Y9 Review - Wine Reviews by Wine Critic John Turi

Thanksgiving – Fine Wine and Family Hell

Wine Rating: 94

I received a call this afternoon from my sister. A call I usually get this time of year. A call about our plans for Thanksgiving. The dread I could hear in her tone matched that of the dread I was feeling. She said, “I’m calling to talk about our plans for this year’s Thanksgiving. Do you want to go out to dinner? You know, to a restaurant, instead of having our usual meal at Mom’s house?” I paused. “Hmm?” I was thinking.

Thirteen years ago on November 7th, we lost our father to prostate cancer. Since then, every Thanksgiving has felt like a thing to get through, not something to look forward to. Let me clarify. I’m speaking for myself here. “For me” … it feels like it’s just a thing to get through. I have no idea how the rest of my family feels about this, but there’s a chance it might be the same, but I’m not sure. We don’t talk about it. My father was the anchor in our family, he had a way of making things feel stable, even if they weren’t. He kept the peace. Although my dad would have never been accused of being demonstrative, there was a steadiness about him that was a welcome presence. My dad and my mother were polar opposites, but that seemed to work for them. In their differences and even in their separateness, they had a rhythm, and one of the things this unlikely pair did exceptionally well was host a gathering. That’s right. They were the consummate hosts. In that area, they were a correct fit. They would regularly invite their friends over for BBQs, for Sunday Italian meals, for Wednesday wine nights and of course, we’d always have a house full of family, friends, and some ‘just newly met’ acquaintances, for our holiday soirees. Growing up, the house was rarely not bubbling with engaging conversation. From Johnny Carson to someone going on about their new Cadillac, from the hush toned whispers about Uncle Frank’s latest business venture, an assortment of family drama and some well-intended, but rarely welcomed, unsolicited advice.

Amidst the laughter coming from every room, was the smell of ‘fresh out of the oven’ hot appetizers that wafted through the house with ease. The distinct sound of tinkling ice cubes bumping up against the walls of glass tumblers, coming from a variety of mixed drinks. The always present holiday playlist for the day that without fail always included Sinatra, Dino, Sammy, Nat, and Bennett.

In her prime, my mother was the best Italian cook I’ve ever known. I’ve written about the legendary gravy she would make. The way she would measure ingredients by sight and feel and her personally cultivated process that took nearly three days. She made it all look so easy and actually for her, it was. She was a natural. She and my Dad would make noodles from scratch, and they’d hang all over the kitchen and dining room to dry. I love the memories that were made in that house, and I probably don’t say that enough, but I do. I was a big house that was once full of noise and life and the messiness that comes with loving people and being part of a family. It goes with the territory.

That very house was sold a few short weeks after my old man died. It was just too much for my Mom, I guess. Memories carry a weight, and it was one she to escape from as quickly as possible before the truth of his unfillable absence could consume her. Now, she lives in a retirement community, near friends and the ocean. She sits on her sundeck with her retired neighbors, where they can polish off a bottle or two of Trader Joe’s Chardonnay.

Today, this eighty-something little old lady has found a fondness for frozen pizza, she never had before. She’ll call or text me, asking me if I want to stop by for dinner, telling me she’s about to “pop one in the oven” while trying to make a convincing case for how good they taste. Ugh. It breaks my heart. The couple of times a month I visit her, she wraps up that damn pizza and sends me home with it. I weep, longingly, for the days of her lasagna, cocha de pepe or linguine with clams and my grandmother yelling with her hands at the table, “Manga! Manga!”

In the years since my dads been gone, Thanksgiving just is not the same. It’s taken on a different feeling completely. They’ve been spent primarily at my Mom’s house, a couple of them have been at my sister’s and once, at my home. Over the past 3 or 4 years, ease over tradition or sentimentality has won out with our entire Thanksgiving meal being prepared by and purchased at the grocery store. You know the one I’m talking about. It comes with a whole turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, stuffing, a veggie offering and of course a pumpkin pie. We all agreed we should make some effort to add personal touch, so in addition to the fixins’ that come with the store-bought dinner, everyone brings a dish; an extra dessert, a salad, buns (ideally not Pillsbury) and of course, I am always nominated to bring the wine, which is the bane of my existence. The way I look at it, a $200 Opus One, does not equal a $12 side of Costco’s mixed jumbo cookies. Yes, I know, I could bring a cheaper wine, but I want to drink something nice with my holiday meal, even one that’s coming from the supermarket deli.

