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Posted by Michael Franz on November 26, 2014 at 8:47 AM

Wine Service Tips for Thanksgiving Hosts

Some of you probably entertain frequently, but survey research shows that the vast majority of Americans host large dinner parties only rarely.  This helps explain why millions of us are thoroughly freaked out by this holiday--especially  when we’re responsible for hosting the festivities.  

I’m no therapist, so you’re on your own regarding the various neuroses triggered by Thanksgiving, but at least I can help you get the wine service right.  That should take one trauma out of play.  Of course, you’ll still need to figure out how to deal with your wacky family, but having a perfectly prepared glass of wine should help with that, too….

--If your wine glasses have been sitting in a cupboard for a month, they've surely picked up a little dust even if they don't look dusty, and some of these particles can produce undesirable aromas or flavors that can seriously screw up your wine.  Be sure to rinse your glasses out with hot water and dry them with a lint-free dishtowel.

--If you'll be serving sparkling wine or Champagne, these glasses need to be washed differently.  As beer lovers know, soap residue kills bubbles, and whereas a flat beer is a disappointment, a flat glass of Champagne is a catastrophe.  If you are prepared to rinse endlessly and take your chances (like my WRO colleague Michael Apstein), then go for it.  However, my mantra is:  No soap, ever!  You can remove fingerprints and lipstick from the outside of glasses when perfectly inverted with a lightly soapy sponge, but never let any soap into the interior, which should only be rinsed with very hot water.  Dish towels can retain soap residues, so air-dry sparkling glasses or use paper towels.  If one of your guests thinks it is “icky” that you don't use soap on your sparkling wine glasses, cite me as an authority on the matter, and dis-invite that person for next year’s holiday.

--If you'll be serving sparkling wine (and if you’ve got it, you should damned well serve it!) please take note:  Don't put a damper on your dinner by blasting someone with the cork.  This is serious:  A Champagne cork unleashed by the “ballistic method” can really do a number on your eyeball.  Even worse, you DO NOT want to go to a hospital emergency room for treatment on Thanksgiving, as 150 inept turkey carvers will already be ahead of you in line, waiting to get their fingertips re-attached.

So:  Keep constant and very firm downward pressure on the cork, even when unwinding the wire cage, which will require exactly six twists.  Keep the cage on the cork, as it will enhance your grip.  Ease the cork from the bottle by grasping it firmly as you twist the base of the bottle from side to side.  A nearly inaudible result is what you want, with the faintest "pfffffffft" showing that you know what you're doing.

--Pay attention to serving temperature!  Most Americans are guilty of serving their whites too cold and their reds too warm.  Wines pulled directly from refrigerators--much less ice buckets--are typically so cold that aromas are suppressed and flavors flattened.  Similarly, the old rule of thumb about serving reds at room temperature has led millions of people to mishandle their wine.  The rule made sense when coined by some guy in the 18th century, but only because he lived in an English manor house without central heat.  Reds lack focus and seem overly alcoholic at 72 degrees, and are much better at 62.  So, stick your reds into the fridge for 20 minutes and pull your whites out of if for 20 minutes before cracking into them.

--Don't overfill glasses when serving wine at the table.  Sparkling wines can be filled to slightly above halfway, since they look much better with that fill level, and you don't want your guests thinking you are cheap on a day when you are supposed to be celebrating bounty.  However, glasses for table wine should never be more than half full.  An overfilled glass has no open space to collect the wine's aromas, which are absolutely crucial for appreciating it fully.

--Last but not least:  When you've gone through all of this and are finally ready to wine and dine, just relax and enjoy this wonderful beverage.  It is famously difficult to get a perfect wine to harmonize with everything involved in Thanksgiving dinner, and you shouldn't be shamed if your choice isn't perfect with everything on the plate.  After all, this is a meal that brings even wine-pairing experts to their knees.  If some self-appointed expert at your table makes a nasty crack about your choice, don't dignify his comment (it will surely be a “he”) with a reply.  Just roll your eyes.  And know that everyone else at the table is on your side!

Bonny Doon Vineyard, Monterey County (California) Grenache Rancho Solo Cuvee R 2012 ($48)
 This single-vineyard Grenache from Rhone master Randall Grahm shows impressive intensity of aroma, a spicy combo of red-fruit aromas that are the signature of this grape variety so prominent in France's southern Rhone. It pushes the envelope on the alcohol, but manages to maintain its balance and euro-centric charm. The Rancho Solo vineyard in Monterey was formerly Bonny Doon's Ca' del Solo vineyard, making the name change little more than a tweak. But by any name, the Rancho Solo Grenache is a serious wine and a captivating expression of Grenache.
93 Robert Whitley

Dr. Michael
This Issue's Reviews
Millennial Marvels
Robert Whitley

The big question facing wineries large and small these days is how to connect with millennials, the next generation of wine consumers. There is a significant school of thought that social media will be the path to Generation Next. Others believe it's going to take clever packaging to rope in the 18- to 33-year-old demographic. Carlo Trinchero has another idea. It's the wine, silly. The 27-year-old Trinchero is co-proprietor of the Taken Wine Company, which he founded with best-friend Josh Phelps in 2009.
The Evening's Opening Embrace
Marguerite Thomas

I fell in love with vermouth and other fortified aperitif wines long before fancy table wine seduced me. This infatuation began in my earliest drinking days, when I lived on the coast in western France. The wine we generally consumed with dinner was for the most part local, generic, inexpensive, simple, and tasty: Vin Ordinaire. Occasionally we indulged in a pricy Bordeaux or wine from the Loire, smacking our lips and agreeing that it was tres bon, but for the most part we drank the local stuff, which we thoroughly enjoyed without making a fuss over it. But ah, the aperitif before dinner, now that was another matter altogether.
Wine With
WINE WITH…Pork Schnitzel a la Holstein

In our opinion this delicious retro dish is ready for a comeback. Wiener Schnitzel traveled from Italy (think Veal Milanese) to become the national dish of Austria, but while Wiener Schnitzel is made with veal, the word 'schnitzel' simply describes a boneless piece of meat--veal, chicken, ham, pork--that's pounded into thin scallops, then breaded and fried. We have no idea why this rendition is named 'Holstein', but for us, it is the most interesting and complex of all the schnitzel dishes. It has salty/briny elements thanks to anchovies and capers, a tangy splash of lemon, and a softly fried egg that creates its own sauce as the yolk flows across the meat.
On My Table
World-Class Cabernet Sauvignon from Chile
Mary Ewing-Mulligan

Casa Real Cabernet Sauvignon is the iconic wine of Santa Rita, one of Chile's most historic and acclaimed wineries. It is made entirely from Cabernet Sauvignon grapes grown on the Alta Jahuel estate situated at an altitude of 1800 feet in the Alto Maipo region, close to the Andes Mountains. Casa Real is the product of warm days and very cool nights (warmer than Bordeaux by day, but cooler at night), well-drained clay and sandy soils, and low humidity. Both the low humidity and wide diurnal temperature range slow the ripening of the grapes and result in a long growing season with full flavor development in the grapes. The vines were planted as long ago as the 1960s.