Talkin’ Turkey, Drinkin’ Juice.
Poll 30 people about their Thanksgiving wine preferences, and you might find yourself in a bit of an algorithmic pickle— you’ll likely get 30 distinct responses. I know because I’ve tried it, and I spent better than a decade in wine sales trying to unravel this gastronomic mystery, drawing dozens of well-justified conclusions, and attempting to save the day for my friendly customers by connecting them with the appropriate Thanksgiving wines to serve their guests.
The real answer to the question of what to pour alongside this classic American feast varies as widely as the flavors and textures in this complex meal. When you take a step back and examine how so many dissimilar food components magically come together on that late November Thursday, it becomes clear why so many hosts grow frustrated, throw their hands into the air, and default to good-old apple cider or Coca-Cola. Those beverages are just fine, but with a little creativity and enthusiasm, the wine approach will enliven the meal, rewarding you and your guests in true holiday fashion.
The first mistake many of my customers would make is asking me to help them choose a wine for “turkey”. That plump, juicy bird might be the centerpiece of it all, but we all know it’s not nearly the whole story. Most Thanksgiving meals I’ve been part of included at least 5 other components, most of which contrast that simple, savory turkey meat. So, to merely decide on a Thanksgiving wine for its affinity to turkey would be like choosing which colors to paint your whole house based upon one beautiful dining room chandelier.
The Savory Side
After years of deliberating, I’ve narrowed the formula down to 2 approaches: You could pour only one wine which “sort-of” goes with everything at the table (the practical but ordinary approach), or you could remain open to the idea of serving multiple wines, each with a different function (the more complex, but more exciting approach, which will cost you the same). In either scenario, the possibilities are a-plenty. For instance, the turkey meat, bread stuffing, mashed potatoes, biscuits and gravy cover the savory side of things, and call for a richly-bodied, savory-dry wine. Think South African Chenin Blanc, a Washington State Blend, or an Austrian Riesling as accompanying whites, and feel confident with Cotes du Rhone, Spanish Monastrell, and California Petite Sirah as appropriate reds.
The Sweeter Side
Enter: the yams, cranberry sauce, carrots, squash, and asparagus to shake things up for your holiday palate. The solution: don’t hesitate to serve wines that contain a touch of residual sugar. Finer yet affordable examples range from New Zealand Gewurztraminer to German Riesling to Maryland Hard Cider for whites, while carefully chosen reds like Valpolicella Ripasso and the all-American California Zinfandel are compelling beyond their sweetness.
The Exotic Side
Finally, consider the other regional/cultural side-dish possibilities, including minced meat pie, macaroni & cheese, corn bread, oyster stew, collard greens, sausage stuffing, or potato latkes, and the wine challenge is further compounded. The solution: Get creative. There is no rule that says “only drink American-ish wines on American holidays”. Is there an Italian lasagna course like there will be at my mother’s table? Go crazy and uncork a feisty Barbera d’Asti. Serving ham as a turkey alternative? Try a dry rosé from Provence to make the flavors “pop”. Have a bigger Thanksgiving wine budget and want to have some fun? Dazzle your family with a high-pedigree White Burgundy or a monumental Amarone….they’ll never forget the experience!
Regardless of which wines you choose for this year’s feast, may your holiday be a special one for the entire family!