Many of my parent’s oldest friends, the ones who I’ve known nearly all my life, have died or retired and moved to cheaper states to live and except literally a handful, it’s just my immediate family left in the whole bunch. That includes my wife and me, my mother-in-law (who lives with us; that is a whole other article), my right-wing born-again Christian sister, her Greek husband who says all of three words the entire day, their two sons (my nephews), who are now in their twenties living their lives in other states, making their presence a bit more ‘hit or miss’ during the holidays, and of course, my mother. I love my mom, I really do. Even if I don’t show it, but since the loss of my father a deep narcissism has awoken in her and it’s practically unbearable. The rude emergences of this behavior has surfaced atop an anxiety that, someone left the front door open and one of her little dogs has gone missing. So throughout the day, without fail, we all get to hear her ask (or yell) “Where’s Minnie? Where’s Molly? Did they get out? Is the door open? Did you close the gate?”

The conversation and setting are like something ripped right out of a dysfunctional ‘family gathering’ holiday movie, starring Diane Keaton and Paul Giamatti. It’s an afternoon and evening of walking around on eggshells, wondering when the shoe will drop and who will say something first, that will ignite the fracture and start the conflict. Of this cast of players, who has flawlessly memorized their lines and who will, at just the perfect moment, let out a subtle political jab or poke the bear? Nine times out of ten; after half a bottle of wine, my mother will say something like, “You know, I watch Judge Judy and why is it that everyone on her show who shows up and says they’re on welfare or claim to have no money, always seem to have on expensive jewelry or they’re carrying an expensive designer bag and nice a nice cell phone. I don’t get it.” (note: I’m riffing here, but it’s not far off, and I think we all know, “who” she’s really referring to.) Ugh. Again, I weep.

This year the family has opted for a change of pace. Looks like we’re going out to dinner. When I heard the news, I was hoping for a classic Chinese place, like at the end of A Christmas Story, but alas, it’s not to be. Instead, we’ll be heading to a California bistro serving a traditional Thanksgiving meal. One Yelp review said, “A great place for after work Happy Hour!” Yeah!

My sister also told me there is a $15 corkage fee, so I took a look at their wine list online, and the best pinot noir they offer is something I would drink on a Wednesday night with a bag of Doritos. Will I bring a couple of nice bottles to enjoy the meal with? Hmmm? Will I?

As I’d mentioned, we had Thanksgiving dinner at our house ‘once,’ since my dad passed away. It was a couple of years ago, and I’d decided to go all out. I wanted to treat our guests, not just entertain them. So, I went to a small, family-owned, local hipster butcher shop and purchased a farm to table, just killed on Tuesday before Thursday Thanksgiving turkey. A beautiful 12-pound bird that formerly lived about 30 miles outside of the city. Eco. Organic. Thoughtful. You get it. His name was Milo, and he liked watching the Golf channel and enjoyed strolls along the beach at night.

Everyone agreed to bring a dish, and since I was hosting, my nephews showed up. I began the day by opening a beautiful 1990 Trimbach Riesling Clos Ste. Hune from Alsace. My sister complained that she didn’t like Reisling. I schooled her by saying, “That’s because you’ve never had a good one!” This Reisling was probably one of the finest in the world, and I knew that if grabbing a $6 bottle from BevMo was her idea of quality, then she was in for a surprise. The wine was rich in dark minerals, layered with honey and citrus. It was the kind that cleansed your palette, and it was one of the finest wines I’ve ever had. I served it with warm Brie and Vermont biscuit crackers. My mother asked for ice, she said, “I want mine colder.” I refused.

