Thanksgiving Wines: Keep it Simple

Thanksgiving is just around the corner. As I was reading Emma’s post last Friday on Thanksgiving dinner, I started to ponder the choice of wines to serve. For some reason, picking the Thanksgiving meal wines has escalated to the scale of a difficult and daunting task. This does not have to be so. It should be an enjoyable exercise.

With so many different dishes and flavors to work with, it is easy to understand why people fret about the wine. Well don’t. You don’t have to find the perfect wine for each dish. Here are a few simple guidelines, which should help.

5 Tips for Choosing Thanksgiving Wine

  1. Be realistic – the bigger the gathering the less likely you are to please everyone. And that is okay! After all, Thanksgiving is most importantly about having friends and family together.
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  3. Keep it simple. Go for food friendly wines. Avoid overly big or powerful wines that might overwhelm the food.
  4. Stick to your budget – As Thanksgiving gatherings tend to be large, the cost of the wine is sure to be a concern. You don’t have to spend over $20 a bottle to get a really good wine. Again, this could be the occasion to try that bag-in-box.
  5. Sparkling wine is always a great way to start the celebrations. Champagne is always a winner, but there are many less expensive options to choose from as well. Staying close to the Champagne style, you might opt for a good Traditional Method Californian sparkling wine. Alternatively, Cava from Spain, or a Prosecco from Italy are delightful, and less expensive options.
  6. White wines that have good acidity, bright fruit and not overly oaked are the most versatile at the table. Aromatic wines or off-dry wines are very accommodating, as they pair with the more difficult tart flavors like cranberry, chutney and spices.
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Thanksgiving White Wines

Here are some suggestions that I think work:

  • Albariño – aromatic, with crisp acidity, fruit, versatility across the meal
  • Pinot Grigio – both the lighter fruity ‘Pinot Grigio’ style as well as the more full bodied and textured ‘Pinot Gris’ style
  • Riesling – aromatic variety. The breadth of dry, off-dry and sweet styles makes Riesling a natural choice for Thanksgiving
  • Gewürztraminer – Intensely aromatic and often a hard wine to place, but is perfect for the stuffing, cranberry sauce, chutneys and spicy sides
  • Unoaked (or lightly oaked) Chardonnay – can carry you right through from drinks to the turkey.
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Thanksgiving Red Wines

For reds, go for wines that are refreshing, fruity and not too tannic. It is no secret that Pinot Noir has long been the preferred partner for Turkey. Alternatives might include:
  • Gamay – fresh, light and fruity. Light enough for appetizers and yet can carry through the main course
  • Zinfandel – great brambly-berry fruit, and lowish tannin, that will enhance any Turkey and all its trimmings
  • Syrah – similar dark red and black fruit and notes will enhance any meat course

Additionally, many people I talk to have a tradition of only drinking American wines for Thanksgiving.

Mary's Personal Picks

So, what are we considering this Thanksgiving? My husband’s parents Denis and Audrey are visiting from Ireland, so I plan to stick to American wines. Reason being that exports of American wine to Ireland tend to be dominated by the not-so interesting, high volume, and commercial brands, with a smattering of overly priced icon wines. I want to show them the real quality, individuality and diversity of American wines and prove that they are food friendly and good value as well. Can I do it? Yes, I believe I can.

I have not finalized our exact choices yet, but here is what I am considering:

Sparkling Wines

2004 Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs $23 – “White from white” – made from 100% Chardonnay grapes, this sparkling wine is beautifully dry and vibrant with refreshing persistant tiny bubbles. Attractive biscuity, toasty notes.

NV Roederer Estate, Anderson Valley (Mendocino County) $18 – I think this sparkler represents excellent value. Roederer Estate is owned by the renowned Champagne house Louis Roederer. A blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, it has a lively mousse and attractive fruit character with lovely epicurean notes and a long finish.

White Wines

2007 Channing Daughters, Scuttlehole Chardonnay, Long Island, New York $16 – Made by the brilliant and zany winemaker, Christopher Tracey, this Chardonnay is unoaked, bursting with juicy fruit. Lovely, fresh acidity, and smooth mouthfeel. Flavors of quince, Bosc pear and Granny Smith apple are complimented by the lingering minerality on the finish. Will work with first courses and even stretch to the turkey.

NV - Sokol Blosser, Evolution No.9, Oregon $18 – Quite an interesting wine! Non-vintage, it is made from a blend of nine different grape varieties (Müller-Thurgau, Riesling, Semillon, Pinot Gris, Gewürztraminer, Muscat Canelli, Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, Sylvaner). Subtle nose of white peach, apricot and white flowers. Tropical fruit, dried citrus peel and an herbal, balsamic kick mid-palate.

2007 Kung Fu Girl Riesling, Washington $14 – Zippy, nose of limes with some floral and fusel notes. Light, with refreshing flavors of key lime, lemon curd and tangerine. Great as an apéritif or light first course.

2006 Qupé Marsanne, Santa Ynez Valley, California $18 – Inviting floral, tropical fruit nose. Refreshing and lovely on the palate with flavors of quince, persimmon and apricot, with hints of dried sage and chamomile on the finish.

Red Wines

2007 Channing Daughters Rosso Fresco, Long Island $18 – Another delicious Christopher Tracey wine. A daring blend of Merlot, Syrah, Blaufrankish, Cabernet Franc and the obscure German variety Dornfelder. Combines drinkability with layers of juicy red fruit (plums, cherry) with spicy, tobacco and earthy notes. Would be great with the turkey!

2003 Ridge "Three Valleys" Zinfandel, Sonoma Valley ($18) - I would find it hard to do Thanksgiving without this great value zin from Ridge. A classic, more restrained style. Packed with fresh bramble fruit, blueberries, raspberry and lovely sweet spices.

2007 Evening Land Gamay Noir Celebration, Eola-Amity Hills, Oregon $19 - Evening Land is a new wine venture, making high-end wines. However, this Gamay, which I recently tasted is just lovely and reasonably priced. Refreshing, easy to drink with a delightful purity of bright red fruit, strawberry, red cherry and raspberry.

2007 Schneider Cabernet Franc "Le Breton", North Fork, Long Island $18 – Breton is the local Loire valley word for Cabernet Franc. A lighter, easy drinking Cabernet Franc. Lots of bright fruit on the nose and palate - cranberry, redcurrant, raspberry and a subtle overlay of violets.

2006 Tablas Creek "Cotes de Tablas" Paso Robles Red Rhone Blend $18 – A blend of Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre and Counoise. Spicy cherry and strawberry nose. Medium bodied with soft tannins and ripe jammy red fruit flavors with notes of anise, char and underbrush. Definitely for the turkey, stuffing and strongly flavored sides.

I am still working on the dessert wine short list, and will give a recap in a few days. Wines being considered are late harvest Riesling or Gewurztraminer, Sweet Muscat styles, Tokaji, Ice-wine and for chocolate absolutely either delicious PX or Malmsey Madeira.

So, enjoy the run-up to Thanksgiving and remember, don’t fret about the wines.

- Mary

More Good Wines

How To Choose Good Cheap Wine from the Big Brands: Pinot Grigio
Cheap Wine: Best Pinot Noir Under $20
How To Choose Good Cheap Wine from the Big Brands: Cabernet Sauvignon

(Top left wine image: New York Daily News; top right turkey image: Flickr member ckirkman licensed for use under Creative Commons)

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Drinks, Thanksgiving, Wine

Mary Gorman-McAdams, MW (Master of Wine), is a New York based wine educator, freelance writer and consultant. In 2012 she was honored as a Dame Chevalier de L'Ordre des Coteaux de Champagne.

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