Arriving to Thanksgiving dinner with a well-chosen bottle of wine is simply the right thing to do. It’s doesn’t have to be pricey or geeky, just take a little extra time to pick out a bottle that will work well with the food. No matter who’s cooking, the staples that make up a traditional Thanksgiving dinner – turkey, gravy, stuffing, potatoes, green bean casserole, etc – all land on the salty end of the flavor spectrum. Even when piled high on a plate, they don’t have the wherewithal to stand up to a big red wine (Cabernet, Merlot, Barolo, Chianti, Shiraz) which all contain significant tannins and high alcohol levels. In this case, bigger is not always better. What the savory flavors need, particularly in the case of turkey, is acidity and crispness to balance out the saltiness and brininess. Luckily there are lots of ways to achieve this balance with both New World and Old World wines that are widely available. I like the way food and wine blogger BrooklynGuy approaches his wine picks for the holiday, “Keep it refreshing and lively, try to keep the alcohol to a minimum.” His logic being that family gatherings can already be teetering on the edge, no reason to pour gasoline on the fire.
French Rosé – You may think there’s some sort of wine law, like a “No pink wine after Veterans Day” rule, but thankfully, no such dogma exists. French Rosé, especially from Provence, Bandol, Luberon or the Rhone in Southern France is a perfect choice. Serve it chilled like you would in the middle of summer and it refreshes between each bite. A rosé from Chateau Margüi in Provence is so light in color that it’s almost a coppery orange, but it still has plenty of body to hold up to hearty food.
Austrian Grüner Veltliner – Austrian wine labels can be impossible to decipher, luckily you only need to look for one word – Grüner. It’s a varietal that is known for a flavor profile of stone fruit and an understated peppery note which pairs with lots of different foods. You can find plenty of single vineyard bottles of Grüner from elite producers, but in my opinion the best thing about this wine is its consistent quality. Most of the producers that are distributed in the states (like Hofer) are dependable. There’s no need to fuss over the winemaker, region or vintage. Grab the hefty green one liter bottle from the cold box and you can’t go wrong.
Medium-Bodied Reds – Cabernet Franc from the Loire Valley in France, Pinot Noir from Oregon, Gamay from Beaujolais, even a Dolcetto d’Alba from Piedmont in Italy – all of these medium-bodied reds work with Thanksgiving day fare. In most cases, they’ve got plenty of bright red fruit, moderate alcohol and balanced acidity. The Ayres Pinot Noir from Oregon is a favorite. It’s a delicious, well made Pinot that is helping to keep the Ribbon Ridge in the Willamette Valley at the forefront of Oregon winemaking.
Champagne and Other French Bubbles – Don’t wait until New Years to break out the sparkling wine and if you’re going to throw down for Champagne, don’t waste money on the big houses like Veuve Clicquot, Moët and Chandon or Piper-Heidsieck. These days, there are many more Champagne options from smaller producers that are widely available and across the board, much more interesting for the same price. If you’re on a budget, a Cremant d’Alsace or Cremant d’Jura (Tissot is a solid producer) is a great option for half the cost. It’s a sparkling wine made using the same Champenois technique in regions outside of Champagne proper.
Keep in mind, these are general recommendations. Your best bet is to visit your local wine shop and let them help out. Most grocery stores will carry the same wines mentioned, but from other quality producers. Don’t be afraid to ask for assistance from a wine steward and most importantly, don’t show up to Thanksgiving with a bottle with a kangaroo on it. – AJ