Without ever looking at a calendar I can tell when Thanksgiving is near. This uncanny ability doesn’t come from some innate circadian rhythm. It comes from phone calls that begin in early November.
The callers usually start with a bit of pleasant small talk, transition into their Thanksgiving menu and guest count, then end with a discreet question like “what wine would you select for a meal like that?”
The truth is, if you asked 100 well-trained wine merchants that question, you’d get almost as many answers. I’ve learned that the best way to get rave reviews on your Thanksgiving wines is to open enough bottles to span the range of possible preferences.
Of course, there’s always the tongue-dead relative who only wants Jack Daniels (or White Zinfandel, or Dry Sack Sherry, or…Diet Coke) a situation I overcome by accepting their offer to bring something with “just bring whatever you’d enjoy drinking that day”
But for those with more finely tuned palates, I offer the following suggestions for wines that will compliment your holiday meal.
I hand a flute of sparkling wine to guests the moment they come in our door – can you think of a happier way to be greeted? But don’t stop there, keep a bottle on ice to enjoy throughout the meal, sparkling wines are under-rated dinner companions!
To help make sure you have a perfect pairing between your meal and your sparkling wine, consider using mushrooms and herbs to accent the flavors of your meal, particularly your gravy and stuffing (or dressing, if you cook it outside the bird). And keep in mind you’ll want a Brut or Brut Rose with the main course, but something sweeter – say a Dry or Extra Dry – when it comes time for dessert.
Though Thanksgiving is a great time to pull out the expensive Champagne, unless you’re dining with guests who can appreciate the delightful nuance of Grande Marques, you may want to save the pricey bottles for more intimate occasions. Here are some budget-friendly sparkling wines that deliver a lot of wine for the money!
If there is to be any agreement among my hypothetical group of wine merchants, it would be that Pinot Noir is a delightful choice for the Thanksgiving table. But this is a wine that can be inconsistent – you can pay a lot (as in, a LOT) of money and still get a disappointing wine. So be sure to talk to a trusted merchant who can guide you to a good choice within your price range. I’d welcome you to consider my hand-picked selection of pinots, ranging in price from $18 to $65.
Suggested ingredients that make this wine sing include mushrooms and fresh herbs (sage and thyme are particular favorites of mine), and even the cranberry sauce is an equal match for this mouth-watering red wine. But if you want to serve one wine at your meal, this is the one that most people will find a perfect pairing.
Though a heavily oaked Chardonnay will fight with food, one made with a deft touch of oak works quite well with this meal. The problem with California Chardonnay is that many of them are formulaic and innocuous. I suspect they’re made by uninspired Winemakers responding to management’s demand for “a $19 Chardonnay“.
Nonetheless, it is our nation’s #1-selling wine, and a thirsty nation seems content with the inter-changeable nature of many Chardonnays. But this noble grape – the soul of White Burgundies – has the ability to turn heads when grown in the right area and crafted by inspired hands.
To enjoy a Chardonnay that will be as memorable as your holiday meal, I recommend seeking the advice of a trusted merchant, one who will find a Chardonnay to make your guests sit up and take notice. Finding a wine that compliments your specific holiday menu results in the food tasting better AND the wine tasting better. It’s a synergy thing. Click here to see our hand-picked Chardonnay’s at prices from $9 to $49.
Other White Wines for Turkey
The traditional holiday meal provides lovers of aromatic white wines the chance to evangelize their favorite grape to a receptive audience. For those weary of the same-old wines, these delightful but obscure varietals are far from the well-worn Chardonnay path.
While I find many Sauvignon Blancs too herbaceous to pair well with the traditional Thanksgiving feast, you’ll find joy in such varietals as Pinot Blanc, a dry Riesling or Gewurztraminer. And the minerality in a Chenin Blanc from the Loire brings smiles all around.
But my favorite white wine with my holiday meal has a bit more mouthfeel to it – the white varietals from the Rhone Valley! And of these four – Roussanne, Marsanne, Viognier and Grenache Blanc – my favorite is Viognier, with its flirtatious nose of spring blossoms and its white pepper spice and bitter finish keep the wine from being a simple, air-headed bimbo. Fortunately, very good Viognier is available at a reasonable price, though the higher end can offer a truly transcendent experience. I suggest these three with confidence (priced from $16 to $37).
Wines That Pair With Pie
For some odd reason I have yet to figure out, the sweet tooth that defines the American palate does not extend to dessert wines. Which is fine by me, as every drop of these wines is more precious than hummingbird spit (yeah, I cleaned that up a bit). And if they were popular, or even if they were to become a small fad, there wouldn’t be enough to go around.
If you were to look at a graph showing who drinks dessert wines, it would look like your classic “barbell curve”, with novices forming the first blip, the mass market forming a dip trough in the middle, and serious wine lovers forming another blip. No matter, this way there’s more for me!
My favorite wines for the classic apple or pumpkin pies are the late harvest and botrytised wines from grapes such as Muscat, Sauvignon Blanc, or a blend of Sauv Blanc/Semillon. A small glass of these rich, honey-like wines is dessert in itself, with an intriguing floral-honey-apricot fragrance that makes it difficult for me to pull my nose out of the glass long enough to taste it!
For a wine to go with pecan pie, much depends on any accompanying flavors. My favorite recipe for pecan-chocolate pie with brandy requires something with a bit of oompgh, such as the Alcyone sweet Tannat from Vinedo de los Vientos in Uruguay ($31), which is among the best chocolate wines on the planet right now. For a more traditional pecan pie, I’d opt for an LBV port or even a late harvest Zin or Syrah. Click here to see my hand-picked dessert wines for your holiday table ($15 – $75, mostly in small bottles)
Buy Online? Or at Your Local Wine Shop?
Shopping for new wines online occurs in an information vacuum, which is why I invest so much time writing my notes for all the wines in my store. But for the holiday season I’ve also added real-time chat sessions to provide buying assistance in real time. Whenever I’m at my computer you can ask for my advice from right inside my shopping cart, and even when I’m away from my desk you can send an email. Test it out – click here and once in my cart look for my smiling face in the left frame. Then send me a note just to say Hi!
Dave the Wine Merchant
Quote of the Day
“As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.”
~ John Fitzgerald Kennedy (American President, May 29, 1917 – November 22, 1963)