Here is your guide to the fun part of Thanksgiving shopping. It is a guide, just a bunch of ideas. It is not a shopping list. At the end of it, drink what you like. Thanksgiving can be a spectacular yet burdensome and difficult holiday, at least from a wine pairing perspective. Life is short…don’t sweat the smaller stuff, and the wine you serve should be down the list of important things for a gathering such as Thanksgiving.
With no further delay, the Top Ten List:
10. Overbuy. You would rather have more (and some left over for another day, like the next day) than not have enough. I am always amazed when people say they ran out of wine at home. What?!? And, it makes sense to buy by the case. Most respectable and even some less respectable establishments offer case discounts of at least 10% and up to 20-23%. One thing to be aware of — many will not give the discount on wines already on sale.
9. Offer some variety. Try to come up with an assortment, at least one red, white and sparkling wine. Toss in a good dry rose too. Remember Number 10.
8. Acidity is something to look for. It is not the general nature of American palates to like acidic wine, but acidity goes best with food, and Thanksgiving is a fairly food-centric event. Acidity stimulates salivation and digestion and just pairs better with food. One restaurant friend, Mark Maynard-Parisi, loves sangiovese (the noble grape of Tuscany and the backbone of Chianti and Brunello) for Thanksgiving. Definite acidity and enough going on to hold up to a complex meal. Also, if you are of Italian-American descent, theres a good chance there is a macaroni course (we didn’t grow up calling it pasta…sorry), with tomato sauce, I mean, gravy. Sangiovese also works really well with that. Why? Acidity in the wine pairs with the acidity from the tomatoes.
7. Don’t discount bubbles. Sparkling wines are what I serve with big holiday meals, especially sparkling roses because their base grapes go well as still wines with this meal and here is my Martha Moment – because they look pretty in the glass on a nicely set table. They do have acidity for sure, and their effervescence helps scrub the palate. Thanksgiving dinner isn’t the simple protein/starch/vegetable dinner thing. Today, depending on your cultural and culinary predilections, there is smoke, heat, spice, cream, sweet, salt, herbs and all sorts of textures fighting it out in your mouth. That is the wine pairing nightmare…if you make it a nightmare, that is. Sparkling wines aren’t just festive, they are incredibly food versatile. Depending on the size of your crowd, you can get good ones for around $10 or so and work your way up. For this meal I may shy away from Prosecco because it tends to be lighter and can be more easily overwhelmed by all that array on the table. I love Raventos cava rose. At $20 it is a remarkable value, but at $20 it may not be the wine you serve for 40.
6. Vegetarians deserve wine love too. Not everyone eats meat. Some wines go better with things vegetal/non meat than other wines. But as with anything, vegetarian dishes vary greatly from light to heavier. A great white for thing vegetal is gruner veltliner from Austria. For heavier vegetarian dishes, I like some cabernet francs. Or stick with the options already on the table.
5. Whenever possible, drink local. What grows together, goes together. Most of our wine, at least in my area, comes from at least 3000 miles away. There are now very good wine options to drink from much closer in. 250 miles or less isn’t so bad. I just did a trip to the Finger Lakes to meet with a dozen wineries. There is some top notch wine being made there, and they aren’t overly processed and a lot of character to go with the quality. The savory Bloomer Creek pinot noir rose struck me as a really good wine for Thanksgiving. A lot of great Rieslings up there too. The North Fork, the Hudson Valley, even a good dozen or more wineries in New Jersey all give no excuse to not drink local wine, at least some of the time. For this “American” holiday, your wine can come from anywhere, but at least try to buy American.
4. Don’t just offer wine. I love sparkling ciders (not the Martinelli’s brand for the kids for holiday meals). They can range from bone dry to somewhat sweet in style so check the labels, but they are a great midpoint between wine and beer, and go so well with Thanksgiving fare and autumnal food in general. Great with cheeses too. There are so many craft beers out there now, and they have a place on the table too. I had a recent conversation with Augie Carton, the owner of Carton Brewing in the Atlantic Highlands, NJ. I told him I thought he had a winemaker’s approach and sensibility with his beer. He laughed and said he had a 3500 bottle wine collection and definitely makes some of his beer with a specific type or style of wine in mind. The owners of DC Brau in Washington, the first brewery to open in DC since Prohibition, told me they think about food pairing when they make their beer. As with your wine choices for this meal, don’t go too light, but don’t go too heavy. Many beers are showcases it seems. You don’t need the quadruple IPA for this gathering.
3. Thanksgivakkuh! This will be the only time in our lifetimes where the two holidays are paired, so in addition to the wines already suggested, a few additional thoughts. There is an emphasis on fried foods, and nothing goes better with fried food than sparkling wine. Also consider ciders and beers for that sparkle too. Having brisket? You can stretch out with a bigger red, but I wouldn’t go big Cab or Zin. Syrah, Rhone wines, Rioja all would work nicely. There are more and more really good choices for Kosher wines too if you decide to go that route. Many good wine shops have those wines usually next to the organic section. And if your older aunt is happy with Manischewitz, then have Manischewitz too. It’s a holiday where family and friends gather, which leads me to the next point.
2. Don’t be a wine hump. That’s right. You may be a big collector, and you may be incredibly passionate and knowledgeable about wine. The most important thing you can do when pairing wine for Thanksgiving is to pair it with your guests before the food. If you are having a meal with all similarly minded wine people, then go all out and dig into the cellar and have a blast. But the majority of Thanksgiving meals are family events, then blended family and friend events, then finally friend events. Don’t be a snob…stop being humpy. The aunt who loves her Manischewitz may not be at the next Hannukah dinner…the grandfather who likes his PBR (which would make him a hipster today) may not be at the next Thanksgiving. Be thankful for and mindful of everyone at the holiday table. Remember warmly those who can’t be.
1. Despite what may be going on in life, if you were able to read this and read this far, you have a lot to be thankful for. Keep the day in perspective and have a very Happy Thanksgiving.