Dinner was ready to be served, and I’d paired the meal with a vertical of Pinot Noir from Kosta Browne. We started with 2007, moved to 2008, and a 2009; all Gap’s Crown grapes. I took notice of the 7 people at the table, the day was just starting, and I wanted to share many great wines with my family. I wanted to tell them about my love for this wine and why it matters to me, share the history of the wineries who made them, tell them where the grapes came from, how the soil affects the taste of the grape. In truth I wanted them to learn.

Mid-way through the meal, I was explaining the story of Kosta Browne and the beauty of what they produce, so naturally (queue scene) this seemed like the right moment for my mother to interrupted me and ask for ice again because her pinot was not cold enough. Again, I refused, so she slammed her glass down, tipping it over and her wine spilled across the table. “There goes $40.”, I said.

As the last of the pinot was being enjoyed (by my wife and me, anyway), I opened a 2009 Maybach Materium Cabernet, that lit up the room. It was a powerhouse. Great wines, I mean really great wines, were moving around the table and I know my family is not sommeliers, but damn! This was quality juice. Some of the best the world produces. Yes, I know what your thinking and looking back, I know it now too. I had high expectations. Unrealistic expectations. My wife might say, I kind of set this up to fail, and if I’m being honest, she’d be right. Call it wishful thinking. I just so wanted them to get it, but I know, not everyone is a wine fanatic and to them, my family, wine is just something to wash the turkey down with.

Everyone was making small talk, and I just sat and watched and sipped my wine. I’d notice wife looking at me, laughing to herself. She knew what I was thinking and could feel my frustration over the fact that my family had absolutely no idea what was being poured. A highlight was when one of my nephews said to everyone at the table “This is the best damn turkey I’ve ever had in my life!” Hazah! It was so great to hear that, and it was made a little sweeter by the sneer my sister gave him. Call it ‘sibling rivalry’.

At the far end of the table, my mother-in-law, a 24/7 Fox News watching 80-year old, was trying to explain the state of some states medical system to my brother-in-law and commenting on the ridiculousness of a $120 aspirin when you’re in the hospital. He looked blankly at her and kept eating. My sister entered the conversation by saying that the Socialist (liberal) views of this country were hurting the future of the children. She also added that the anti-Christian rhetoric by some news outlets was hurting the right for prayer in school. I chimed in by saying, “I heard that prayer is a form of Schizophrenia.” then sat back and drank my wine and ate my food.

The maximum capacity that I could handle being with my family was reaching its peak. I was growing tired of the small talk, so I wandered in the wine cellar, my sanctuary and looked around. I dusted off a 1993 Château Mouton Rothschild. “Balthus my old friend,” I whispered. After a quick decant, I set it on the table to let it open up, and before I even sat down, my mother grabbed the decanter to pour herself a glass. I quickly pulled it out of her hand and said, “This one needs to open.” and I set it back on the table. “That’s nonsense,” she said. “Mother, you have two other glasses of wine in front of you.” I pointed out. She quickly looked down at her place setting saw the two glasses; both Kosta Browne, one a 2009 and the other a 2008.  She picked up one of the glasses and poured into the other, then said something like, “There. Now I only have one glass,” and chugged that sucker down, like someone whose insides were on fire and needed to be extinguished, pronto. I just shook my head and sighed.

As dinner was slowing, so did my mood. By this point, my brother-in-law had unbuckled his belt and unbuttoned the top button on his pants. I headed to the kitchen to get some of the desserts ready, start the coffee, and pull the cognac glasses, and I wasn’t gone more than 30 seconds when I hear, “Ugh, what the hell is this? My tongue feels like it has a sock on it!” I winced, yelled within my skull, “SONOFABITCH!” and walked back to the dining room. Yup! As I feared, my mother had poured the Rothschild for her and my mother-in-law, and as I walked in, they both took a swig. My sister and brother-in-law were laughing and laughed louder when they saw my face. “What the shit?!” Was all I could say. The decanter sat next to my mother, and she and my mother-in-law were giggling like two drunk college sorority girls. Before I could explain the beauty of the wine, and that it needed another twenty minutes to open so the tannins could mellow, my mother, said, “If you didn’t want anyone to drink it, then you shouldn’t have put it on the table.” “Unbelievable!” I muttered under my breath.

