As you obsess about jazzing up the holiday feast you’ll put in the oven — or pick up ready-made from Whole Foods — don’t neglect what you sip from your glasses.
For starters, few things are more festive than Champagne. But bubbly can be too much wine for the Florida heat (and too hard on your wallet for big parties). Thankfully, there’s prosecco, a sparkling wine that’s sort of a younger, more carefree cousin with an Italian accent.
Unlike Champagne, whose sharp yeastiness can be a downer when it’s hot, prosecco’s softer, cleaner taste and finish make it perfect no matter which way the mercury’s headed. And good prosecco runs under $20 a bottle. You’d be lucky to get a half-bottle of good Champagne at that price.
Made from the prosecco grape in Conegliano-Valdobbiadene, a tiny area just north of Venice, Italy’s most popular sparkling wine comes in several pyrotechnic versions, classified as frizzante (fizzy) and spumante (very fizzy). Most of the good stuff is frizzante. There are non-fizzy ones, but you don’t see many in the states; plus, you’d be better off going for a wine made from other white varietals.
Like all wines, taste and price of prosecco varies. Canella makes a nice one, mellow and fruity, for about $15 a bottle. Carpene Malvolti produces a drier type that runs around $18 a bottle. Striking a nice balance between soft and dry, Mionetto’s Prosecco di Valdobbiadene ($14) is one by which others are measured (and measure themselves). Curiously, one of the less expensive proseccos, by Lunetta, is among the nicest. And for about $12 a bottle, you could gargle with it every day.
When you move on to the real business of the holidays — overeating — and you’re hankering for something red, skip the cabs and go with wines made from pinot noir grapes. They’re typically lighter than the big reds, more full-bodied than whites. What’s more, pinot noir goes as well with turkey as with sweeter hams and, well, most anything. I like the pinot noirs from A to Z Wineworks in Oregon because they’re good and not too pricey. Their 2010 pinot is a great example. And at $20 a bottle, a steal. I also like American zinfandels, typically fruity and spicy. Among my faves is the 2009 Grgich Hills Estate Zinfandel ($35 a bottle).
As for white wines, chuck the chardonnay and grab a bottle of wine made from the tongue-twisting — and tingling — gewurztraminer (guh-VOORTS-truh-MEE-nur) grape. You really can’t go wrong with any by Domaine Paul Blanck, whose gewürztraminers are dry and full and spicy. In other words, wonderful.
Few whites pair as well with holiday fare as rieslings. Most are a little too sweet for me, but Covey Run’s dry rieslings are nice. And they cost a criminally low 10 bucks or so a bottle. For something special, go with Germany’s 2010 Stefan Breuer “R3” Riesling ($24).
Of course, because Thanksgiving’s a family event, chances are friends and family will all have their own particular wine tastes. Which is why I like to have a variety of whites and reds around. CRU Cellars in South Tampa makes this task even easier by offering ready-made six-pack selections of Thanksgiving wines for a nifty $100.
Come time for dessert (assuming you’re still vertical), try a glass — or two or three — of French Pineau des Charentes (pee-no day shah-rahn’t), made with young cognac and unfermented grape juice. No, it’s not nasty. Rather, the result is a complex wine (think subtle raisins and honey with a faint citrus finish) with some kick (it contains 16 to 22 percent alcohol). Often treated as an aperitif (French drink it during the day in cafes, and often), Pineau des Charentes goes well with anything chocolate. One of the better makers is Prunier, which runs around $25 a bottle.