Thankful Spirits | Wine | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly
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Eat & Drink » Wine

Thankful Spirits

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By now, I’m guessing you probably have a pretty good start on planning your Thanksgiving Day dinner menu. Or, at the very least, you know where you’ll be spending Thanksgiving Day.


Whether you’re a guest at someone else’s Thanksgiving dinner this year or executive chef at your own, the menu probably will go something like this: salty snacks or cheese for people to munch on during the football games while the turkey cooks. When you sit down at the table to eat, you might start with a soup, probably squash, corn or pumpkin. Next comes the big bird and all the fixings—stuffing, gravy, green beans, mashed potatoes, perhaps sweet yams or squash. And for dessert, why break with tradition? Pumpkin or apple pie is just what the pilgrim ordered. Simple, right?


Planning a Thanksgiving feast is easy. Choosing what to drink at the feast is trickier, especially when it comes to wine. Since Thanksgiving is the mother of all food holidays, why not work to achieve some really memorable food and wine pairings? There’s nothing that kicks off an important event or holiday dinner like a glass of bubbly. So on Thanksgiving Day, I greet my guests with a glass of sparkling wine. You can go nuts and spend a lot of dough on vintage French Champagne, or you can serve a perfectly good low-end sparkling wine for easy quaffing. I especially think Spanish Cava sparklers and Italian Prosécco are good bargains, usually priced under $10. Sparkling wines go well with cheese plates that you might put out for folks to nibble on, smoked salmon, spiced pecans and even popcorn.


Thanksgiving is a day when we throw out the diet charts and use butter with abandon. There’s butter in everything. So why not look for a smooth, creamy, big buttery Chardonnay to go with the soup course? A buttery squash soup or corn chowder, or almost any creamy, rich soup will taste wonderful when Chardonnay is sipped alongside. Good choices would be wines from Chalk Hill, Ferrari-Carano or Cakebread. But there are dozens of others that would work well, too. Or, for a different twist, try serving a good Spanish amontillado sherry with soup.


Choosing wine for the main course at Thanksgiving can be tricky. You want to remember to think not only about a wine that will complement the turkey, but also the various side dishes: salty and woodsy stuffing and gravy, the tang of cranberries, buttery mashed potatoes, and perhaps, the sweetness of squash. In other words, you want a versatile wine without so much character that it diminishes the taste of foods you labored hours to prepare. Thus, a delicious old first-growth Bordeaux would not be a good choice. Save it for another special meal. It’s better (and cheaper) to serve a fairly young, fruity red wine, but one with body, depth and some complexity. Full-bodied Merlots from St. Francis, Chateau Ste. Michelle, Matanzas Creek or Franciscan Oakville Estate would all go quite well with the turkey, stuffing and most side dishes. Syrah or Zinfandel would also be a good choice, especially versions with backbone like Bonny Doon’s Eurodoon Syrah, or bottles from Qupé, Gary Farrell or Cline. Pinot Noir is versatile enough to cover the spectrum as well.


The biggest challenge might come at the end of the meal, if you choose to serve wine with dessert. Generally speaking, pairing wines with sweet desserts is a bad idea, especially when you’re looking to enhance the unique and spicy flavors of something like pumpkin pie. However, if you do serve wine with dessert you might want to try a not-so-sweet Gewürztraminer like Navarro or maybe a well-made Riesling. Or, for sweeter desserts with fruit or caramel topping, try something like Husch’s late-harvest Gewürztraminer.