Approaching the Thanksgiving holiday, the question I hear most often is, “What wine should I serve?” Good question. When thinking about wines to serve at Thanksgiving dinner, keep in mind that rarely are perfect matches found in this imperfect world. So don’t strive for perfection; look for wines that are complementary to the food you serve. Thanksgiving Day should be relatively carefree—a time to enjoy friends and family, not obsess over perfect wine pairings.
There’s nothing that kicks off an important event or holiday dinner like a glass of bubbly. So on Thanksgiving Day, I like to greet my guests with a glass of sparkling wine. I especially think the Spanish Cava sparklers from Paul Cheneau and Freixenet are good choices, priced under 10 bucks. Sparkling wines will go well with a cheese plate 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, Mitchelton Brothers (Australia), Monticello, Ferrari-Carano or Cakebread. Just remember to buy a full-bodied, buttery chardonnay.
Choosing a wine to have with the main course at Thanksgiving can be tricky. You want to remember to think not only about a wine that will compliment the turkey, but also the various side dishes: salty and woodsy stuffing and gravy, the tang of cranberries, buttery mashed potatoes, and the sweetness of squash. In other words, you want a fairly versatile wine without so much character that it diminishes the taste of the food you labored hours to prepare. Thus, a delicious old first-growth Bordeaux from ChÃ¢teau Latour wouldn’t be a good choice. Save it for another special meal. 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.
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.
Just remember that on Thanksgiving—as with other meals—there are no hard and fast rules about matching wines with food. Focus on the prevalent flavors of the meal and pick wines that will complement them. Since friends and family will probably bring bottles of wine to dinner, use Thanksgiving meal as an informal wine tasting. Most important, relax. You might not find that perfect match at this year’s Thanksgiving dinner, but you’re sure to discover wonderful food and wine affinities, and have a good time doing it.