Thanksgiving is a double-edged sword for wine lovers. On one hand, we’re surrounded by family and friends who for that one day of the year are really amenable to drinking wine in considerable quantities, while on the other hand, the diverse array of foods on the table make it extremely difficult to find wines to please all palates and compliment all fare. However, over the years a few wine styles have emerged that most wine experts can agree will fare best with both your Thanksgiving turkey as well as the unique dish that is your family tradition. Here follows an explanation of these wine styles and a choice from each category that I’ll be enjoying with my family on the fourth Thirsty Thursday of this month:
BUBBLES – Ask most sommeliers and they’ll tell you that Champagne pairs with ANYTHING. They are typically high enough in acid to cut through even the fattiest of meats, yet light enough in body to compliment the most delicate of foods like shellfish. Also, given the festive nature of the holidays, sparkling wine is the perfect accoutrement to celebrate with family and friends. Make sure to find a sparkler that is labeled ‘Brut’ (i.e. dry/low in residual sugar) and don’t be afraid to venture out of the Champagne region and try a Cava from Spain or a Cremant from the other regions of France. If you’re feeling really adventurous pick up a bottle of sparkling Shiraz from Australia…
My choice: Lucien Albrecht Cremant d’Alsace Brut Rosé ($15-19) – A 100% pinot noir sparkler, this has a beautiful coppery salmon color and a nose of bright red raspberries. The palate is reminiscent of raspberry pie with a graham cracker crust and a little whipped cream (but not sweet), and it finishes long with minerals and persistent acid.
DRY UN-OAKED HIGH-ACID WHITES – This category is fairly broad, and there are lots of excellent choices. Alsatian varietals have become Thanksgiving standards – Riesling for it’s high acid and minerals, Gewurztraminer because of it’s spice, and Pinot Gris due to it’s silky texture. Sauvignon Blanc is another good choice as it’s herbaceous notes pair well with vegetable dishes and stuffing. I would avoid oaked, new world Chardonnay (but feel free to pick up a bottle of Chablis…) as the weightier body, butter, and vanilla flavors can clash with or overpower much on your Thanksgiving table. My personal favorite is the Pinot Gris coming out of the Willamette Valley in Oregon; they’re lighter in style and zippier than your typical Italian or Californian Pinot Grigio and less likely to contain the residual sugar that can clog your Turkey-day palate.
My choice: 2008 Benton Lane Oregon Pinot Gris ($14-18) – The very pale lemon-green color belies the exciting nose of Bosc pears with a hint of wintergreen. The pears follow through to the palate along with a generous helping of sour apple. It finishes pleasantly long and almost torte-like – an easy-drinking crowd pleaser.
FRUITY LOW-TANNIN RED – Turkey is a lean and delicate meat, so many typical “big meal” reds like Napa Cabernet or Brunello di Montalcino are too high in tannin to serve at Thanksgiving. Typically people go in one of two directions: Beaujolais, which is often vinified using carbonic maceration to inhibit tannin extraction but can be too candy-like, or Zinfandel, which is big and juicy but many times with overpowering alcohol. I like Pinot Noir at Thanksgiving, especially those from the Central Otago region of New Zealand, which are unique in that they often smell and taste of wild sagebrush – a key element of most Thanksgiving stuffings.
My choice: 2006 Mt. Difficulty “Roaring Meg” Pinot Noir Central Otago ($15-20) – A holiday wine if there ever was one, stick your nose in the glass and think of a Christmas fruit cake full of Bing cherries and sweet spice. The palate is a spice bomb with hints of wild strawberry and sage. This wine cries out for dark meat so get your hands on a Turkey leg…
DESSERT WINE – Possibly the most important part of the Thanksgiving meal is dessert, so make sure you have something to drink with it… Avoid ports and other fortifieds and stick with sweet whites like Sauternes from Bordeaux, Ice Wines from Canada or Germany, or any bottle with the words “Late Harvest” on it. My dessert plate usually contains equally large helpings of pumpkin and apple pies, which both pair excellently with Hungarian Tokaji Aszu. Made using botrytisized grapes, Tokaji (pronounced toe-kai) can taste of cinnamon, honey, caramel, apricot and marmalade, is high in acid, and increases in sweetness as the number of “puttonyos” listed on the bottle gets higher – I recommend something between 3 and 5 puttonyos.
My choice: 2003 Chateau Pajzos Tokaji Aszú 3 Puttonyos ($20 and up) – Deep gold color and a nose of honey, caramel, nutmegs and dried fruit. The palate is a marmalade explosion with hints of cinnamon and apricot. It is beautifully balanced with both sweetness and acid weighing in but neither dominating nor overpowering my pumpkin pie.
Hopefully these guidelines will allow you, your family and friends to truly enjoy your holiday meal together, and as always don’t be afraid to expand your palate and try something new! Happy Thanksgiving!!!