Thanksgiving Day kicks off what we Americans call ‘The Holiday Season’. Unlike European countries where the calendar is studded with holidays both secular and religious, in the USA we can go months without any official time off. Between the 4th of July and Halloween just one day, Labor Day, is a widely observed holiday, so now that the season is upon us, we have some catching up to do.
As I have said many times before, Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. What’s not to love about a national celebration devoted to food (and football)? Freed from any religious associations, Thanksgiving is an equal opportunity holiday, open to all who wish to partake in the joys of a big family meal.
The menu itself is open to broad interpretation, from Norman Rockwell traditionalism to post-modern tofurkey-ism. All tastes, culinary perspectives and even dietary restrictions can be woven into the fabric of a Thanksgiving feast. The only limitations to a successful Thanksgiving are a lack of time and/or imagination. My recommendation for those of you who have neither inclination nor inspiration to whip up a favorite family recipe is to contribute an excellent bottle of wine to the celebration.
For the first time, The Spanish Table now has genuine American wines (made from Iberian grape varieties, of course) that will perfectly match this most American of meals. I have several suggestions for you this week for domestic wines to go with Turkey and gravy, stuffing, cranberry sauce and the rest of a traditional Thanksgiving menu. Additionally, I have been finding great bargains wines from Spain and Portugal that combine high quality with low price. I have several new ‘house wines’ for you this week as well as some other very reasonably priced wines that will also compliment a festive holiday meal (or any meal for that matter).
Keep reading to learn more about this week’s new wine, but first here is something I read in The New York Times that I cannot resist passing along. This recipe uses the leftovers from my favorite American holiday to add a twist to one of my all time favorite Spanish tapas, the fried croqueta.
Croquetas de Jamón y Piquillo, Estilo New York Times
(Makes approx. 3 dozen)
3 cups mashed potatoes, chilled
2 1/4 cups plain bread crumbs
2 ounces serrano ham (about a half-cup), diced small
1/2 cup piquillo or roasted red pepper, diced small
5 large eggs
1 egg yolk
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, more to taste
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, more to taste
1 cup all-purpose flour
Olive oil, for frying.
In a large bowl, combine potatoes, 3/4 cup bread crumbs, ham, pepper, 1 egg, the yolk, 1/2 teaspoon black pepper, paprika and salt. Mix well.
Place remaining 4 eggs in a wide, shallow bowl and beat lightly. Place remaining 1 1/2 cups bread crumbs in a second bowl and flour in a third. Season bread crumbs with 1/2 teaspoon each salt and pepper.
Taking about 2 tablespoons of croquetas mixture at a time, form into 3-inch fingers. Dip each finger first in flour, tapping off excess. Dip in egg mixture, letting excess drip off, then bread crumbs. Transfer each finger to a large baking sheet. When you have finished forming all croquetas, cover tray with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes and up to 12 hours.
When ready to fry, heat 1/4-inch oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Fry croquetas in batches, turning once, until dark golden all over, 2 to 3 minutes a side. Transfer to paper towel-lined plates and sprinkle with additional salt, if desired. Serve hot.
Aforado 2005 Albariño grapes (along with small percentages of Caino and Loureira) go into this crisp, dry white wine from Galicia on Spain’s Atlantic coast. Abundant citrus fruit character with a foundation of fine minerality. A few years of bottle age have softened the acidity and mellowed the fruit character, creating a gentle version of what was once a tart, tangy wine. When first released this was a $15 wine, but is now ‘house wine’ priced at $6.99 (with a special discounted ‘house wine’ price of $5.99 when purchased by the case).
