More wine matching advice, I would wager, gets dispensed in the week before Thanksgiving than in the entire rest of the year. Or so it seems. Everyone has an opinion on which wines do best with the turkey and the trimmings on the one day of the year that the majority of us eat more or less the same thing.
If the meal were turkey and gravy, mashed potatoes and a unobtrusive vegetable, the whole universe of wine would open up. You could drink the richest Cabernet Sauvignon or the most delicate Muscadet, the most rustic Chianti or the finest white Burgundy. Or Champagne. But it’s not that easy in the real world. The traditional feast presents a whole panoply of tart and sweet flavors, including cranberry sauce and candied yams.
I learned that about three decades ago as a fledgling food editor. I got a gang of tasters together to try about 20 different wines with the traditional feast. I could wax on for hours on how the Champagne Blanc de Noir responded brilliantly with the gravy and the 10-year-old Bordeaux enriched itself with the dark meat. But as soon as the yams entered the picture, all bets were off. Only the simplest prevailed. Anything complex in the wines got lost.
One week to go and counting, my advice is to keep it simple. Drink young, fruit-forward wines. Since most of us do that most of the time anyway, that’s not much of a sacrifice. This is one time to leave that prized 1997 Barolo or the bottle of 1990 Richebourg in the cellar.
Traditionally, our family celebrates Thanksgiving with longtime friends. He’s a chef, she is a former food writer, so the food is always great. They go completely traditional, except for appetizers. I bring a box of wine, sometimes several bottles of the same one but more often a variety of wines. In the assortment I usually choose the likes of Oregon Pinot Gris, Australian Riesling, New Zealand Chardonnay, California Zinfandel, Washington Syrah and Australian Grenache. No one gets serious. We just smack our lips over Edward’s turkey and Paula’s carrot ring, and wash it down with some tasty juice.
But every now and then something jumps out and slaps us awake, forces us to pay attention. That’s why an Australian Riesling is always in the mix. Edward likes to scatter pomegranate seeds on the crab salad he serves first, and that dry, steely style of Riesling got everyone talking one year. The wine went great with the turkey, too.
Sweeter Rieslings are even better with the main part of the meal, we discovered when I threw in some Hogue Late Harvest from Washington. I meant to drink it with the pumpkin pie, but someone opened it and poured it with the turkey and started doing verbal handstands over the match. It proved once again that sweet wine works well to balance foods that may be too much for dry styles.
My favorite wine with Ed’s pumpkin pie has always been a tawny Port. Who thinks of fortified wines any more? It’s considered declassé, but not for me. The nutty flavors of a tawny, especially a nice sweet one from Australia, are perfect with the spices in the pie. Try it!
In the interest of trying something different this year, what wines have surprised you most pleasantly at the traditional Thanksgiving dinner?