When choosing the perfect wine, forget what you’ve been told Roasted turkey, cornbread dressing, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie: Your classic all-American Thanksgiving feast. Now toss in honeybaked ham, sweet potato casserole, scalloped potatoes, mac and cheese, seafood gumbo, pecan pie—and if you’re Sicilian like some of my friends, meatballs and spaghetti—and you have one colossal wine-pairing challenge.
This diverse cornucopia of flavors and textures can be a conundrum for those seeking the “perfect wine and food pairing” experience. First off, I say there is no “perfect wine and food pairing!” Yes, it’s true that some wines naturally work well with certain foods (Chablis with oysters, Champagne with caviar, Pinot Noir with duck) while others clash like Lindsay Lohan and sobriety.
However, most dishes will marry quite nicely with a variety of wine selections, oftentimes with both red and white.
So rule number one—and the only one you really need to follow—is to drink what you like! It sounds pretty rudimentary, but you would be astonished at how many people drink what they have been told they should enjoy with a certain cuisine, a practice that ultimately tarnishes the flavors of both the wine and the dish. If you’re not a fan of California Chardonnay on its own, chances are you still won’t care for it even when paired with a succulent grilled lobster. So toss out all that “red wine with red meat” and “white wine with white meat” bull and fill up a glass with what you actually like to drink. Chances are you’ll be thankful you did.
Personally, I find that the best strategy when entertaining is to offer guests a wide range of wine choices and let them be the judge. Rather than pigeonholing yourself in a world where turkey equates to Riesling for white and Pinot Noir for red, pick up a variety of unique selections—all triedand-true favorites and some that may never have crossed your lips. Instead of letting know-it-all wine writers and self-professed experts dictate what you enjoy, make your selections based on your budget, intensity of flavors (delicate wines with lighter dishes and robust wines with heartier fare) and what your guests typically like to drink. (Will white Zinfandel–chugging Aunt Mildred really enjoy that ’82 Bordeaux?) Selecting wines with lower alcohol content is also a good idea, since more than likely you’ll be serving multiple courses, and the feast may last all day long. Most important, remember that Thanksgiving is the time to appreciate all the good things in your life, including being surrounded by family, friends and loved ones. So don’t fret it! Chances are drunk Uncle Ernie will be far more gauche than your wine choices.
To accompany your Thanksgiving Day meal, a classic choice in reds is the versatile, food-friendly Pinot Noir. As for whites, Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc are popular choices. In my opinion, Champagne or sparkling wine is always apropos, particularly as an aperitif to whet the appetite. For the grand finale, try serving ruby or tawny Port with that decadent dessert. The following are options beyond the usual suspects. Cheers!
Rosé Sparkling: Typically more full-bodied and richer than blanc de blancs and brut sparkling wines, rosés pair well with a wide variety of foods, ranging from egg dishes and seafood to poultry and pork. Try: Schramsberg Brut Rosé ($38); Domaine Chandon Rosé ($22); Veuve du Vernay Rosé ($11).
Sparkling Shiraz: Think Shiraz: vivid purple in color with loads of ripe black fruit and chocolate, then fermented like Champagne. Yummy! A terrific aperitif, it also marries well with turkey, duck and even chocolate. Try: Rumball Sparkling Shiraz ($18).
Albariño: Spain’s premier white varietal produces a fresh, fruity, highly aromatic wine with lively acidity. Ideal with seafood and fish, it also works nicely with poultry and pork. Try: Mars de Frades Albariño ($23); Licia Albariño ($16); Martín Códax Albariño ($13). Gewu?rztraminer: With its distinct floral and spicy characteristics, this delicious white will perfectly complement rich gravies and sauces. Some California versions tend to be on the sweeter side, so stick with one from Alsace. Try: Gundlach Bundschu Gewu?rztraminer ($19); Trimbach Gewu?rztraminer ($25); Foris Gewu?rztraminer ($13).
Gru?ner Veltliner: Its racy acidity, firm mineral backbone, citrus flavors and spiciness make this Austrian white one of the most food-friendly wines around. Pair it with everything from vegetables to sausages. Try: Huber Hugo Gru?ner Veltliner ($12); Domäne Wachau Gru?ner Veltliner ($15); Buchegger Gebling Gru?ner Veltliner ($20).
Pinot Blanc: Generally rich, dry and full-bodied, terrific examples are produced in Alsace, California and Oregon. Commonly you will find lovely floral qualities with fresh green apples accented by a touch of honey and spice. Try: Robert Klingenfus Pinot Blanc ($20); Adelsheim Pinot Blanc ($18).
Côtes du Rhône Rouge: Grenache is the dominant grape used here (followed by Mourvèdre and Syrah), producing well-balanced, mediumbodied reds that are also terrific values. Earthy, peppery and lush with jammy fruit, it complements a wide range of food. Try: Saint Cosme Côtes du Rhône ($17); Chateau Mont-Redon Côtes du Rhône ($15); Perrin Reserve Côtes du Rhône ($10).
Zinfandel: This distinctive, spicy red can range from light and red-berryfruit driven to bold and brambly. To accompany turkey and ham, select a
lighter style filled with fresh cherries and spice. Try: Edmeades Zinfandel ($16); Dancing Bull Zinfandel ($10); Peachy Cannon Zinfandel ($13).
Nero d’Avola: Sicily’s most important red grape produces a ripe, lush wine often described as smoky and spicy with cherry, plum and raspberry flavors. Enjoy with robust, earthy dishes. Try: Feudo Principi Nero d’Avola ($18); Cusumano Nero d’Abola ($14); MondraRossa Nero d’Avola ($10).
Rioja Crianzas: Lush, rich and fruit-driven, the depth and complexity of these Tempranillo-based reds is determined by how long they are aged in oak barrels. Easy-drinking, affordable, fresh and red-fruit packed, Crianzas are ideal for Thanksgiving fare. Try: Campo Viejo Reserva ($15); Bodegas Bilbainas Vina Zaco ($15); Ramon Bilbao Crianza ($10).