Fret not, bringing the right wine to this feast is actually pretty easy.
I’d be willing to bet that more of you will be eating Thanksgiving dinner than preparing it this year. So while you might not be slaving over a hot stove all day, you might be a good guest if you bring a bottle of something special.
For most people, Thanksgiving is one of a handful of big family dinners that you attend each year, but also one that is heavily steeped in tradition. I’m not talking tradition like celebrating the pilgrims at Plymouth Rock nonsense — it is tradition as in “we’ve always eaten….” or “better buy a bottle of sherry for…” or my favourite, “what idiot is my sister going to bring this year?”
That said, you’ll probably be seeing a turkey on the table or a ham, probably some potato dish, some stuffing, maybe some pie (glorious, glorious pumpkin pie), and a few other traditional dishes on your table. But fret not, bringing the right wine to this feast is actually pretty easy.
Turkey by itself isn’t that interesting as the cornerstone of the meal; it’s big — perfect for big gatherings, and pretty versatile if you want to experiment. The trick is to pair wine to the various sides that accompany the bird. Most poultry doesn’t handle excessive oak in white wines or excessive tannin in reds. Which does open up the doors quite nicely.
CC Image courtesy of Didriks on Flickr
Pick white wines with a little sweetness
When picking white wines, it is ok to go with wines that have a little sweetness. Thanksgiving is often the time that very occasional wine drinkers have a glass to be “classy” and off dry wines are easier on the palate for some. Riesling is a classic and easy match for the big meal, but good bottles will have enough acidity to balance the wine rather than letting the wine taste syrupy or gooey. German, Canadian, and Australian Rieslings are excellent choices, though Alsace and American examples are also good ones.
For something a little different, feel free to try Spanish whites or even Portuguese whites. From Portugal, the wines of Vinho Verde are miles improved from the plonk of the 1980’s being racy, balanced, and slightly effervescent perfect for richer dishes. There is lots of variety out there, but look for smaller producers or single variety examples for something really interesting. Spanish whites are near perfect if ham is your thing, though they are also great if plenty of root veggies show up on your table.
Red wines beyond pinot noir
Red wine suggestions for turkey dinners are often limited to pinot noir-pinot noir — just like champagne-goes with anything. But I’m not going to say you should only stick to pinot noir. If you must, definitely try some from Prince Edward County in Ontario, or some notable ones from the Okanagan, but also rediscover Burgundy or even some cooler climate American wines.
Something fun to try is this new resurgence of gamay wines. Yup, same as in Beaujolais. These wines are getting very, very, good. If your local wine shop has any of the Crus of Beaujolais, try them. Buy one for me too, please. Aside from gamay, nero d’Avola from Sicily, dolcetto from Piedmonte in northern Italy, and Rhône style blends (syrah and grenache) should be on your mind if beef is on the table. The key is to have dry red wines with decent fruit, but lower tannins and plenty of acidity. Acid after all, stands up to the richness of the food, and you are going to want to relax with a glass or two afterwards too — you know, to cleanse your palate a little.