Standing, I grabbed an empty glass and the Rothschild, poured it nearly to the rim and slammed it back, like a sailor on a day pass. “Mazeltov!” I said. Then, with my bare hand, I grabbed another piece of turkey and stuffed it into my mouth. (If you’ve ever seen Trading Places, this was the Dan Akroid Santa scene.) It was about this time that my sweet, beautiful wife explained to my mother that we have a tradition in our house; a ritual that we learned from Hemingway. Every bottle of wine opened deserved to be acknowledged, cheered. In our house, we toast to the wine, then to ourselves, as we look each other in the eye. My wife and I always do this, and we impart this custom to all of our friends. “It’s simple, and it matters to us, as it mattered to Pappa.” my wife said. Then, my mother raised her glass, and slurred, “Well, Cheers then!”

What was left of the day, moved at a sluggish, painful pace. Fox News conversations, Christian values missing in the family, gays marrying what a sin, blah, blah, blah. By the time I got dessert and coffee on the table, I was seeing double. Yummy Pinot and Bourdeaux sloshed in my belly. Sweets were being slid across the table like it was a shuffleboard court. The smell of coffee and pumpkin filled the air, and it felt like a good time to open the 1978 Chateau D’Yquem. Why?  Because I wanted to hear, my mother say, “Ugh, what is this and why does it taste like sweet old cheese.” About this time I stood back up, muttered something incoherent, left the table, walked to the bedroom and passed out.

Well, that’s how I remember the day ending anyway, but around 10pm, when I woke up, my wife told me a different story. I sat at the kitchen table still a bit full, and she handed me a tall glass of water and two aspirins. I opted for the aspirin, but I saw the decanted Rothschild still had about a drink or two left, and I chose that over the water. She just looked at me then put away the last of the dishes, poured herself a glass of Marcassin Chardonnay; a 2010 and a damn good year. “I don’t remember opening that, so I guessing you did?” She just smiled, and I knew that look meant she took it upon herself to enjoy a nice glass and the last bit of quiet as she did the dishes and as I slept.

She finished wiping down the counters, tossed the damp dish towel in the laundry like she was LeBron throwing just net and then sat down at the table, across from me. “Well, that was a fun day. Don’t you think?” I could smell the citrus and melon fruit notes coming from her glass. “What time did everyone leave and Is there any more pumpkin pie?” I asked. She looked at me puzzled. “How much of today do you remember?” She inquired. “Hmm…? I thought. I honestly didn’t know. We ate, we drank, I tolerated my family. “Everything???” I said. She reached across the table and took my hand. “Oh, my poor drunk husband… ‘tis it nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing them, end them?” She stood up, walked over to the kitchen island poured herself another glass of the Marcassin. I was starting to fear that troubling things happened beyond my recollection. Shawn-Marie only quotes Shakespeare when she has mixed feelings swimming in her mind. It’s my wife’s way to calm. It brings her to a place of sanity.


I told her how I remembered the day and said to her that when I’d had enough of it, I got up, went to our bedroom and took a nap. That brought a long pause, and the room seemed to grow a bit dim. “You did get up and go into the other room, eventually, but not before you grabbed the empty Rothschild bottle and began your dissertation about the beautiful, controversial Rothschild label. I now know the full extent of details about the label, because after you did pass out and everyone left, and my Mom passed out in her room, I poured myself a glass of wine and looked it up. You rambled about how Baroness Philippine loved Balthus, the painter and how deeply honored she was that he did a sketch for the 1993 vintage. The Baroness was worried that the US BATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms) would not approve the label because they were, as you put it, a bit, ‘uppity’. Balthus liked to paint young girls in dream-like states. Picasso was a big fan of his, and it was Picasso’s own Balthus painting that the Louvre hung in the museum while Balthus was still alive. Something very few living artists have done. You clarified that Balthus was considered the last of the modern painters living, until his death in 2001. You were taking great pride in informing our family that the bureau actually ‘did’ approve the label and that a little over 500 cases arrived in the US, but it was to be short-lived as they were met by a California group called, The Sexual Assault Response Team, who charged that the drawing demoralized adolescent sexuality and demanded that the bureau withdraw it. The thought that this group considered the sketch kiddie porn was offensive to the Baroness. She knew how sexually misguided Americans were and against all of her beliefs regarding art, Balthus and particularly the sketch, she asked the BATF to rescind the label. She then decided that if Balthus were not on the label, then nobody would be. The US label was left blank for the American distribution. Naturally, this drove the price of the bottle, full or empty, way up.” My wife looked at me, smiled and asked, “How was that for a retelling? Sound vaguely familiar?”

