It seems like I was just writing about summer wines, and now Thanksgiving and the holiday season are just around the corner. This means that our tastes are changing from burgers and seafood on the grill, with light summer salads, to hearty foods, like roasts and stews.
Along with all the blessings we enjoy living in this land of ours, you can also be thankful that choosing the right wine for Thanksgiving dinner really is easy — because there is no “right” wine, so there is no reason to stress over it. After all, you have plenty of other things to worry about, like what to do about the kid home from college who is now on a vegan diet, and what “lucky” people you are going to seat next to Uncle Bill at the table.
The best place to start is to decide whether you want to serve a different wine with each stage of the meal or if you plan to have one wine to carry the day. With all of this in mind, following are a few of the tips I offer when asked what wines are best to serve with Thanksgiving dinner.
White, Red, Maybe Rosé
Thanksgiving dinner consists of so many different foods, textures and flavors that it seems impossible to come up with one wine that is great with appetizers, and then will to pair up with turkey and gravy, sweet potatoes with marshmallows and cranberry sauce.
Sparkling wines are best if you’re considering one wine for the task. Their crisp acidity and palate-cleansing bubbles cut through all the various layers of flavors and textures, from appetizers right through dessert. Also, sparkling wines turn every meal into a celebration.
If you are partial to white wines, Riesling is the classic pairing with Thanksgiving dinner. Contrary to popular belief, not all Rieslings are sweet. They can range from bone dry to sweet, so you have a choice of what fits your taste. Whether dry or sweet, Rieslings show notes of peach, pear and apple along with citrus. Their fresh acidity not only balances the sweeter versions, but also makes them very food-friendly.
Some other white wines to consider are Gewurztraminer, Pinot Gris and Albariño. Again, each of these varieties have a fresh acidity that makes them perfect food-pairing wines.
For all the red wine lovers out there, Pinot Noir is a traditional Thanksgiving favorite. Along with notes of strawberry, raspberry and cherry fruit, Pinot Noir also shows off earthy, herbal, mushroom notes that make them extremely food-friendly. Its light-bodied style, smooth tannins and fresh acidity make it the perfect turkey day wine.
If you prefer a more full-bodied red wine, Zinfandel is a good choice for dinner pairing. Its dark fruit character and soft tannins match well with the turkey and the sides.
Rosés have been steadily gaining popularity with the American wine-drinking public in recent years. There are still those who think that all rosé wine is sweet (think white Zinfandel) and only consumed in the summer, but that number is declining. Rosé is serious wine and perfect with Thanksgiving dinner. You get the best of both worlds; the fruit character of red wine with the crisp acidity of a white. The biggest challenge is finding them. Many distributors and stores are hesitant to stock rosés after the summer, so you may not be able to find some of your favorites, but some are still available for the holidays.
Don’t forget about dessert. Think fortified, dessert wines to pair with your pumpkin pie like a Tawny Port or a Cream Sherry. You can find moderately-priced bottles of each at the wine store. Remember, a little bit goes a long way.
A Few to Try
• N/V Gruet, Brut American Sparkling Wine: Albuquerque, New Mexico. Made from 75% Chardonnay and 25% Pinot Noir, you will find aromas and flavors of green apple and citrus, with a mineral note. It is bright and crisp, with a hint of yeast leading to the lengthy finish. Priced in the upper teens.
• 2014 Holloran, Stafford Hill Pinot Noir: Willamette Valley, Oregon. Made from grapes grown in Dundee, Yamhill-Carlton and Eola-Amity Hills. Along with the ripe cherry and strawberry fruit, there are notes of black current and a hint of leather. A bargain for a Willamette Valley Quality Pinot Noir at around $20.
• 2016 Boundary Breaks, Reserve Riesling. No. 198: Finger Lakes, New York. Moderately sweet, with complex aromas of honey and lavender, along with floral notes and flavors of peach, lime, orange and tart cherry with a hint of fennel. The finish is fresh and long. Priced in the low $20s.
I hope you find these tips helpful, whether you choose to serve a variety of wines or just one or two offerings with Thanksgiving dinner. This is a time for giving thanks and spending time with family and friends, and the wine will enhance the experience. Cheers.
Sam Audia is a former advertising and marketing professional with more than 20 years of experience in the wine and spirits industry. He is a Wine Specialist at Bay Ridge Wine & Spirits in Annapolis, holds a Certification Diploma from the Sommelier Society of America and Intermediate and Advanced Certificates from the Wine and Spirits Education Trust. He can be reached at [email protected].