Thanksgiving for all intents and purposes has arrived. Sure there's some last minute shopping you might have to do but the guests are invited, the menu is planned, the table setting prepared and the wine purchased. Right?
Well if not you have tons of suggestions ranging from the more traditional Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, which continue to be quite appropriate even when faced with the au courant notion that the wine you choose doesn't make a difference, just drink what you like. Which, as felicitous as that sounds, and as easy as that might make my job, is a silly stance for someone whose job it is to pair wines with food. Just tell us you don't want to write yet another Thanksgiving pairing article and be done with it. You might make people feel good about their choices but you're not really helping them make better choices when you adopt this stance.
That's what i want to do; help you make better choices. It's a little late in the game for specific wine recommendations but here's an easy guide to what works and why with your upcoming Thanksgiving feast! Now you can go to the store and buy what you like!
Let's start with the obvious choice. Chardonnay is incredibly popular for a reason. People love it and it can work with a wide variety of recipes. Often made in a rich style, today is not the day for so-called naked versions, buttery, toasty and often just perceptibly sweet Chardonnay is a fine match for the flavors of a traditional Thanksgiving meal. With no perceptible tannins it's also a fine solution for spicier versions. Your typical Chardonnay is a wonderful match for the roasted, buttery flavors of a well cooked turkey.
A Baker's Dozen: $30 Chardonnay
Pinot gris retains the richness of Chardonnay though without the oak influence. When produced in Alsace, and occasionally elsewhere, the grape imparts it's own spicy character to the finished wine which is rich with apple fruit. It work just as well with your Thanksgiving meal yet passes muster with your oak-o-phobe friends. Pinot Gris is also, for lack of a better word, autumnal. It's got a flavor profile filled with spice, orchard fruit, and dried herb elements that make it a natural fit this time of year.
Why Alsace Pinot Gris is it’s own thing
Riesling is a tricky beast, primarily because it is produced in versions that range from bone dry to syrupy sweet. If you find one that is just a touch sweet, Kabinett of Halb-trocken from Germany or under medium dry from the new world you will probably have a zesty, fruity wine. pretty much perfect for your upcoming meal. Riesling has higher acids than Chardonnay or Pinot Gris, which means it can cut through more richness and fat. Keep that in mind if you've just squished a pound of butter under the skin of your bird and are getting ready to pack it's bottom with fistfuls of sausage.
OREGON’S NEXT WHITE
Recommending Pinot Noir is like recommending a car to someone, just a generic car. Pinot is such a broad category of wines that one really has to distinguish between the fruity , lean style of Central Otago, versus the fruity rich style of the Russian River valley, or the lean savory style coming from Oregon. As you might be able to tell from that simple statement not every wine is appropriate for Thanksgiving. What makes Pinot the easy recommendation though is that it is almost always relatively higher in acid and low in tannin when compared to other red wines, and it retains a certain sense of delicacy. All of that makes Pinot easy to drink and easy to pair with food, though it can be overwhelmed when hints get particularly rich or spicy.
$20 PINOT NOIR
As you might have noticed, recently I've been going on about Grenache. Now to be clear Grenache is not my favorite grape or wine but what leaves me wanting more is exactly what so many people seem to love about wines. Grenache is big yet not heavy, fruity to the core and packed with almost candied strawberry and raspberry fruit flavors. Like Pinot it's a lower tannin grape, though it can also be low in acidity at times. That makes it a bit tougher to pair with foods but when your hunk that Cotes du Rhone are Grenache based wines you'll realize it's not that difficult after all. The only knock on Grenache is that it can sometimes be high in alcohol, which makes pairing them with spicier foods an occasional challenge. I think that when most people try Grenache they love it and it's sweet, fruity character is an excellent match for the sweet, fruity flavors of many Thanksgiving day tables.
GRENACHE - THE NEXT PINOT NOIR?
Zinfandel, being our all American grape is a classic Turkey Day recommendation. I happen to like the pairing but suggest that you look for a lighter, simpler version since the extreme, potty and dried fruit stele will simple overwhelm your meal. Something middle of the rood tends to be as fruity as Grenache, but isn a darker vein with blackberry fruit. Acidity is usually higher than with Grenache, though not as high as Pinot Noir, and it's the most tannic of the three red varieties discussed here. It's a really good choice for rich, intense meals and loves things like bacon or ham accented stuffings and vegetables.
THE BEST OF ZINFANDEL
And finally there is Lambrusco, that sparkling red wine from Italy. If you are looking for the best food and wine pairing for Thanksgiving, this is probably it. Sometimes subtly sweet, even more if that's your thing, bright, earthy, and bubbly, Lambrusco can take on all meals perfectly. The only problem is that you'll be showing up with fizzy red wine for dinner and that freaks people out. But consider this. Lambrusco is low in tannins, can have that dash of sugar, has plenty of acid and bubbles. It's perfect for handling spicy, salty, greasy foods with aplomb
Ultimately Thanksgiving tends to be more about tradition than anything else and you buy what you've bought in the past. I'm all for tradition, but if you could find a better version of what you've bought in the past that would make an already great feast just that much better. Here's to incremental improvement.
Happy Thanksgiving folks!