Thankful (for Drinks)

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Two weeks til Thanksgiving. Maybe you are staying put in DC and hosting your own dinner. Or you’re heading elsewhere and are faced with the inevitable stress of traveling. In either case, chances are you’re going to need liquid courage. Don’t panic, We Love Drinks is here to help.

Some personal disclosure – my parents are teetotalers. Explains a lot, doesn’t it? For my brother and I, no holiday visit to the parental compound is complete without a trip to the local liquor store, loading up on a whole cart of wine and spirits. He has expensive tastes. Somehow I end up paying. But it’s worth it.

Of course I’m not advocating getting bombed for Thanksgiving! Enjoy the holiday by indulging in some civilized drinks in moderation. I canvassed three local sommeliers for their recommendations of what goes best with the traditional feast, and as with the end of summer wines list culled previously, they’ve responded with some stand-out sips.

Let’s start with Elli Benchimol from Chef Geoff’s, who speaks for most of us when she says, “My Thanksgiving lasts all day, and most of the night, there are usually children running around, as well as adults, and it is an absolute necessity to have lots of wine, not only to keep you sane, but to keep you going.”

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Elli Benchimol, Chef Geoff’s

Elli believes that the keys to a good Thanksgiving beverage are balance and the ability to mesh with different flavors. “It also can’t weigh you down or fill you up during your marathon of eating,” she says. She’s chosen a white and a red varietal to fill the job – riesling and gamay.

For riesling, she cautions you to look for one that isn’t too sweet. “My favorite producers can go up, up and away in price… but to keep up with the quantity and demand of a big family and lots of empty glasses, I’d go with a kabinett level, it’s not too sweet but still packed with ripe pear and apple fruit.” One such 2009 bottle out now at the very affordable price point of $14 is Lucashoff. It’s from the Pfalz region of Germany, close to Alsace – “so it has some influences of their drier style, but still has that ripe fruit character and petrol nose of a great German riesling.”

The reputation of the red wine Elli recommends, gamay, suffers because of its association with Beaujolais Nouveau. “Gamay has gotten a bad rap over the years, as Beaujolais Nouveau is thought of as cheap thin red wine, but not the Cru levels,” Elli explains, “There are 10 crus of the Beaujolais region, my favorite current vintage out right now with great reviews, is the 2008 Marcel Lapierre Morgon.”  This bottle will set you back $25, not bad. Elli’s description makes it sound great for Thanksgiving –  “the bright red cranberry and berry fruit are perfect for turkey, you may not even need the cranberry sauce…”

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Kathryn Bangs, Komi

Thanksgiving is the only time of year that Kat reaches for California chardonnay, and the bottle she recommends is Qupe Chardonnay “Bien Necido Block 11″ Santa Maria Valley 2005.  “It’s so rich and buttery that it can stand up to, and even compliment, those creamy side dishes,” she says, “Last year I brought  six bottles of the Qupe along with some lovely pinot noir to a group of hardcore red wine drinkers.  No one touched the red – they were too happy drinking the chardonnay with their green bean casserole.”

That’s high praise. Expect a price point of around $25 for the bottle that can stand up to those gooey green beans.

Another tempting choice Kat mentions is a sparkling rose from Willamette Valley, Oregon.  “Soter makes a transcendent pink sparkler, but Argyle makes a more affordable example.” Soter runs around $50, while Argyle hits the pocket at $35. ” They are both made from the pinot noir grape and have a strong sense of place – wild forest raspberries, cream and spice.”

Um, yes, absolutely, I think that’s the one I will be putting on my table.

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Caterina Abbruzzetti

Not everyone drinks wine. For the liquor lover at your turkey table, Caterina quips, “What is more traditional than American Rye Whisky on Thanksgiving?” She recommends serving Rittenhouse 40% Proof Rye Whisky (available for under $25 a bottle) and her description of what’s fast becoming my favorite libation makes me think pumpkin pie may have a new rival…

“On the palate: reminiscent of deep, toffee like characteristics with roasted nuts, hints of candied tropical fruit and molasses pie. Experience hints of spices as mint, vanilla, cocoa, cinnamon, that emerge mid-palate and linger, warming each sip to the finish. This Rye is complex; you can skip dessert as it is layered with pure sweetness of Giving.”

How you drink the rye whisky is a personal preference. Some like to drink it neat, others like some ice cubes. There’s always my favorite way – the cocktail route. Caterina suggests making the Hunter’s Moon Rye Cocktail.

I’ll leave you with her recipe, and hope these recommendations help you plan a fantastic, stress-free Thanksgiving holiday.

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‘An Ex-Whiskey Sour’
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Hunter’s Moon Rye Cocktail
The Hunter’s Moon—also known as blood moon or sanguine moon—is the first full moon after the harvest moon, which is the full moon nearest the autumnal equinox. The Hunter’s Moon is said to aid hunters while tracking their wild turkey prey.

1 1/2 oz. Rittenhouse Rye Whisky
3/4 oz. Lustau Dry Amontillado “Los Arcos” Sherry
1/2 oz. Cynar Liquor
1 dash Fee Brothers Orange Bitters
1 slice of orange peel

In a chilled cocktail shaker, add rye whisky, sherry, Cynar, and the dash of bitters. Stir with cubed ice until well combined and chilled. Strain into chilled double Old-Fashioned glass. Rim the glass with the orange peel and add it to the top.

As one of the founding editors of We Love DC, Jenn’s passions are theater and cocktails. After two decades in the city, she’s loved every quirky, mundane, elegant, rude minute of her DC life. A proud advocate for DC’s talented drinks scene, she’s judged the Corcoran Gallery of Art’s ARTINI contest, the DC Rickey Month contest, the Jefferson Hotel’s Quill Cocktail competition, and is a founding member of LUPEC DC. A graduate of Catholic University’s drama program, she toured the country as a member of National Players, and has been both an actor and a costume designer before jumping the aisle to theater criticism. Writing for We Love DC restored her happiness after a life-threatening illness, and she’s grateful to you, dear readers. Send your suggestions to jenn (at) welovedc (dot) com and follow her on Twitter.

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