This month we celebrate America's most food-centric holiday, but the traditional meal can be a nightmare when it comes to wine pairings (and extended families). The drink-what-you-like adage is especially applicable to Thanksgiving; in that spirit, try pairing your wines as much to your guests as to your menu.
Dear Dr. Vinny,
What are the best wines with turkey and with ham for Thanksgiving dinner?
-Debra, Sanford, Fla.
I'm excited to get this question, because it means that Thanksgiving is just around the corner. And of all things that can be around the corner, Thanksgiving is perhaps my favorite one.
Usually when I give advice about Thanksgiving dinner, I say that you can throw the turkey out of the equation, since turkey is pretty neutral and goes with nearly any wine. Instead, you need to find wines that will pair well with a complicated array of side dishes. Many traditional holiday sides can have a sweet component to them, such as cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes and even stuffing with dried fruit or apples. A Thanksgiving wine needs to be versatile enough to go with any of these sides, and I have to assume there is a green bean casserole in the mix.
But ham, you say? Ham narrows the focus a little bit more. I love Riesling and Gewürztraminer with ham, and those would typically pair well with the sides, too. On the red side, I'd continue to stick with soft and fruity versions of Zinfandel, Pinot Noir and Grenache. And don't overlook bubbly, which goes with just about everything.
Turkey is a given, but the choice of sides-and your dinner companions-will present an array of wine-pairing decisions. Here's a quick guide, with a little help from the cast of Saturday Night Live.
Whether she's been in the kitchen all day, corralling kids since morning, or both, Mom deserves a break. Brighten her holiday by kicking off dinner with a crisp and refreshing dry sparkling wine, and pair it with a simple and light people-pleasing snack that calls for nearly no prep at all: spiced nuts.
Every family has one: She has a few too many cats, and she thinks dry red wines are "bitter." Put a smile on her face with a semisweet German Riesling like a spätlese or auslese; pair it with a creamy butternut squash soup. You can spice up the soup pairing with a dash of cumin (albeit it won't make her cat stories any more palatable).
Beaujolais Nouveau became a Thanksgiving staple in the 1980s (your hipster cousin might relish drinking it ironically), but the region's cru Beaujolais from AOCs like Morgon and Moulin-à-Vent are seriously hip Gamays.
Hard cider is the original Thanksgiving quaff, and a new breed of dry-hopped apple and pear ciders have become the coolest thing under a crown cap. Both would pair nicely with on-trend roasted Brussels sprouts with onions and pancetta.
For the man who loves big reds, Napa Cabs are the can't-miss standby, but turkey typically calls for fruitier, mouthwatering reds. Impress the man of the house with a patriotic pairing of Washington Merlot, Sonoma Pinot Noir or California Zinfandel.
Overindulgence is a Thanksgiving tradition, but you can slow your uncle's collision course with off-color jokes when the pecan pie comes out. Treat everyone to a sweet (and low-octane) Asti Spumante to finish the meal with a return to bubbly. Plus, it's made from Moscato, that grape that keeps popping up in all those hip-hop songs, so your too-cool-for-school cousin will like it too.
Before the Mayflower made its famed trans-Atlantic voyage to the New World, depositing the Pilgrims at Plymouth Rock in 1620, it was mostly used for hauling cargo between England and Bordeaux, France, where it typically picked up French wines and Cognacs, vinegar and salt. Captained by English Merchant Navy Master Christopher Jones, the approximately 100-foot Mayflower could hold up to 180 "tons," which at the time was a unit of measure equal to the weight of one cask of claret.