Jefferson Vineyards Viognier is a wonderful Thanksgiving table wine |

We are happy to have Patrick Sullivan Farrell, CS, MA, begin as a regular contributor to Virginia Eats + Drinks, [LINK] offering his expert insight in wine periodically online and on-air. Here’s his picks for three Virginia wines for the Thanksgiving table, as well as the Christmas table if turkey takes the center of the plate there as well. – PEH

When Jamestown settlers gathered to celebrate their first official Thanksgiving in 1619, the wines that colonized their table were, well, unexceptional. Truth be told, if those primitive fermentations of Scuppernong and other native American grapes rode shotgun with the well-dressed turkeys of today, we would be washing down our fowl with foul. Even our iconic forebear, Thomas Jefferson, struggled to wring palatable juice from imported European vines that lined the land at Monticello. Fortunately, the quality of Virginia wine has vastly improved and today, over 400 years later, Virginians can give thanks for a range of wines that bring out the best on our banquet tables.

Pairing wine with Thanksgiving fare can be a daunting task, mostly in light of menu diversity but also the sheer volume of food we consume. The trick of wine selection thus boils down to two words: versatility and refreshment. We need elixirs that marry equally with turkey and ham, mashed potatoes and candied yams, and bacon-soaked green beans and mandarin walnut cranberry sauce, to name a few. But for a meal whose calorie count rivals the national debt, we also need to avoid powerhouse wines that weigh down our food and our guests. 

Viognier, declared the state grape in 2011 by the Virginia Wine Board, is a no-brainer complement to a traditional Thanksgiving spread. Due to its thick, humidity-resistant skin and affinity for warm growing seasons, this grape has found purchase in Virginia soils like no other white grape. The beauty of Viognier resides in fragrant, honeysuckle-driven aromatics, lack of biting acidity, and a panoply of white stone and tropical fruit accents that harmonize with Turkey Day trimmings worthy of a Norman Rockwell portrait.

 Of Virginia’s many Viognier producers, Jefferson Vineyards [LINK] stands out year in and year out for balance, elegance, and consistency. Poured from bottles whose shape precisely emulates wine vessels unearthed on the grounds of Monticello, Jefferson’s 2013 Viognier earned a double gold award at the 2014 San Francisco International Wine Competition. This triumphal wine announces a nose of honeysuckle, tangerine zest and orange blossom, followed by nectarine, yellow peach, dry apricot, and a twinge of ginger. Holiday diners are sure to bask in the luxury of this mainstay Virginia wine alongside country ham yeast rolls, butter and brown sugar sweet potatoes, and sage-fennel dressed turkey.

If Viognier has found a home in Virginia, there’s a red grape suited for the Thanksgiving table that has not enjoyed so hospitable a welcome: Pinot Noir. If Pinot were looking for its perfect match on a dating site, it would cringe at Virginia, whose humidity, warm summers, and moisture-retaining soils seem to forewarn of a singularly unattractive partnership. Nevertheless, recently one winemaker has defied the odds to yield a Virginian Pinot Noir worthy of recognition. In 2016 the International Pinot Noir Celebration invited Ankida Ridge Vineyards [LINK]to its annual gala in McInnville, Oregon, the first Mid-Atlantic winery to garner this distinction. 

Christine and Dennis Voorman’s 2013 Pinot Noir exhibited rustic, light brick tincture, vibrant acid, dry cranberry and tart red cherry flavors, and a hint of forest mushroom, causing one expert taster to mistake the wine for a touted red Burgundy. The Voorman’s secret? A steep, south-facing vineyard site in Amherst situated at 1800 feet above sea level and strewn with ancient granite. Cool mountain air, superb drainage, and mineral-rich soils give Pinot grapes a place to thrive. The resulting wine with its low tannin and seductive flavor profile gracefully mingle with buttery turkey meat, clove and brown sugar glazed ham, broccoli and cauliflower gratin, chive whipped potatoes and cranberry preparations of all kinds.

The marriage of tradition and innovation is a common thread among Virginia winemakers and in our Thanksgiving kitchens. Following its successes with Viognier, Virginia wine lovers have recognized potential in a similarly thick-skinned grape: Petit Manseng. For centuries this grape has flourished in southwest France’s Juraçon region where it enjoys long, relatively warm growing seasons and can remain on the vine until early December.  

Michael Shaps [LINK], whose craftsmanship has arguably spawned more quality wines than any other single vintner, leads the pack with a shimmering, day bright, lime-intoned Petit Manseng rich in lithe, tropical expressions of white pineapple, mango, papaya, captured in a grapefruit driven framework of citrus. The wine epitomizes refreshment, balance, and food friendliness. Lustrous acidity and lively fruit make it an ideal companion for turkey with oyster dressing, scalloped potatoes, tossed salads, grandma’s ambrosia, and mandarin walnut cranberry sauce.

So treat yourself and the people you love to a glass of Virginia’s finest as you celebrate this Thanksgiving in sumptuous style. You’ll be thankful you did. Cheers, Virginia!   

Patrick Sullivan Farrell is a sommelier at Zoes Restaurant in Virginia Beach [LINK] 

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