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Serving wine at Thanksgiving is a challenge because of the variety of dishes and flavors. If the dish is sweet, such as sweet potatoes with maple syrup and marshmallows you need to look for wine with fruitiness. If the dish is spicy, look for wine with low tannins and low alcohol to minimize the heat. Acidic foods such as cranberry sauce or lemony greens, call for a wine with acidity. The acidity is what makes wine crisp and able to stand up to tart food.
A Wine for all Dishes
A good pick for a wine that meets these characteristics is pinot noir. When it comes to reds, a silky, sensuous pinot – lively with acidity – is simply the best food wine in the world. And with its typical tart-berry fruit, warm spices, and earthy aromas, it's a slam dunk for Thanksgiving. A high-acid, low-tannin pinot can do right by almost all the exuberant side dishes a turkey requires.
Because it's a red wine, pinot noir has a savory, earthy character that complements many fall dishes, yet it also has good underlying acidity–the secret ingredient when you need a single wine to work with a big range of flavors. A current vintage pinot from any of these producers: Sanford, Pisoni, Robert Mondavi Winery, Robert Sinskey, or Sebastiani would be a great choice.
Many people say that their current go-to wine for Thanksgiving dinner is chardonnay at least if it's a buttery, oaky Chardonnay.
Normally I would agree with the 'I'll drink what I like no matter what you are serving approach; you're sure to enjoy at least part of the experience that way. But the trouble with applying that approach to Thanksgiving is that there's just so much on the table–herby gravy, tangy cranberry sauce, savory dressing and sweet potatoes. All of that will kill an oaky chardonnay, even if it could stand tall with turkey.
Super-dry wines can die in the presence of all that fruit, sugar, and salt. White wines with a little residual sugar can be your friend. Reds are harder to pair, because most are dry. But white or red, it needs to be fruity.
Best Bet: Serve Red and White
Wines have a tough job at Thanksgiving because they have to adapt by hopping among the platters of various flavors in the typical spread. For a menu that includes turkey and gravy, tangy stuffing, sweet maple potatoes, and a salad with salty cheese, it's best to put a white and a red on the table, and let people help themselves to what they like.
A California red zinfandel such as Rosenblum Cellars Vintners Cuvee (Sonoma) has the fruit and spice to handle all those tastes quite well. For your white, skip the oakiness in many chardonnays and choose a grape with the body and lushness to handle both meat and sweet flavors. Viognier, an aromatic white varietal, does the job nicely; try Smoking Loon (California).
Keep it Yummy and Familiar
The wines shouldn't be intimidating. This isn't the time to pull out an esoteric bottle calculated to impress. Better to bring out something familiar, yummy, whimsical enough that your dotty Aunt Kathy will appreciate it, but thoughtful enough that anyone who really loves wine will be satisfied.