When you volunteer to bring wine to Thanksgiving dinner, do you really know what you are getting yourself into?
A few nights ago, that’s exactly what I signed up for. At first blush, such an offer would seem innocuous. But then I realized how many people are coming to the feast. This lead to me calculate how much wine to get, and then, invariably, to triangulate that amount with everyone’s tastes. It is a tall order.
But then again, roasted turkey is a highly versatile food, with its dry and moist meat and naturally savory qualities. Many wines will pair with it nicely, as long as they are low in alcohol —the better to taste the flavors of the food (and to keep the whole table alert enough to help with the dishes).
I’ve pointed out below which wines tend to work best with a variety of the traditional Thanksgiving dinner’s elements: light meat, dark meat, the side dishes, and yes, even the dessert.
Goes with … The opening act.
Why … Verdejo is one of Spain’s best white wines, hailing from the Rueda region of Castille y León. A popular version of Verdejo is the ubiquitous orange-and-white label Naia, but also keep an eye out for Nisia, which I think is even better. Both are exotically fruity while remaining nicely off-dry. They work exceedingly well with roast chicken, but also classic holiday noshes like almonds, sharp cheeses and olives.
Expect a Verdejo to be like a Pinot Gris with a bit more minerality on the finish. It’s a great warm-up wine to sip and savor while you snitch bits of stuffing, whip the mashed potatoes, or carve the turkey.
Goes with … Dark meat or light meat with gravy.
Why … The best expression of Cabernet Franc hails from France’s Loire Valley. Chinon does two things well at the Thanksgiving table: one, its a highly aromatic wine that encourages you to slow down. Two, the flavor profile of Chinon is ideally suited for fall: think currants, herbal notes, and just the right amount of acidity to cut through all that butter on the Thanksgiving table.
You can score a good Chinon for under $30. We will be opening a Domaine de Pallus “Les Pensées de Pallus” Chinon with our family this year. It has some of the liveliest aromas of any wine I’ve had all year.
Goes with … Dark meat, skin, all those herbs, and stuffing — particularly if your like sausage or pancetta in yours.
Why … It’s quite simple to explain what this wine is doing here: Thanksgiving is my favorite meal of the entire year, and Barbaresco is my favorite wine on earth. If there is a suitable excuse for uncorking one this year, Turkey Day would be it. I also think there is something to be said about Piedmont’s food culture aligning with the food culture of Thanksgiving — this is a region that feasts, and naturally the wines from Piedmont are meant for marathon meals.
Barbaresco has a decidedly autumnal flavor profile: cherry, roses, some spice. It is also a gentler cousin to Barolo, and as a result, I feel its better suited for this meal rather than a Christmas prime rib or leg of lamb. Be sure to do some research before hand and buy a modern-style Barbaresco (such as Cantina del Pino or Vietti), which will be less tannic and more fresh, therefore, more appropriate for Thanksgiving cuisine.
However, of all the bottles mentioned here, Barbaresco is the priciest, so if you are hosting a big party, you’ll have to spend a lot to keep everyone happy. It may be better suited to smaller Thanksgivings if you are on the same budget as me.
Oregon Pinot Noir
Goes with … Dark meat turkey and light meat turkey covered in cranberry sauce.
Why … Pinot Noir is the most versatile red wine in the world, but as I get to know its various expressions, some distinctions from one region to the next become more and more clear.
As I looked back on the Pinot Noir I’ve had this year, one region continued to have the word “cranberry” in my tasting notes: Oregon. Combine this classic Thanksgiving flavor with Oregon Pinot Noir’s less fruity quality (when compared to a Russian River or Santa Rita Hills Pinot Noir, for instance), and you have a perfect table wine to bring the whole Thanksgiving feast together.
This year, we’ll be opening an Elk Cove Pinot Noir Willamette Valley, which I sampled at their tasting room. Also look for Pinot Noir from Trisaetum and Maysara, as well as Chehalem Winery’s excellent Three Vineyard bottle.
Goes with … Nearly everything at the table.
Why … The best sweet Rieslings — such as German Spätlese or a “late-harvest” Riesling from a well-regarded American producer — create the sensation of sunshine on your palate. Its as though their sweetness is oddly warm and bright, yet not sticky or saccharine.
Because of this quality, they invigorate your palate and — I feel — make you more aware of the flavors of food.
But there is a flipside to sweet Rieslings on Thanksgiving: they won’t work well with sweet side dishes: cranberry mousse, pies … this unfortunate thing. That’s OK. The way it pairs with an herby stuffing will more than make up for the clash of the sweets.
Goes with … White and dark meat. And if you’re still driking at dessert, it will go a long way with pecan or pumpkin pie.
Why … Torrontés is straight as an arrow: medium bodied, medium alcohol, fruity but not sweet, acidic but not bone dry. Plus it has a nice floral touch reminiscent of roses. It’s versatility with food makes it ideal for Thanksgiving because — well, just look at that table: savory, salty, sweet, creamy, tart, sour. It’s enough to make your tastebuds go haywire.
Torrontés hails from Argentina, where it is emerging as the nation’s signature white wine. As an added bonus, they are typically affordable wines, hovering between $7 and $15. If you are looking to buy a half case of the same white wine for the table, a Torrontés may be your best value.
Wines to Save for Christmas Dinner
As noted earlier, there are certain wines that are either too full, too tannic or just too specific to be uncorking at Thanksgiving. No matter how tempting it is to finally open that Cabernet Sauvignon you bought in Napa a decade ago, or that Brunello di Montalcino your uncle passed along to you, don’t do it. Given what you’ll be eating on Thanksgiving, these wines will shine better at the Christmas dinner table when you are likely to be serving a roast, duck or lamb.
Here’s my list of wines to pass over for Turkey Day, and save for Christmas (more to come next month):
- Cabernet Sauvignon
- Brunello di Montalcino
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