We are currently featuring a variety of wines in our retail wine section especially picked to pair well with your Thanksgiving meal.
A great Thanksgiving dinner is such an opulent medley of flavors and textures that it’s impossible to identify one perfect wine for the meal. Personal taste, and the “mood” you want the wine to provide, will inform the pick of YOUR perfect wine.
That said, there are some basic principles and considerations to keep in mind as you are contemplating your choice. We’ll first touch on some of those considerations, and then move on to general recommendations. If you just want to read the recommendations, feel free to skip down!
Basic principles of pairing, and simple common sense, tell us to balance both the body and the intensity of flavor of the wine with the food. In other words, a light, summery white will disappear beneath the food, and a big, bold, high alcohol red will overpower the flavors of the meal you’ve worked so hard to prepare.
The best food wines—Rieslings, many Sauvignon Blancs, for example-- have prominent or well-balanced acidity. Acidity is the characteristic of wine that makes your mouth water, and wines with high acidity (especially whites) are often described as zesty or refreshing. Acidity in a wine helps to clean your palate, and provides a wonderful counterpoint to the rich and creamy, flavors of Thanksgiving. A slight touch of sweetness can also pair very well with the rich savory dishes of the day.
The flavors to look for? Well, there are several directions you can go. Different styles of Pinot Noir, considered by many to be the perfect Thanksgiving pick, provide a great example. Some Pinots feature bright cranberry and raspberry flavors and aromas. Others feature earthy, spicy, dark mushroomy flavors and aromas. Think about cranberry sauce as opposed to stuffing. Both belong, both help to bring out different features of your meal. It’s really a matter of preference what role you want your wine to play!
What about the tannins, that mouth-gripping, drying feature of many red wines? Well, even though are reasons behind the simple rule of red wines=red meat/white wines=white meat, you needn’t shy away from a tannic red wine at Thanksgiving if that’s what you like. In addition to Thanksgiving meals often being high fat, they also tend to feature salty foods. And salt has the remarkable property of being able to mute the tannins in wines. (Try it yourself some time: next time you are drinking a big highly tannic cabernet or syrah, take a sip, then eat some salty food and take another sip. Suddenly the wine tastes so much smoother, and the flavors which were previously buried by tannins are enhanced!) I still wouldn’t choose one of those really big wines for Thanksgiving, but a wine with moderate tannins is just fine.
Ok, so what are the best wines for Thanksgiving?
Whites: High acid wines with concentrated flavors and medium body, like German-style Rieslings, or focused Sauvignon Blancs and Chenin Blancs, like the French Sancerre or Vouvray, are great choices. Other varietals that grow in the same kind of climate as Rieslings, for example Gewurtztraminer and Muller-Thurgau, are also good choices. The concentrated flavors and slight sweetness in some of these wines, in combination with the high acidity, complements the rich foods of the season very well. Gewurtztraminers can, however, have such opulent perfumed aromas that you have to be careful not to overshadow or clash with the other aromas on your table! Pinot Gris is the same grape as Pinot Grigio, but tends to be called Pinot Gris when grown in certain areas, such as Oregon, Washington State and Austria. The wines from those latter locales also tend to be a little fuller bodied, with more lush flavors, while still having the zesty and refreshing qualities Pinot Grigio is known for. These can be excellent choices!
You might have noticed that I haven’t mentioned Chardonnay. Some Chardonnays can be fine, and if that is what you like, go for it! However, full-bodied, oaky Chardonnays will often not have the balanced acidity that will bring out the best in your food. I would in general avoid an oaked California Chardonnay, although Chardonnays from the Burgundy region in France can have the crispness and balance, along with richness and complexity, that can be a fine addition to your meal.
Reds: As mentioned, Pinot Noir is a fantastic Thanksgiving wine: medium-bodied with balanced acidity and flavors that are a perfect fit. Another classic Thanksgiving varietal is Gamay. Beaujolais Nouveau—the wines made from the fruity Gamay grape at the start of the season in France’s Beaujolais region—is always a fresh, bright and festive choice. A Beaujolais Cru—wines made from Gamay but with a bit more gravitas than the Nouveau--will make an elegant addition to your table. Other fruity reds with some spice flavors—Austria's Blaufrankisch, Grenache and Syrah blends, or a Zinfandel, can also be good choices if you are looking for a red with a bit more body. Avoid those with the highest alcohol % (over 14%), as those will also tend to be the biggest and boldest and could overpower your meal. If you are yearning for a Cabernet or Merlot, find one that is young and fresh, where the fruit will be more prominent, and again avoid the most robust, high alcohol ones. For example, we currently are carrying a fantastic, refined Cabernet from Oeno Winery in California, and Pentimento, a Bordeaux blend of Merlot/Cabernet Franc which offers the rich, sophisticated feel of Bordeaux in a more accessible style. These are both great choices for those preferring the most classic of reds.
Sparkling: Sparkling wines go with all kinds of food, and add a festive touch to any table! We have both a Burgundy Blanc de Blanc (a sparkling wine made in the Champagne style but using only white grapes), and a pink Cava (Spain's classic sparkling wine) in our retail wine section.