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harvey steiman at large

The Thanksgiving Wine Question

Photo by: David Yellen

Posted: Nov 21, 2006 12:06pm ET

In the run-up to Thanksgiving every year, it seems, every wine pundit weighs in on what to drink with the Thanksgiving dinner. I tend to shrug it off, having offered my viewpoint dozens of times before. But now, with the interaction possible in this blog, I am wondering how those reading this are going to approach the vinous component of Thursday's feast.

First a quick summary of my take:

The standard-issue Thanksgiving feast, with its marshmallow-topped sweet potatoes, sweet-and-sour cranberry relish and catch-all turkey stuffings, does a fine, delicate wine no favors. Combine that with the range of personal preferences at a big gathering of family and friends, and you narrow the field to uncomplicated, fruit-forward wines. Save the Lafite for the next gourmet dinner.

Some years ago, well in advance of the holiday, I roasted a turkey with herbed bread stuffing, made some gravy and tried a couple of dozen different wines with it, just to see what worked. They all did, from sparkling wine to sweet Rieslings, from Beaujolais to a big Syrah. Add cranberry relish and one by one they all fell by the wayside, except for the fizz, the sweet Riesling and a fruity Zinfandel.

From that I concluded that you have two choices. One, you can serve the traditional fare and keep the wine simple. Or, you can adjust the menu to be more wine-friendly. Lose the marshmallows off the yams and make sweet potato soup instead to start things off. Save the cranberries for dessert. Keep the stuffing's flavors mild.

Uncle Fred may grumble at the loss of familiar dishes, but the wine possibilities grow exponentially. Almost anything works.

Because Thanksgiving is the American holiday, I go for American wines. But you can also make the argument that we are a nation of immigrants, so don't let me stop you from honoring your forebears with something from their part of the world.

Finally, a big gathering around a groaning table is the perfect chance to serve a variety of wines. Rather than pop six bottles of the same, open some light whites, ripe reds, and everything in between.

That's what I do. How about you?

Jeffrey Ghi
New York —  November 21, 2006 1:52pm ET
I make a "traditional" turducken every year for my family, with hearty sides of mac and cheese, turkey/duck gravy with mash potatoes, buttered mushrooms with chestnuts and raisins, long grain rice that's stuffed between teh duck and the chicken and a bunch of sauteed veggies. Since I LOOOOOVE butter and alot of the thanksgiving fare includes amples amount of fat and butter, I tend to stick to very crisp, clean wines, good tannins. Chards, pinots, sangioveses.
Tim Sylvester
Santa Monica, CA —  November 21, 2006 1:55pm ET
Harvey--No marshmellows on the yams, just a beautiful heritage turkey with classic sides for a party of 6 adults, 4 kids under the age of 4 and two Labs looking for scraps. Here's my lineup--Copain Rousanne 2004 James Berry VineyardsPride Mountain 2002 Sangiovese (500ml)Rostaing 2000 La LandonneHappy Thanksgiving! Tim
David A Zajac
November 21, 2006 2:24pm ET
Its funny, I do exactly as you suggest and open 3-4 bottles of different stuff, typically a riesling, zinfandel, pinot and syrah, probably will do the same again this year. The one thing I won't do is alter our traditional dinner to make it more wine friendly, I do that about 364 days per year, this is the one day the wine just needs to fit into the meal, not the other way around.
Jameson Fink
Seattle, WA —  November 22, 2006 2:29am ET
2005 La Luna Lambrusco. True Lambrusco, bone-dry. Even when you add the cranberry sauce, it does not yield.
Stephen Symchych
Boston, MA —  November 22, 2006 11:11am ET
The real problem isn't that it's a hard meal to complement. Rather, it's that there are a lot of nearly great matches, and only one day per year to try them out.This year, I think it will be a 2001 Riesling Spatlese from Prum. Or a 2003 Julienas. Or a 2002 Ygrec, or white Nuits-St-Georges. Home-grown reds if we went that way might be a Ken Wright Pinot or a Long Island Cab Franc. Last Christmas we were given a nice low-alcohol Prosecco and I'd bet that would be nice, too.Past winners have included some richer white Bordeaux (Fieuzal, Laville Haut-Brion), an ethereal Puligny Combettes, and various zins. There might have been a Meursault in there somewhere that stood up well in combat. Plenty of those wines didn't work with everything on the table, but this is not a meal to get neurotic about things like that.
Jeffrey Ghi
New York —  November 22, 2006 8:22pm ET
Jameson, can you give me a tasting note of the Lambrusco, it sounds like a perfect compliment to butter =) Thanks too for the suggestion! Never heard of a Lambrusco grape and always looking to broaden the palate.
Dale Harrison
Toronto —  November 23, 2006 12:08am ET
Regardless of how complicated or simple the dishes are, turkey is such a strong meat that it overwhelms subtler wines. Send in the acid and fruit, which to my palate means zin, new world pinot noir or champagne.
Bill Boyer
Encinitas, California —  November 23, 2006 11:04am ET
I have a retail wine business and over the past week we have been sampling wines at the wine bar with customers. Based on sales some of the most popular choices have been, the 2005 Margerum M5 a blend of Syrah,Grenache,Mourvedre,Counoise and Cinsault.This is a nice,lush rhone style blend. The 2004 Schild Sparkling Shiraz. This is some of the same fruit that received 96 points from Wine Spectator. Upon hearing about this wine I thought it sounded like sparkling white zin or something else cheap and terrible, but it's actually dark like true Shiraz and really fun and tasty. Also the 2004 Dr. L Riesling, this is a well made, value priced wine that should be widely available throughout the United States. Since today is now Thanksgiving this is a little late-but we've been busy. Happy Thanksgiving!
Scott Shaw
November 23, 2006 1:51pm ET
this year--Kistler 2000 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir for the Bird!
Jeffrey Ghi
New York —  November 24, 2006 8:34am ET
Harvey: I must say twisting a screw cap for a family dinner didn't quite have the same feeling as popping a cork =). Kay's Amery hillside, while it kept beautifully, there was no glamour. Was thinking, why not just use both? Cork the wine, then stick a bottle top on it to keep the freshness, some of these bottles are 30+$ what's another 1$ to get the freshness AND the cork.
Harvey Steiman
San Francisco, CA —  November 24, 2006 11:22am ET
Jeffrey, think about it. It's the cork that can contaminate the wine. What would be the point of putting a screwcap over the outside? The cork is still in contact with the wine.

