I love the excess of Thanksgiving! It’s that one time of year when there’s no guilt to overeating – Even though I pay for it later, feeling like a stuffed turkey myself. And I love the gathering of friends and family around the table, sharing the food, the stories and… The wine. Putting the wine together with the meal is part of the fun for me and here’s how I approach it.
Let’s start with some bubbly. It just seems right to kick off the holiday season with bubbles. Not only is some nice Champagne or sparkling wine festive, there’s the versatility it has with appetizers. We keep it pretty simple – smoked salmon, cheeses and olives since there’s such a big meal ahead. But even if you get fancy there’s a bubbly for you. My wine choice this year is Philipponnat Brut Royal Reserve $45 from France. It’s a Champagne made in the traditional method and, in addition to wonderful effervescence, the taste is a bit fuller in your mouth and it has a creamy texture when you sip it.
For the main event the wine choice really depends on how you put the meal together, especially how you make stuffing and which side dishes are a part of your family tradition. So here are some thoughts, first for whites and then red, with a couple of twists thrown in.
I think Viognier is overlooked as a terrific Thanksgiving wine. I love the richly viscous feel of it and how it complements the juicy roasted turkey. Its honeysuckle and peachy taste seems to add another layer of enjoyment to each bite, especially with a seasoned herb bread stuffing. My pick is 2013 Miner Simpson Vineyard Viognier $20.
Then there’s Chardonnay. While my own taste doesn’t run to the fuller bodied, more oaky style, I make an exception for Thanksgiving. I think the fuller, buttery profile is a nice match to the richness of the turkey. Geek Alert: That buttery quality is the result of a secondary malolactic fermentation that turns the sharper malic acid in the wine into smoother lactic acid. Hence, the buttery notes. I think Chard is particularly good with a traditional oyster stuffing. My pick this year is 2012 Mer Soleil Reserve Chardonnay $26 from Santa Barbara.
Pinot Noir is one of my favorite Thanksgiving wine choices because it’s so darn flexible with food. And since there are so many flavors spread out on the table, the more versatility the better. It also doesn’t hurt that there’s often a cranberry-like flavor to Pinot. How good is that at Thanksgiving! And if you use some cinnamon in the yams or squash then bring out the Pinot. This year I’m going with an Oregon Pinot. The Pinot from the Willamette Valley tend to have a really nice balance of silky texture, lovely dark berry fruit taste with notes of clove and nice acidity. I think they’re classy wines. We’ll be having 2012 Penner Ash Willamette Valley Pinot Noir $40.
Then there’s jammy, spicy California Zinfandel. The big forward fruit taste of Zin along with the characteristic dash of white pepper is as all American as the day we’re celebrating. We make a sausage and sage stuffing that is amazing. It’s full of flavor and along with the roasted, or if you prefer, deep fried turkey as the main course, the black cherry or boysenberry of a Dry Creek Zin is awesome. My wine pick is a 2010 Laura Michael Dry Creek Valley Old Vine, Mayo Family Vineyard $35 I picked up at the winery.
Finally a couple of twists. There’s always a place for Rose’ and maybe a bottle of Beaujolais Nouveau. I think these wine styles are really good when you have folks around the table that usually don’t drink wine. It makes it easy on them. Rose’ is also a nice starter wine if you don’t want to do the Champagne to start but it can make a dinner appearance too. My Rose’ choice this year is from Tavel, 2014 Chateau de Trinquevedel $15. When I sip it the Beatles’ “Strawberry Fields Forever” seems to jump into my head!
Beaujolais Nouveau is the first wine of the new vintage in the Beaujolais region of France, released on the third Thursday of November each year. It’s not expensive and it’s ready to drink. This is a simple red wine that’s fruity and grapey. It’s really the only wine I describe as grapey as far as I recall! I often find the taste like, believe it or not, bubble gum. It’s also lighter in alcohol. I usually pick up a bottle just for the heck of it and think it can be pretty good with that left over turkey sandwich on Friday for lunch. Serve it lightly chilled.
Whatever you cook, with whichever wine you like to drink – enjoy this day as one to pause and give thanks. The best food and wine pairing there is doesn’t come from a recipe or a bottle – it’s the gratitude for those with whom we share our time and place and for the goodness we find around us.