Brigantia 2001 This lightly oaked red wine is made from Prieto Picudo, an autochthonous grape variety of the Castilla Y León region. Dark garnet color and gamey aroma combine with rich black cherry fruit character and notes of saddle leather and coffee bean. This style of bold, earthy wine is rarely seen at this price. $6.99 ($5.99/each, by the case)
Peñafiel Joven 2004 Young, lightly oaked Ribera del Duero wines have been growing in popularity lately. Peñafiel Joven spends a few brief months in oak, adding the merest whiff of barrel character to this darkly colored, richly flavored red wine fashioned from the thick skinned Tinto Fino grape. $6.99 ($5.99/each, by the case)
Luis Alegre Joven 2006 This light, youthful, unoaked Tempranillo, made in the small Rioja region hill town of Laguardia is a traditional style of red wine made using the maceración carbonica method of whole cluster fermentation that produces fresh, fruity wines in a matter of weeks. This style is favored by the local winemakers in Spain but is not seen very often in the export market where mature, aged wines predominate. This bright, floral red can be served alone, with assorted tapas or at the beginning of a meal as a starter wine. $7.99
Odisea Two Rows Garnacha 2006 Adam Webb and Mike Kuenz founded Odisea a few years ago to make wines in the style of Southern France and Northern Spain. Using fruit from Lodi and the Sierra Foothills, these winemakers have crafted several different wines that, tasted blind, could easily pass as Spanish. Two Rows Garnacha, produced in miniscule amounts (90 cases in all) is a blend of 76% Garnacha, 12% Tempranillo and 12% Petite Sirah. A brief period of barrel ageing, as is typical with Spanish roble wines, adds a hint of oaky complexity to the wine. The crystalline ruby color, tangy, bright fruit character and background earthy/mineral notes are reminiscent of a Calatayud Garnacha or a young wine from Rioja Baja and will pair well with turkey and gravy. $19.99
Tejada 2005 Back in 1999 Spanish natives Celia Tejada and her brother Ivo started this small family winery in Lake County. The Tejada siblings planted part of their new 80 acre property with 3.5 acres of Tempranillo and Garnacha (the grapes they remembered from home). This small estate vineyard is the source for the fruit that goes into two Tejada wines (this one and a more mature reserva). The blend here is 58% Tempranillo and 42% Garnacha. Local winemaker Byron Kosuge is involved in the winemaking process which includes a certain amount of time in oak followed by a period of bottle ageing as is done in Spain. The end result is a dark garnet colored wine with fresh red berry fruit character, mid-weight barrel tannins and a lean, savory element that helps retain the Spanish style of the wine. $21.99
Candy Core Late Harvest Grenache 2004 Looking for a wine to pair with cranberry sauce? This little bottle of sweet dessert wine from Dave and Becky Corey at Core Wine Company is made from 100% Grenache (Garnacha to us) from the Santa Barbara Highlands. The grapes are left on the vine until super ripe and then aged for 18 months in barrel (with 8 more months of bottle age) after fermentation. This opaque ruby colored wine retains bright acidity that balances the dense, perfumed sweetness and gives the wine an unexpected lively quality. $19.99 (375ml)
St. Amant Tawny St. Amant is a small California winery that was founded in 1979 by Tim and Barbara Spencer to produce Port style wines (they have since become even better known for their Zinfandel). The non-vintage ‘Tawny’ is made from the Bastardo grape (a traditional Porto variety) sourced from the family estate vineyard in Amador County. According to Stuart Spencer (Tim Spencer died in 2006 and his son Stuart has been running the winery since that time) this wine started was an experiment in single varietal barrel aged Tawny Port style wine gone wrong. After primary fermentation and fortification (as is done in Porto) the wine was sampled and rejected as too rough and astringent. The experimental barrels full of wine were left in the tool shed and basically forgotten for several years. The wine was not racked or disturbed in any way. Down the line curiosity prevailed and the wine was re-tasted. Time and neglect had proved beneficial to the experimental Bastardo Tawny. The years of barrel age softened the acidity. The rough tannins had subsided and sweet, somewhat maderized notes of butterscotch and caramel had infused the dramatically improved wine. Serve this wine with pecan or pumpkin pie for a seasonal treat. $33.99 (500ml)