Didn't it feel good to know that the wine you were pouring was not going to be fertootst because of the cork?

Oh, and P.S. It costs more to bottle a wine under screwcap than to stick a cork in it.
Jeffrey Ghi
New York —  November 26, 2006 10:59am ET
Ah, was just implying to stick anything under the screw cap that I can pop, it's nice to hear the "ploop" noise in front of the family as everyone waits in anticipation to drink, it could be plastic for all I care =) Hope the thanksgivings were well, time to work off the food and queue up for some gifts!
Christopher Hills
Seattle, WA —  November 27, 2006 1:50pm ET
Harvey, been reading your comments about screwtops a lot and agree it's the right way to go. While we started the afternoon with Boillot Cremant d'Bourgogne ros¿for the meal, we went to '05 Schloss Saarstein reisling (good acid combined with the fruit) and the '05 Argyle Willamette Valley Pinot Noir which got raves from the red fans.First meal I've had where both the red and the white were screwtop. My wife noticed, but none of the other 13 commented. For me, it's reassuring to know the wine won't be corked and also, when I need another bottle, I can just turn the cap and get back to my meal while it's still warm...
Jim Mason
St. John's —  November 27, 2006 4:25pm ET
We missed out on American Thanksgiving but here in Canader we have it in mid-October. I'll also do the big turkey dinner at Christmas (savory stuffing, garlic mashed, cranberry sauce etc. and this year will be serving: Wente Chardonnay 2004, Bouchard Aine & Fils CdeP 1998 followed by a Carpineto Vin Santo del Chianti with dessert. I also believe in matching the wines with the meal because I think my turkey dinner is perfect, after 14 years of practice. Wines with good balance, good acidity, softer tannins and some fruitiness are important, really looking forward to the Wente Chardonnay this year. It's a nice butter, caramel Chard with good acidity and a bit of fruit. Should match my turkey perfectly.
Mr & Mrs R M D Adamo
November 27, 2006 5:32pm ET
After much reading about wine/food pairing for Thanksgiving, I decided, for patriotic reasons and because many Thanksgiving wine suggestions included Red Zin, on a Rancho Zabaco Dancing Bull Red Zinfandel from California. I first sipped some of the wine before eating any food and enjoyed it. Then I drank some just with the Turkey (without the stuffing) and I must say that it was one of the worst food/wine matches I've ever encountered. I've been a wine drinker for a long time but simply cannot master food/wine pairing; it is truly my biggest frustration with wine. For me, it's very confusing and difficult to match one wine with all of the foods in a full dinner.
Robert Renner
Silver Spring, MD —  November 29, 2006 1:15pm ET
This Thanksgiving dinner began with some prosecco as an apertif. With dinner we had 2002 Domaine Serene Evanstead Reserve and I am happy to say that it was a hit, and moreover, it had no trouble standing up to the perennial cranberry side. Great dinner made better by a beautiful wine.
Greg Short
San —  January 17, 2007 12:40am ET
The last couple of years I have been serving up some of the 100% grenache from Australia. Clarendon Hills have a couple of great ones, Kalleske, Greenock, De Lisio...and most are under $50 a bottle.

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