Although we all look forward to the bounty of the Thanksgiving table, truly it is important to remember that this holiday is less about food, and more about family. We gather around a table not only to make ourselves sick on stuffing, yams, and turkey, but to bond with our loved ones, and remember what matters most.
However, that doesn’t totally excuse bad food and wine. I love my family, but I still want a delicious meal, and great wine to go along with it on Thanksgiving, no question about it.
All people, from the casual wine drinker to top sommeliers, have different opinions about thanksgiving wine pairings. Those who think the most important part of choosing wine is determining what will go with turkey generally gravitate towards middle of the road selections, light reds like Beaujolais Nouveau or Pinot Noir, or fuller whites like Chardonnay. These wines add an element of moisture to the chronically dry thanksgiving fowl, clean the palate with acidity, have enough body to elevate the bird, and yet remain light enough to not overpower.
But for me, turkey is no more than a clean surface for highlighting the powerful sweet and savory flavors found in thanksgiving side dishes. Turkey may be the centerpiece, and a necessary part of the tradition, but the really great flavors are in the sides. That said, wines to match must be chosen that are light in body, yet complex enough that they can work with a wide range of flavors.
With so many sweet dishes served alongside the turkey, wines with a bit of residual sugar can marry well with cranberry sauce, yams, and caramelized roasted vegetables. German Rieslings, with enough acid to counteract their sweetness, elevate these flavors without overpowering. Vouvray (Loire Valley Chenin Blanc) or a Viognier from the Rhone Valley are also great choices, versatile, fruity, but dry enough to cleanse the palate.
My favorite way to pair wine with Thanksgiving is to go for sparkling wines. Not only is this holiday a time for celebration (and what goes better with revelry than bubbly?) but the very nature of sparkling wine is refreshing and light enough to work with thanksgiving fare. Demi-sec (“semi-dry”) Champagne can be fabulous, balancing sugar and acid with a bright effervescence. For a truly interesting thanksgiving wine, try a dry Lambrusco, the young, lightly sparkling, low-alcohol red wines from the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy. These wines have the full body of a red, but the light cleanliness of a white.
Whatever you drink for Thanksgiving however, remember that the point of thanksgiving is to enjoy time with your friends and family. The point is to give thanks for all we have, so leave the wine snobbery for Bastille Day!
Michael Green is the Wine & Spirits Consultant to Gourmet Magazine. Michael has worked in the wine and spirits trade in the capacities of educator, importer, writer, consultant and retailer for over 20 years. Green has been a guest on Food Network's Emeril Live and Cooking Live as well as CBS Marketwatch, CNN, Fine Living, and NPR. He has been featured in The New York Times, The Washington Post, U.S. News and World Report and House Beautiful.