Thanksgiving is all about what happens at the table — both food and wine.
Selecting the wines for this important meal should be fun, add to the pleasure of dinner and boost the celebration of the holiday. Don’t be apprehensive about the vast array of wines available. Take some advice from your retailer, try something new and do some tasting ahead of time to get to know the wines.
Lots has been written on food and wine pairing — searching for the perfect match. I suspect it doesn’t exist. Look instead for inviting wines that will make friends with the Thanksgiving feast. The traditional menu offers some significant challenges in choosing a wine. It’s tough to think of something that will be delicious with lean roast turkey, tart cranberry sauce, sweet yams, buttery mashed potatoes and a rich gravy. Some combinations work better than others, but ultimately it’s a personal preference.
I’m a fan of fruity, low-alcohol wines with some refreshing acidity. And yes, it should be wines — both a red and a white. The menu can work with both, and there will certainly be partisans for each around the table. By fruity, I mean light and fresh, not sweet.
For red wines try Beaujolais, Pinot Noir, Barbera or a Chianti. This is not the place for blockbuster reds loaded with tannins and high alcohol. Great for steak, those flavors will steam roller the Thanksgiving cook’s best efforts. You don’t need the most pricey, but splurge if you want — it’s Thanksgiving after all. A Beaujolais Villages or maybe a village cru is fine. An Oregon Pinot Noir would be a better choice than great (and expensive) Burgundy. A simple Chianti or Chianti Classico will do fine. A fruity Barbera from Piedmont will be rewarding.
For a white, I’m mostly focused on Rieslings. These can be completely dry or a little sweet, as long as they have the acidity to balance the sugar. That crisp tanginess will make the wine delicious with the Thanksgiving menu. There are lots of good ones from Germany, Australia, and most importantly Washington State. Columbia Crest, Hogue, and Chateau Ste Michelle all make reasonably priced examples for the Thanksgiving table. For a splurge wine, try the Eroica from Chateau Ste. Michelle. It’s been included in lists of notable wines ever since production began. To go further afield, try a Vouvray (Chenin Blanc) from France’s Loire Valley or a Sancerre, loaded with tropical fruit. Almost any crisp fresh Italian white will work. If Chardonnay is your fave — try a leaner no-oak style so the fruit flavor shines through.
Look for wines with low alcohol. Thanksgiving dinner is a marathon event, and wines with 14 or 15 percent alcohol will be too much for the long haul. Around 12 percent is about right for me. Some of the Rieslings can even be lower. Don’t be put off by the term acidity. It’s what makes lemonade refreshing, apple cider interesting and vinegar spark up a salad dressing. There can be too much as in the case of some New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs, but too little makes the wine dull and boring.
The good news is it may take a little trial and error to zero in on your favorite. This means you need to get out there and do some tasting! Well before the time for dinner menu shopping and preparation, you can begin to consider your wine choice, try some wines, make your pick and cross this task off the to-do list. Check with your wine retailer for suggestions and have fun trying them out.
Mark and Mike at Fountainhead Wines (just off Wall Street in Norwalk) have an extensive and interesting list of recommendations. Red wine suggestions include Domaine Dupeuble Beaujolais or Lapierre Morgon Cru Beaujolais and small production Oregon Pinot Noirs from Westrey, Crowley, J. Christopher, and Patricia Green ‘Fat Cat Cuvée’. For whites they propose Domaine Richou Anjou ‘Chauvigné’ (Chenin Blanc) or Chardonnay ‘Cuvee Lunatique’ from J. Christopher Vineyard and the Westrey Wine Co Pinot Gris, both from Oregon. Stop by the store for more ideas and to chat about the wines — you won’t be disappointed.
At Ancona’s Wines in Wilton the staff is suggesting McKinlay Vineyards Pinot Noir Willamette Valley, “bright, rich fruit without being powerful and sweet and contains lower alcohol and lively acidity”, as well as Gold Seal Vineyards Riesling by Charles Fournier “stone fruit and green apple aromas and flavors with vibrant acidity”.
The wine pickers at Stew Leonards recommend Barnstormer Pinot Gris and Smith and Sons Pinot Noir. “Both of these wines would make a perfect pairing with the traditional Thanksgiving menu and can take you from tangy cranberry sauce to earthy stuffed mushroom and sausage stuffing.” They also feature Riesling from Dr Loosen in Germany (a personal favorite) or Chateau Ste Michelle from Washington, a Wine Spectator Best Buy of the Week.