Pairing wine with your Thanksgiving dinner, whether it be traditional fare or your own twist, is always a challenge. Roasted turkey is straightforward enough but the table is often filled with a wide range of flavors. Do yourself a favor and skip considering the sickening sweet dishes that find their way to the table when considering wine pairings. Nothing will pair well with candied yams smothered in goopy marshmallows. (Shiver…)
Another serious consideration is the eclectic crowd. You and a few others are wine fans but just as many friends and family members are timid wine drinkers. For this reason it’s vital to find wines that tend to please the novice and the expert – like you – alike. No small task indeed.
Instead of making specific recommendations I thought it best to give a few guidelines. We often find ourselves in strange towns and strange beverage shops during the holiday season. These simple rules of mine can be applied wherever you shop.
White Wine: I always look for something fresh and vibrant avoiding wines heavy in alcohol or oak influence. The meal is rich enough. It’s no wonder that varietals like Riesling and Gewurztraminer are so often suggested. These wines tend to be lighter in alcohol than your typical Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc and have little to no wood influence. Just be sure that the wines are not too sweet – a touch of sweetness is fine and actually very desirable.
I also enjoy a good and bright Chenin Blanc and in France’s Loire Valley region they make a fine example from the appellation of Vouvray. If you are a Pinot Grigio fan you are in luck as most examples, especially the Italian versions, are ideal for your turkey dinner. If you want to be adventurous you could travel south in Italy to the Campania region where they make vibrant and unique wines from varietals such as: Greco di Tufo, Fiano di Avellino, Falanghina, or Coda di Volpe. (These may be hard to pronounce at first but by the time you reach the bottle’s end you won’t care.)
Red Wine: The primary rule I employ for reds at Thanksgiving is to avoid tannic and heavily extracted wines such as New World Cabernet. Your best bet is to again search for wines with moderate alcohol levels and good natural acidity.
Beaujolais Nouveau has just been released so this becomes a natural choice at many tables. If you are put-off by the tooty-fruity nature of Nouveau you can always opt for a good Beaujolais-Village or one of the appellation’s 10 “cru” level wines (individual villages that are recognized as producing the best wines of the appellation) for something a bit more fancy.
Pinot Noir is a good choice as well as it’s most often shy on tannins and younger/simpler versions are fruit-forward and crowd-pleasing. A huge go-to red is always Côtes du Rhône. There are many to choose from ranging in price from $10 to $30. These wines are fruit-forward while being complex and full of bright, natural acidity making them ideal for any table.
Sparkling Wine: Absolutely! A good sparkling wine is always welcome and especially on a festive occasion.
Beer: Of course beer has a place at the table as well. Following the same rules laid out for wine – avoid extremes like overly hoppy or strong beers. Who wants a beer with a singular, intrusive note? Rich, malty brews of the season can be a good choice, as can vibrant and complex beers such as Belgium Saison or the French Biére de Garde pair well with a wide range of foods.
Spirits: Opening the occasion with an aperitif is a lovely way for your guests to get settled in. After the meal you could offer anything from Aged Rum to Whiskey or a festive liqueur. It pays to know your crowd when making these choices, as the Whiskey lover will be thrilled with a post meal dram while others may be out of their depths here. It’s often a good idea to have a quality Liqueur on hand as these are appreciated by both the novice and the veteran Spirits drinker.
What you choose to serve is a distant second to the act of opening your home and showing a heart-felt hospitality with friends and family. All the best to you and yours.