Gobble, gobble little turkeys! We’ve somehow made it to Thanksgiving, and if you’re like me, it’s kind of snuck up on you. In the blink of an eye we all went from chowing down on heart-shaped boxes of chocolate and watching Joe Exotic to planning our Turkey Day feast and putting up the Christmas tree. In an attempt to help you get a bit of a headstart, I thought it might be nice to offer my ‘expert’ opinion on what vinos pair nicely with some holiday staples. These are simply my subjective tidbits of advice however, and I thoroughly encourage you to explore your own tastebuds to decide which ones will best compliment your meal!
Let’s begin with the star of the show, AKA the bird. Many people automatically assume you should pair white wine with fowl, but that is simply not the case. Due to its savory flavor profile, Thanksgiving turkey can stand up to a red with some character. My go-to suggestions are always going to lean to the grapes of the Mother Land, France, and you absolutely cannot go wrong with a Burgundy- either red or white. (Red Burgundy is pinot noir and white burgundy is chardonnay.) While these grapes are grown all over the world, there is something so perfectly balanced about French wine that other places sometimes struggle to achieve. They really let the terroir speak through the juice, with minimal manipulation, while sometimes other regions like California can be far too overzealous with their oaking etc for my taste. On the other hand, if you do enjoy the flavor of a more buttery white wine, most California and Washington chardonnay perfectly fits the bill. Oregon also produces stunning pinots and should not be overlooked during your search. Another fabulous red option that you might not be as familiar with is Beaujolais (gamay.) It’s jammy and yummy and meant to be enjoyed pretty soon after bottling, so make sure to get a recent vintage.
For the wide variety of carby side dishes, it might seem near impossible to find a wine that will compliment them all. Never fear, Sancerre is here! Again, my knee-jerk reaction is to go French, but it’s simply because I think New Zealand sauv blanc would be far too citrusy or grassy and overpower all the yummy food flavors you worked so hard to prepare. A nice dry or semi-dry Riesling would also be lovely, just make sure you don’t get anything sweet. Considering how rich most of these dishes are, you’re going to want to keep your liquids light and refreshing. Also check out an Italian pinot grigio, particularly selections from the Piedmont region.
If you’re super fancy and have appetizers prior to the main meal, I would definitely offer my guests a sparkling option. Nothing pairs better with cheese, charcuterie and other handhelds than sparkling wine. And there’s no more festive way to kick off a holiday than with a glass of bubbles. True to form, I have to advise that you can’t go wrong with Champagne. But I also highly suggest a bright and cheerful Prosecco for a more affordable option. For a second choice, a sparkling rose is absolutely perfect.
Finally, to wind down the evening with dessert. Pairing wines with decadent desserts can be somewhat tricky. You don’t want to overload your tastebuds, but you definitely want something a bit sweeter to play off the option on the plate. Moscato d’Asti is light but still has a hint of sweetness without being overpowering. If you’re looking for something a little heavier on the palate however, a Port wine would do quite nicely. I would suggest a 20-year tawny, simply because the spices would play well with pumpkin or apple pie, but a ruby would be outstanding with chocolate.
Considering most of us aren’t going to stock our bars and offer a wine for every dish, I guess I need to narrow down my picks for which wines ultimately will compliment every aspect of the traditional Thanksgiving feast. Across the board, I cannot recommend sparkling wine enough. A good bottle of bubbles will have enough flavor to stand up to everything from cheeses, meats, carbs and desserts, but still be light enough to enjoy throughout the meal without making you miserable. Whether you choose white or rose, you simply can’t go wrong. For reds, pinot noir is my number 1 pick, due to the fact that it pairs so well with white and dark meat turkey, and its signature tart, red fruit flavor profile plays off cranberry. If you’re looking for something with a bit more intensity, try zinfandel. It is bold and spicy and can really bring out an element of smokiness, particularly when paired with the likes of a fried bird.
There are literally thousands of different styles of wine out there, meaning there is a wine for every occasion. Don’t be afraid to step outside your comfort zone and try something new, even if it’s just a familiar grape from an unfamiliar region. At the end of the day, even if you don’t like it, I can guarantee they all get much better after the 3rd glass. Cheers!