Posted on 24 November 2009.
Finding the right wines to serve at Thanksgiving is never an easy task. You have to start with what you’re serving.
Get beyond the turkey and look at your side dishes. Are you having candied yams and a sweet cranberry relish? Mashed potatoes and stuffing? Green bean casserole? All of the above?
Each of those foods calls for a separate wine, so you may want to have a couple of glasses on the table or offer a couple of wines to suit people’s tastes.
With the candied yams and the relish, both loaded with sugar, you’ll want a sweeter wine, something like a Riesling or a Gewürztraminer from Washington state. That’s because your wine should always be sweeter than the food you’re pairing it with or the wine will taste shrill and bitter. Hogue Cellars and its sister label, Genesis, make fine examples of both starting at about $10 a bottle.
Hogue Cellars Riesling
If your plate will be filled more with roast turkey, mashed potatoes and a not-too-herbal stuffing, then think about a Chardonnay or a Burgundy (either white or red, but not California’s “hearty Burgundy” out of a jug). The bold flavors of these wines will bolster the meal without clobbering it into submission.
An elegant Pinot Noir, with plenty of acid, is supremely food friendly. Fine examples of this can also be costly. But, we like the 12 Clones Pinot Noir from Morgan, which runs in the $20s. If you want to spend more, Morgan has a line of single-vineyard Pinots as well, each equally stunning.
Another red suggestion could be a Rhone blend, either from France or the United States. These are lighter bodied wines that won’t clobber your dinner with its brashness. Llano Estacado Signature from Texas is a fine example of this at a reasonable price of about $10 a bottle.
There are many lighter-styled reds that are very good matches with giblet gravy or a gorgeous goose. Inexpensive Spanish Tempranillo or Garnacha, Chilean or New Zealand Pinot Noir, Beaujolais Villages, and even Italian Montipulciano reds can slip right into your Thanksgiving dinner beautifully.
Cool, refreshing rosé certainly pair well with many Thanksgiving favorites. The acid cuts through the sauce of the green bean casserole and gives turkey a little pick-me-up. Plenty of youthful rosés from the southern hemisphere have begun appearing in the market now, with the Mulderbosch Rosé of Cabernet Sauvignon ($12-$16) being a perennial standout. Also, be sure you’re purchasing a dry rose — white Zinfandels and other blush wines will be sweeter. (So, maybe have those with the candied yams!)
If you have to have Cabernet Sauvignon, especially a big one in the California style, then feel free to do so. But think about serving it after dinner, so you can enjoy the wine on its own and be thankful for every drop in your glass. Remember, these wines are more geared to go with beef than turkey. Serving one will only help disguise all the flavors of what you’re eating.
If there is one ubiquitous wine for the multifarious dishes on the Thanksgiving table, it might be the most logical choice for a celebration: sparkling wine. Champagne, Cava, Prosecco, all sparkling wines and all worth exploring. An off-dry Prosecco like Zardetto often sells for $10-$15, while the ever-reliable Domaine Ste. Michelle series from Washington state sells in the same price range. We recently judged a wine competition where both the Korbel Brut Rosé and the Korbel Blanc de Noirs (very light rose color) took top prizes. These are under $15.
You could also use a less-expensive sparkler in the following Thanksgiving-inspired cocktail, the Relish: Mix 1/2 ounce cranberry juice and 1 ounce orange juice in a Champagne flute. Top with chilled sparkling wine. Serve.
Bonnie Walker and Cecil Flentge contributed to this article.