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The 5 Rules of Buying Wine for Thanksgiving

3 min read

With Thanksgiving coming up, you might have a checklist that looks something like this:

✓  Buy a turkey
✓  Wash the sheets in the guest room
✓  Clean the house, top to bottom
✓  Make pies and cranberry sauce in advance
✓  Stock-up on booze … big time

And in looking over that list, you might move that last item to the top of your list, just to make the other four tasks more tolerable.

There are thousands of articles online about which Thanksgiving wines you should buy, as well as what pairs with turkey, what pairs with cranberry sauce, what pairs with pumpkin pie, and even what pairs with sweet-potato casserole with marshmallows (hint: nothing does. That shit is gross).

Those articles serve their purpose, and I’ve even written my own because, well, it’s just too damn fun to think about Thanksgiving wines to not write one.

But rather then rehash that, I thought I’d commemorate my love of wine and Thanksgiving this year with a simple game plan for navigating your local wine shop before the holiday.

A Few Rules to Go By …

2011 Les Pensées de Pallus Chinon at Thanksgiving

Chinon: one of many excellent low-alcohol wines ideal for the Thanksgiving table

  1. Aim for lower alcohol wines – Given the marathon that is Thanksgiving, its better to pace yourself. Furthermore, lower alcohol wines (no more than 13% ABV) tend to be more versatile for pairings, and given the mélange of savory, tart, sweet and bitter things on the table, you’ll be better off with wines that adapt to their surroundings.
  2. Buy two of everything – If you are hosting more than just your immediately family — or a small possé of friends — double up on each bottle you buy. If one hits the mark and people want more, you won’t have to worry about a drained bottle.
  3. Don’t get hung up on patriotism – Thanksgiving is a quintessential American holiday, but that doesn’t mean you should limit yourself to just American wines. Plenty of French, Italian, Spanish, German, New Zealand and Chilean wines complement Turkey Day as well as anything.
  4. Save the special bottle for another time – I’ve tried to open a cellared bottle for Thanksgiving, and here’s what happens: no one (including myself) can pay attention to it enough to really enjoy it. If you want to open a special bottle on Thanksgiving, open it before dinner is served or after dinner when things have slowed down.
  5. When in doubt, go with a producer you love – Sometimes, its easiest to fall back on the winemakers you know and love, and that’s perfectly well and good for this occasion. Just be mindful on the alcohol count. If its above 14% ABV, you may want to shy away from their wines from this occasion.

So are there any wines that simply don’t go with Thanksgiving?

The only grapes that I would suggest shying away from are Malbec, Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon on the red side of things, and Chardonnay on the white, but that has less to do with their aromas, flavor and structure, and more to do with (frequently, at least) their power. These four wines can be really tricky alongside such a smorgasbord as Thanksgiving.

Again, it all goes back to how much alcohol you’re willing to tolerate, and how much your palate can take. You worked hard to cook this meal (or at least, someone did). It’d be best if you could taste it.

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