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Thanksgiving: No Wine is Too Good for Friends

OK wine lovers, listen up. Thanksgiving approaches, and in this country that means for the past few weeks every wine columnist in the world has been talking about what wines go with the big dinner. Well you're not going to get that from me, for reasons previously stated.

But I do want to talk about the whole affair of serving wine with the Thanksgiving feast. More specifically, I want to talk about the usually treacherous emotional landscape of choosing which wines to serve to your guests.

I woke up this morning to find that my friend Lettie Teague had kindly covered one half of the conundrum of wine for the holidays: figuring out what wine to bring to someone else's house for dinner.

But I want to talk about the other side of the equation: choosing which wines you want to open and serve to the family and friends that may be eating at your house. And I'm not talking about what grape varieties you think will go with Aunt Maud's special orange and cucumber aspic.

I'm talking about figuring out whether your guests are worth opening some of your really good shit.

Yes, you know what I'm talking about. That inner monologue you have with yourself, or perhaps that conspiring monologue you have with your partner that goes something like, "Well I could open that bottle, but no one is really going to appreciate it. Uncle Bob is just going to pour himself an entire pint of it and gulp it down with his salad."

In short, the holidays always bring up the wine lover's fear of casting pearls before swine. We cherish the wines we have collected, especially those that we think are really good. And the last thing we want is for them to not be appreciated.

Actually the last thing we want is to open them for our guests and have them drunk so quickly by a lot of people who don't appreciate them that we don't even get a chance to taste them ourselves.

Well, I'm taking a stand to say that we need to just get over it. We gotta open the damn bottles and pour fabulous wine down the gullets of the people we care for even if they can't tell the difference between our 1999 F. Cotat Monts Damnés Sancerre and a $5 bottle of YellowTail.

Why? Because it's Thanksgiving, because we love our families and friends (yes, even annoying Uncle Bob), because good wine is meant to be shared, and because we need to break the obsessive compulsive cycle of waiting to open those good bottles on the "right occasion."

Now I'm not saying that if you've got one, or even three truly treasured bottles that Thanksgiving is the time to break out your ultimate, best wines. Frankly, it's definitely not. Don't bust open the best of the best unless you and your guests will really get to savor them in the way that great wines (or greatly valued wines -- only you get to judge) should be.

But I am suggesting that we need to check our tendency to avoid opening good wine in the face of the hustle, bustle, and smorgasbord of the Thanksgiving feast. If you can afford it, and I mean that in every possible way, financial and otherwise, it can be a great joy to watch people you love consume really good wine, even unknowingly. I have wonderful memories of watching the faces of some folks (whose wine preferences can usually be described using a single color) light up as they taste a really nice wine while others at the end of the table pour Sprite into theirs.

Yes, it's a matter of faith, and you have to take the bad with the good. There will be some people who definitely won't appreciate your wine. But if there are just a few that stop in their tracks and want to know "What they hell that was that they just drank because it was really fuckin' good, then you're making the world a better place.

And yes, even if you have to sit in the corner and watch everyone drink a great bottle out of their paper cups while forking green beans and stuffing and gravy and cranberry relish into their mouths in a single bite, it's worth it to know that they're drinking good stuff instead of swill, and that it's your fault.

Comments (12)

Fatemeh wrote:
11.23.09 at 11:55 PM

Amen to that, Alder. I just pulled two bottles out of my locker: a Dr. Loosen that may actually be a little on the young side (but which I think will make a lovely aperitif) and a Dm. Pavelot that's drinking beautifully.

I contemplated opening a magnum of '93 Allegrini but I fear it is still too youthful and most definitely so with turkey.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours, my friend!


11.24.09 at 12:24 AM

"We gotta open the damn bottles and pour fabulous wine down the gullets of the people we care for even if they can't tell the difference between our 1999 F. Cotat Monts Damnés Sancerre and a $5 bottle of YellowTail." - I drank a bottle of this exact Les Monts Damnés in the past month - do I really have to open my other bottle because I still have no Yellow Tail (or any other critter wines) in my cellar?

Benito wrote:
11.24.09 at 12:36 AM

Well said, sir.

