How to choose wine for the Thanksgiving table?

There will either be pressure, financial and otherwise, to grab big bottles of cheap plonk off the supermarket shelf, or conversely, pressure to consult Wine Spectator or some other “expert” source and find bottles receiving high scores. Resist both impulses. Here’s why — and how.

For people who insist they can’t tell the difference between good wine and bad, or who drink for more medicinal than gustatory reasons, I suppose a couple of bottles of crap wine make sense to have around (although either could surprise themselves).

But there’s no reason to throw cash at wines approved of by Wine Spectator, Robert Parker, and other media authorities. As Jonathan Nossiter shows in his brilliant polemical film Mondovino, that style of wine (big, jammy fruit bomb! Layers of oak! Buttery! Vanilla!) is a construct held up by marketing cash, ultra-modern flavor manipulation, and cynicism.

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I am afraid that, with honorable exceptions, winemakers in California and most of the emerging U.S. wine regions have succumbed to these pressures.

Hell with ’em. Instead, seek out wines with character and idiosyncrasy — wines that reflect their grape varietals, their soils, their climate (terroir, tear-wah!), and the vision of their winemaker.

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These wines, known in the wine world as “natural,” tend to be quietly organic or even biodynamic. Quietly, because their makers tend to be quirky characters who figure they’re growing grapes the right way and it’s everyone else who’s wrong. They don’t need no stinkin’ certification!

To find these wines, seek out your best local wine merchant. Tell him or her that you want traditionally made small-batch wines. They will tend to be pricier than $6.99/bottle plonk, but much cheaper than some Robert Parker “fruit bomb.” Typically, they run from about $13-$35 bottle.

If you’re lucky, the merchant will direct you to some beautiful stuff made nearby. If that’s not possible, here is a list of importers that will help your wine merchant locate the wine you want. These importers specialize in “natural” wines:

Classical Wines – Spain, Germany
Kermit Lynch – France, Italy
Louis/Dressner – France, Italy
Neal Rosenthal – France, Italy
Rudi Wiest – Germany
Terry Theise – Germany, Austria, France (specifically Champagne)
Thomas Calder – France
Vin di Vino – Italy, Austria, Chile
Vineyard Brands – France, Spain, Portugal, Italy, South Africa, Argentina, Chile

When I’m strapped for cash, I’ll splurge on a good bottle and hoard it for those I know will appreciate it. Add a little intrigue to your dysfunctional family gathering!