ($13), 2010 Planeta Rosé ($16).
When it comes to pairing red wines with turkey, the classic approach is to choose something medium-bodied with a good amount of fruit. Of course, if you’re also serving a pasta course and assorted meats, that opens the field even wider, as they can handle a bit more power. Barbera makes a great option. Or try a fuller-bodied Sangiovese from one of Tuscany’s lesser-known regions such as Carmignano.
Look for: Librandi Cirò Rosso, Calabria, 2009. This wine is made entirely from the Gaglioppo grape from the heart of the Cirò appellation. It’s fermented and matured in stainless steel tanks, allowing the juicy flavors of cranberry, strawberry and plum to shine. ($12)
Marziano Abbona San Luigi Dolcetto di Dogliani, Piedmont, 2010. Dolcetto means “little sweet one,” and though its wines are generally bone dry, they have a distinctly rich fruitiness that will bring you back for a second glass. This is spot-on with a good hint of spice. ($18)
Sella and Mosca Cannonau di Sardegna Riserva, Sardegna, 2007. The island of Sardinia is making a name for itself with fresh wines made from local grapes. This delicious Cannonau boasts bold, dark floral aromatics, jammy flavors of red fruit and a hint of mocha. ($13.)
Also try: 2009 Capezzana Barco Reale Carmignano ($15), 2008 Michele Chiarlo “Le Orme” Barbera d’Asti Superiore ($15).
Dessert wines are often overlooked because many people consider them too sugary, akin to adding dessert to dessert. This is not the case with finely made dessert wines, which will have good acidity—and plenty of it. With a great Moscato, you can actually feel it wicking your palate dry after the initial burst of fruit. The juicy fruit overtones give way to honey, caramel and dry, toasted nuttiness
Look for: Massolino Moscato d’Asti. DOCG, Piedmont, 2010. This aromatic wine is the definition of easy drinking. Gentle sparkle teases the palate, and aromas of fresh white fruit and fresh herbs lead into pleasantly off-dry sips. Enjoy this one chilled with dessert. ($18.)
Also try: Elio Perrone Sourgal ($18), La Spinetta Moscato d’Asti Bricco Quaglia ($18), Maculan Dindarello Moscato ($22), Mionetto Moscato Dolce ($14).
photo by Nina Choi
© 2013 Quadratum USA. All rights reserved.