Our family has always loved Thanksgiving because we appreciate the good fortunes of the past combined with the anticipation of what is to come. It’s more than just ushering in the upcoming holiday season with a festive dinner. Thanksgiving gives each of us the chance to carry on our three generations and our many decades of holiday traditions as we come together at home to celebrate.
Our daughter Shelby and her family are from Centennial, Colorado, while our son Randy and his family live in Hermosa Beach, California. So the Thanksgiving holiday is a very special time of year when we all get together and create new memories.
Our Thanksgiving menu hasn’t changed significantly in the five decades we’ve enjoyed this celebration with family and friends. However, with each passing year there are subtle additions and deletions, with wine still becoming an integral part of each day’s events.
This year, in addition to Thanksgiving dinner and our usual Friday “leftover night”, we took advantage of an additional statutory holiday. Hanukkah began on Sunday evening after all the children had left. So, since the family was reunited, we decided to celebrate the first night of Chanukah on Wednesday, a few days earlier, with all the traditional foods, gifts, activities and games.
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The Hanukkah and Thanksgiving menus are quite different. Matzo ball soup and gefilte fish contrast with roasted tomato / butternut squash bisque and homemade pumpkin bread. Potato latkes versus casserole of sweet potatoes. Maple-glazed brussel and Brussels sprouts as opposed to turkey, stuffing, gravy and cranberry gravy.
With this year’s double vacation, Barbara cooked for weeks on end with fridges and freezers filled well beyond their normal capacities. Even the expected “rescue” to steal Barbara’s diet cookies from the freezer (delicious but far from healthy) and Shelby’s three-chocolate-coated strawberries from the refrigerator make our family time even more hilarious and special.
The extra vacation also gave me an added incentive to search the cellar for intriguing choices focused on the wine regions of the North Coast spanning a range of older vintages, varieties and stylistic impressions.
The late wine legend Peter Sichel once said: “Wine is an intermediate step between sweet grape juice and vinegar. I’ve always found this prospect interesting because wine (as opposed to beer and spirits) is a living entity that ages in the bottle. Yet the transition of individual wines from youth to adolescence, adolescence and adulthood is another question that can only be answered by popping the cork and savoring the experience.
So what better time to explore older wine treasures with family and friends than Hanukkah, Thanksgiving, and Left Over Friday? With this festive mix, the culinary tradition is based on distinctive menus that have evolved over the ages and none is geared towards “ideal” food and wine pairings.
During the fun and football-filled days, wines appealing to the youngest were accompanied by a wide range of lighter dishes and other treats. Here are some of our picks: 2018 Dutton-Goldfield Gewürztraminer Green Valley, 2019 Domaine Hüet Vouvrey Le Mont Sec, 2018 Chalk Hill Sauvignon Gris, 2017 Judd’s Hill Grenache and Schramsberg Mirabelle Rosé.
I’ve always been a fan of well-made aged Chardonnays, although “conventional wisdom” says California Chardonnays (unlike those from Burgundy’s most reputable appellations and producers) are not meant to age. So, I pulled a few favorites to test the theory while taking advantage of the “fruits” of the research.
The 1991 Peter Michael Mon Plasir (yes, a 30-year-old treasure) wasn’t only a special surprise, it dramatically demonstrated that when grown and produced centuries ago, California Chardonnays can also be one of the best. Its medium golden hue gave the first clue of elegance and appeal to come. Highlighted by an intense structure, the radiance of youth delicately blends with the richness of age for a wonderful experience. As a bonus, there are (surprisingly) a few more years left for this magnificent example.
The 2007 Chardonnay from the Grgich Hills estate has a deep golden color leading to richness on the nose. It was lively on the palate with a bright character of pitted tropical and white fruit. An intricate textured finish has left a lasting memory.
The Chardonnay Hess Collection 2012 was the youngest of the group with a nose of sweet apple and cinnamon and pitted fruit on the palate.
A 1991 Joseph Phelps Insignia perfectly demonstrated the rewards of meticulous viticulture and winemaking protocols combined with good storage. From an immaculate Napa Valley vintage, this copy evoked secondary aromas of tobacco and damp earth that preceded notes of blueberry and cassis on the finely textured palate and elegance on a multidimensional finish. Maybe in its prime now, but there are years to go over the ridge.
The Anomaly Cabernet Sauvignon 2002 from Sainte-Hélène has retained some of its youthful concentration on the nose and palate. Dark fruit, cassis and an elegant robe combined with impeccable structural elements and fullness led to a layered finish promising future rewards with further aging.
Additionally, as of 2002, Hourglass Cabernet Sauvignon had a compromised cork stopper but still displayed notes of youthful vitality combined with the grace of age. This wine is a must-drink now, but will continue to grow in bottle over time.
2005 Cosentino THE Poet is a classic Bordeaux-style Meritage blend that perpetuates both vintage distinction and the blending skills of Mitch Cosentino. The translucent shade of medium ruby / garnet hints at the elegance to follow with bright aromas of cherry and undergrowth on the nose. The palate presented a luscious mouthfeel with notes of red cherries, cranberry and blue fruit leading to a long, elegant and layered finish.
Along the way, we also met three ‘teenagers’ who have lost much of their ‘baby fat’ but still face a long journey into adulthood. 2012 Humanitas Signum Cabernet Sauvignon is tall and bold with youthful dynamism and structure to ensure many years ahead until maturity. The 2013 Sciandri Coombsville cuvée is also the daring expression of a great vintage from Napa Valley. The young nose remains a little tight while a full-bodied palate artfully displays rich notes of black cherry and cassis.
Ridge’s 2015 Montebello was one of the most beloved wines of an excellent vintage and valiantly lived up to its renowned pedigree, but it is still too young to be fully enjoyed straight from bottle to glass. With the time spent in the decanter, this Montebello grew and melted into an astonishing display of power, elegance and race that continued to develop in the glass. Like many other Montebellos Ridge from stellar vintages, this is a wine to watch out for and taste every few years as it matures gracefully.
Yet another “sparkling” treat to complement our timely celebrations. The Schramsberg Blanc de Noir 2007 was a delicious expression of the pleasure, finesse and aging capacity of the best wines produced according to the Traditional Method (for example the Champagne Method of Champagne). Secondary fermentation in the bottle shaped the intriguing aromas of the freshly baked bread which combined with bright citrus and green apple on the palate, luxurious textural components and a memorable finish.
With the official start of the 2021 holiday season, we look forward to more festivities to come. While the gatherings are smaller than in the past, hopefully the food, fun, and wine we enjoy are some of the best ever. Hope your holiday gatherings meet your highest expectations.
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Allen Balik, a Napa resident, has been a wine collector, consultant, author, fundraiser and enthusiast for over 35 years.