Is it just me or did Thanksgiving sneak up on us this year? Seems folks are scrambling around this year, maybe because it is the earliest possible day in November for Thanksgiving. So with that in mind, I will give you a lot to read and no specific recommendations with lots of personal opinion in my somewhat annual write-up.
Go lighter, brighter. Thanksgiving is a heavy day on the system…and I don’t mean the potential for contentious political haranguing at the table. Why add more weight? By weight I mean the weight of the wine. Big wines are weighty…heavier mouthfeel, possibly more oak aging, often more tannic, definitely higher in alcohol. Who needs to add those monsters to our already tryptophan tripped out bodies? To me, light and bright is sparkling wine, and sparkling wines come in various weights from light (think Prosecco) to heavy (some Champagnes). I prefer medium weight…domestic sparklers or cava from Spain or a cremant from Alsace. I also prefer a rose sparkling wine. Often pinot noir based, it goes well with the Thanksgiving table, visually too. Or look for more acidic wines or lighter reds (think cooler climate wines on both counts). Don’t fear acidity…it is a great component for food wines.
It’s complicated. Which is the best way to describe this relationship (between the typical Thanksgiving plate of food and wine). Some flavors are singular, some marry well, some clash but subtly, some are open and flexible, some are outright nasty to one another. We no longer typically eat the protein-starch-vegetable meal, especially on Thanksgiving, where everything is also potentially layered with smoke, heat, sweet, sour, creaminess, spice and more. Consider the entire dish, not just the turkey, which in and of itself is relatively easy to pair with. But more and more, we make our Thanksgiving a cross between some HGTV and Food Network show, except for the commercials and fake sounding hosts so wines that are flexible, versatile and cut through and across it all is important. Again, look for acidity to help cut through all that, and what has more acidity than any other wine? Sparkling wines…plus the bubbles scrub the palate of all the stuff that was happening on the plate.
Buy American…or not. Some folks only want to drink domestic wines to be in the spirit of our American holiday. By all means do so but try to stay away from those high alcohol, tannic, low to no acid reds from California. Plus if you have an above average amount of spicy heat in your meal, the tannins in those reds will only exacerbate it. But why stop at just domestic. Is your turkey local? Or at least some of the fixins on the table culled from the farmers market? Then don’t just eat local. Be a locabibe. If most of our food comes from an average of 1000 miles away, its safe to say most of our wine comes from a minimum of 3000 miles away. But there is really good (yes really good…really) wines made well within 500 or so miles of our community. And the wines that seem to be best from nearer by tend to be wines that go well with Thanksgiving both in grape type and style – Riesling, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc, Sauvignon Blanc, and other lower alcohol, more acidic, lesser oaked wines, as well as sparkling wines and roses. I will take this into consideration…the pilgrims were undocumented immigrants. My ancestors were all immigrants too, and most likely “lightly documented” compared to today’s standards. I may drink wines from where they came from to celebrate their contributions to this still great country…except maybe not Irish wines.
Run For The Roses. Yes rose! Rose isn’t like the white shoes you put away at Labor Day. If we can drink white wines year round, why not rose? I like to think rose stands up to the foods of at least three seasons, so think of it as a three season suit, and it suits the Thanksgiving meal really well.
Cider in the house rules! Looking for a good alternative to wine? I have been a big proponent of cider for a long time now. They really can be a midpoint between wine and beer. They come in a variety of styles, from bone dry to sweet and a lot of points in between. They fit into that whole drinking local thing pretty easily. And they tend to go really well Thanksgiving food offerings. And if you want to also serve beer, think along the same wine lines I talk about…not too overly hopped, not too high in alcohol. Some winemakers have integrated wine grape must or wine barrels into their wine production and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that those grapes tend to be generally food friendly varieties.
Nouveau? No. I just did a Beaujolais dinner. The wines were fantastic, including the one Nouveau we had, but when compared to the other Villages and Cru Beaujolais (and the sparkling Beaujolais or Cremant) it was a nice easy to drink wine that fell away quickly. Most of the Nouveau you will see in bright pink splashy displays (you know the one Im talking about) is more marketing than anything, and has hurt the visibility of really well made Beaujolais, which by the way, is a really good choice for Thanksgiving. But Nouveau…no.
You may feel like a natural…wine. If your food is all organic or natural or sustainably produced, you have wine options to match and they aren’t necessarily ridiculously priced. Like any other wine made in any style or from any locale, there are really good natural wines and really horrid ones. One category to consider…orange wines. No, not made by Sunkist…these are white wines historically made with skin contact and often found in natural wine selections. It gives a white wine some extra backbone to stand up to the meal (and your family?).
It’s a holiday. And as a holiday it is typically spent with family and/or friends, keep in mind who is around your table. Don’t be a wine hump. That doesn’t mean you have to not drink the wine you want to, but unless you are totally surrounded by a group of people of a similar wine mind, then don’t be “that guy”. And let’s face it, “that guy” is almost always a guy. Even if in a room filled with people who can be seen as “that guy” when it comes to wine (I mean “insufferable” if you have not figured it out by now), they still will refer to the other guy as “that guy”. As we get older, who is with us for Thanksgiving is not a given every year any longer. It is probably not the day everyone or anyone wants to hear that the grapes were hand harvested from south facing slopes and if you are upset because your cousin is slugging it back like Gatorade or because Aunt Edna still likes white zinfandel better, you aren’t getting it. Wine and food are the frame, the people at the table are the picture. You want to make sure you have a really nice frame for the picture but the picture is the thing.
One last note, I don’t make many specific suggestions because not every wine store carries any given wine. Any store worth its weight though ought to have staff that can guide you to choices of wine for anything mentioned here at the price you are comfortable with. But try not to go at the last minute if you want to spend some time getting customer service. I don’t know exactly what I’ll be opening, but I love sparkling wine, I love lower alcohol wines that have a lot of flavor and richness. I may open rieslings, sauvignon blancs, cab francs, pinot noirs, nebbiolos. Definitely sparkling wines. Lower alcohol grenache/garnacha and zins. I wont open anything heavily oaked, or higher in alcohol. I’ll especially enjoy the company most of all though. It is the golden age of wine consumerism…there is an overabundance of really good quality wine from more places near and far at all price points available to us today than ever before. Be thankful for that. But be thankful for the most important things first. Happy Thanksgiving!