3 Tips for the Ultimate Thanksgiving Wine Pairing
It’s hard to walk through a grocery store this time of year without a Pavlovian response to those mahogany turkeys gracing cooking magazine covers.
But frankly, the menu isn’t really all that up for grabs, is it? Havoc, disappointment and distress would no doubt ensue if you did something other than turkey, stuffing (dressing?), mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes (just making sure we have enough carbs) and green bean something-or-other followed with pumpkin pie.
To be sure, there are myriad spins on the old stand-bys, and many worth a try. But on no other day do so many Americans sit down to something so similar. It’s a fascinating culinary tradition. That said, Thanksgiving is also considered the start of a stressful time for many people (just do an online search for "holiday stress" and see the variety of tips to make it through the most wonderful time of the year).
While drinking wine isn’t on anybody’s official ’how to’ list, I’m willing to bet it’s on a lot of people’s unofficial lists. Even though Thanksgiving is a notoriously difficult meal to pair with wine, here are three guidelines that can help anyone enjoy the grape along with their turkey and stuffing.
Recommendations are of the all-American variety, since Thanksgiving is, after all, rooted in that early 17th century Pilgrim celebration. Some might debate our Puritan takeover of Native American soil - all the more reason to have a glass in hand for such heated discussions around the dinner table.
Start with the Most Dominant Taste on the Menu
You might think that you’d use the turkey as the centerpiece of your Thanksgiving menu. Visually, it sure is. But from a taste perspective, turkey is pretty much a blank slate. The one thing that’s probably on your menu that is the culinary elephant in the room: Cranberry sauce. Bright, acidic, often tinged with citrus, it’s the fuchsia-red accompaniment to brighten up the plate against a sea of blond meat, potatoes and stuffing and to perk up our taste buds.
So, what wine goes with cranberries? Two reds come to mind.
Gamay, the grape in Beaujolais, is practically bursting with tart, red fruit, though an American Gamay can be hard to find. Still, it’s worth pursuing. Check out Evening Land Vineyards’ Gamay Noir.
Another option is Cabernet Franc. With light tannins, typically sharp acid and nuances of violets and red berries, Cabernet Franc is an easy-drinking red wine that suits many tastes. Check out California’s Pride Mountain Cab Franc or one from New York’s Finger Lakes Region, which is known for both Cabernet Franc and my white wine recommendation, Riesling.
A slightly off-dry (meaning slightly sweet) Riesling will also have that sweet-tart tingle to complement the cranberries. Dr. Konstantin Frank offers a range of Rieslings and Cabernet Franc worth considering.
Bubbly Really Does Go With Almost Anything
The mousse and acidity of sparkling wines can also match the variety of flavors on the Thanksgiving table. Traditional Champagne can only be from France’s Champaign region, but there are some wonderful American producers that make bubbly in the same way using the same grapes.
Schramsberg has a wide range of gorgeous sparkling, but its entry-level rosé is a terrific option. With the blending of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, it has the essence of strawberries and raspberries.
Sparkling Pointe on the North Fork of Long Island makes some very interesting sparklers, including its 2010 Cuvée Carnaval Rouge, a red sparkling wine in the spirit of Lambrusco. With bright red fruit flavors, it’d be a terrific option for the non-dry wine drinkers at your table. (Bonus: The color will look terrific in pictures.)
If You Like It, It’s a Good Match
Ultimately, the wine has to be something you enjoy drinking. For me, Sauvignon Blanc seems to go with everything, so I may look for a blend with a little more depth but with that signature tart brightness. Scott Palazzo in Napa Valley makes an excellent Bordeaux-style blend of Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc.
And, if you really love Pinot Noir, look to California for a fruit-forward version to stand up to the strong flavors on the Thanksgiving table. Merry Edwards’ 2011 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir has a ripe, fruity flavor profile that could give you something to be thankful for.