Is It Impossible to Match One Wine With Thanksgiving Meal?

November 23rd, 2008 • No Comments


One of the most published wine articles in the U.S. is how to pair the perfect wine with the Thanksgiving Turkey and fixings.  This is truly next to impossible to do, what with the flavors at the table which go from subtle or even bland turkey (standard Butterball, Organic, Free-Range, Heritage?) to super sweet and fruity cranberries.  Add to this the fact that every family seems to have it’s own take on the meal: oyster stuffing, fried turkeys, sweet potato pie with marshmallows baked on top, etc..  So what is your best bet for pairing wine with this traditional meal?

I like to drink wine with pretty much every meal, but not everyone in my family cares for wine, in fact some family members don’t drink at all!  If you live in DC, most likely you’ve caught the wine bug and you love to drink with your meal, but maybe your Uncle Ted or cousin Martha is not really a wine lover and prefers jug wine or white zinfandel out of a box, so this is the first hurdle – who’s going to be sharing the wine with you?  My solution: provide a cheap $10 or under a bottle of wine that is a well-known brand, one bottle of white like Chardonnay and one bottle of red like a Cab or Australian Shiraz, and keep the bottle of wine you like under the table – it’s your private stash!  If somebody protests, simply give them a pour of your wine.  If there are other serious wine lovers around, by all means share, that’s what wine, family and Thanksgiving are all about!

So which wine goes best with turkey, gravy, stuffing, cranberry salad, roasted vegetables, mashed potatoes, sweet potato pie, etc..?  With such a myriad of flavors, no wine could match all the robust flavors at the table, so wine rule number 1 applies: simply drink a wine you really like..if you’re not satisfied with that answer, always choose wines in the middle range of flavors when you have a broad range of food flavors.  For example, a light white wine might get overtaken by all the fattiness on the table and a big Cabernet will overwhelm pretty much all of the subtle flavors.  On the other hand light-bodied to medium-bodied red wines like Beaujolais (Nouveau is fine for this meal), Sangiovese, Tempranillo and Pinot Noir are less tannic than Cabernet and often marry well with a variety of flavors.  If you like white wine, then Riesling with a touch of residual sugar (off-dry) really does a nice job with a variety of flavors like the sweetness and tanginess of cranberries and the wine’s acidity can cut through the fattiness of gravy.  Chardonnay will work in a pinch, maybe a less oaked one will show best, but I find if there are any smokey foods, than oaked Chardonnays work fine.  Gewurztraminer?  I’ve heard this goes with Thanksgiving a million times, but the fact that it’s such a rich and sometimes overwhelming fruity and can also be a bitter wine, I think it just overwhelms everything.  Plus, there aren’t that many affordable and good Gewurz’s sold, so why put yourself into a corner?

A good inexpensive sparkling wine definitely gets everyone in a great mood, goes really well with fatty/greasy foods, and sets the tone for celebration.  Rather than spend a fortune on good Champagne, go for a less expensive Cava from Spain or even a slightly sweet Prosecco from Italy – for under $15 a bottle you can enjoy them without breaking the bank!

On dessert wines – they tend to be expensive even when you consider they normally come in half-bottles.  If you’re having dessert sweets, skip the dessert wine as a pairing, I find dessert wines paired with sweets to be overwhelming and frankly take away the pleasure of dessert wines.  On the other hand, dessert wines make a nice nightcap if you’re not hitting the Scotch or Cognac, maybe a good idea if people are hitting the road!  BTW – please watch out for people who are drinking too much, especially if they’re driving – definitely make sure they don’t get in the car inebriated..

Have a happy Turkey from..

Charlie “I Drink On Job” Adler

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