I had been planning on making this a "Beer Thanksgiving", but that sort of fell apart. My fallback plan is to clean out the cellar. I'm not dumping bad bottles, but after sorting through A) the samples I have to review, B) the gifts I want to share with the people involved, and C) a random assortment of table wines, I'm left with group D) a ragtag bunch of misfits that might just be perfect for Thanksgiving.

There's a Vinho Verde, some odd sparkling Italian red, a blackberry wine... All of these are fascinating in their own way, and deserve to be consumed (sooner rather than later), but somehow I keep passing them by when dinner's on the table.

Alder wrote:
11.24.09 at 7:58 AM


Well, there are some of us who are lucky enough that most people who would be invited over to our houses for Thanksgiving would know and appreciate the difference !


wine club wrote:
11.24.09 at 1:02 PM


I have to admit I typically match the price point of the wine I bring to the palate of the people I'll be dining with. I have plenty of friends that end up seeing me bring a $5 bottle from Trader Joe's! Have a great Thanksgiving!

Andy wrote:
11.24.09 at 2:57 PM

You're dead on. Nearly every time I've opened great bottles for family and friends, no matter where they live on the spectrum of getting/not getting wine, the reaction is the same -- they're into it. The dinner or the party is always more fun (and louder) because of it. And truth is, I'd much rather a friend describe a wine I brought as "good shit" rather than throwing cassis and pencil shavings at me. Have a great holiday!

Dylan wrote:
11.24.09 at 5:55 PM

I'd just like to point out the kind of person you would sound like if you took the opposite of Alder's stance in this post: "Who cares if they're family? They just don't get it. They don't understand this wine. Only someone like me can truly enjoy it and know it to its fullest potential and it would go to waste on people like them." Makes it a bit easier to see the value in being the person Alder describes, doesn't it?

Matt wrote:
11.24.09 at 6:00 PM


Great to see a post like this amidst all of the other critics/bloggers beating each other up trying to find the "perfect" wine that matches a smorgasbord style buffet. I was just thinking this over myself, except I have to drive 150 miles to dinner, and I'm not sure I want to put the wine through that sort of hell. I guess I'll make that decision Thursday morning!

Thad W. wrote:
11.25.09 at 9:20 PM

Thank you, thank you, thank you, Alder, for reminding one and all that the Thanksgiving meal is one of the most conducive to enjoying whatever wine suits one's fancy. It is the ultimate holiday in terms of celebrating the subjective nature of the American palate. That said, I hope consumers worry less about what wine they choose and more so about what's in the wine they imbibe. It's high time producers start offering more transparency on the ingredients going into their wines.

Cellartours wrote:
11.27.09 at 5:07 AM

I completely agree, Alder. It is true that the majority of my friends knows and appreciates good wine and can tell the difference between a great wine and an ordinary one (they wouldn't drink this one!!) ... but when we get to my family, things change a lot (some of my relatives are almost teetotaller, poor me!). Anyhow, it is a great pleasure to share something you think is very good with your beloved ones and to see the extremely positive reaction from their part. You don't need to be an experienced painter to appreciate Mona Lisa, do you?

Simona wrote:
11.27.09 at 5:19 AM

I've just remembered a funny anecdote: Christmas 2000, big family lunch including some "remote" relatives.
I brought two bottles of Vin Santo Occhio di Pernice Avignonesi 1988 (96/100 for Wine Spectator, aged in small barrels for 10 years and then refined in bottle for 6 months, veeeryyy gooood!).
I poured it in large glasses to let it breath and open and my aunt Tina ADDED A GOOD QUANTITY OF WATER and commented "very good, large glasses, so I can make my mix, I cannot stand wine on its own!!"

Grant wrote:
11.29.09 at 7:39 PM

Gosh, I so WANT to agree with you on this. I think I would like what it would say about me . . . I want to be the kind of person who would get satisfaction just knowing that my favorite wines are being consumed by my favorite people, regardless of their level of appreciation. But the reality of the matter is that I would, after all the bottles are empty, just feel like I do when a great wine, that I have been sitting on for years, waiting for the perfect occasion, ends up being corked and poured down the drain: sad.

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