I finished the Rothschild and was amazed at how beautiful the fruit was; stout ripe berries, young tree bark, mellowed tannins, with a tobacco and fig finish. Not the best Rothschild I’ve had, but it had damn good aging power. “That doesn’t seem so bad,” I said to her.

My wife continued. “Well, the label wasn’t offensive to anyone but your sister. She mumbled something about the French being perverts and that most of the art that is celebrated in the Louvre is just historical child porn. You asked her if she believed in abortion, which you already knew the answer to. “Of course not. It’s murder!” she said. Your mother spilled her wine, for the second time. It was the D’Yquem, this time breaking her glass. By this point, you were pretty much done and didn’t seem to care about anything. That was until she said, “Oops.” then grabbed my glass and started drinking it as if nothing happened. Something snapped, and you’d had it. You raised your voice and said, “You owe me $100 for the D’Yquem and $300 for the Zalto glass you just broke!” She said, “Send me a bill!” As if remembering a point you’d wanted to make hours prior, you turned your attention from your Mom back to your sister and asked her what she thought of gays and gay marriage. Again, you already knew the answer, and I knew you were just looking to end the night with a fight, just like in the movies. She said, “God thinks it’s an abomination.” You then lept from the chair, nearly knocking it over and began pacing back and forth. You looked like Perry Mason. Then, just as your mother was going to pick up another glass of wine, which again, was actually my glass, you snatched it off the table, drank it in one gulp and said to your sister, “So, if a teenage girl is raped by her uncle, and she gets pregnant, she should keep the child?” Your sister, not missing a beat, said, “It’s not how the child is created, it’s about the child’s right to exist.” to which you said, “What if when that child turns ten years old, and they say to their mommy, “I’m gay?”, would that child have been better off not being born? You continued by saying, “It’s estimated that about 4.5% of this country identify as being gay, so then would it be safe to say that maybe 4.5% of all women who want abortions should have them? I mean, if they do, you might just catch a few of those homosexuals before they spread their gay germ around.” By this point, I’d had it and was about to say “ENOUGH!” but fortunately, your sister had nothing else to say, but your mother chimed in, saying you were drunk and talking stupid (said the Kettle). You then proceeded to tell your Mom that this level of inebriation is how one copes with family and fools. You took the Rothschild bottle, placed it on the mantle, picked up the pumpkin pie, slammed it into your face, as if you were in a pie eating contest, bid everyone “Ado and goodnight” and then said, “Now get the fuck out!” Then….  you walked into the bedroom and passed out. That’s what you missed.” and at that moment, I realized just how much I miss my old man.


I received a call this afternoon from my sister. A call I usually get this time of year. A call about our plans for Thanksgiving. The dread I could hear in her tone matched that of the dread I was feeling. She said, “I’m calling to talk about our plans for this year’s Thanksgiving. Do you want to go out to dinner? You know, to a restaurant, instead of having our usual meal at Mom’s house?” I paused. “Hmm?” I was thinking.

“Sure, that sounds great. I’ll bring a few bottles of wine.” I said. I texted my wife the details, and she texted this back to me –

Bill Murray Meme

 1993 Château Mouton Rothschild

Region: Bordeaux
Country: France
Appearance (Color): Red
Aroma (Complexity): Deep berry fruit, fig, tobacco
Body (Texture and Weight): Heavy
Price: $500
Food Pairing: Red meats, aged cheeses, chocolate
Serving Temperature: 65°

John Turi