The turkey, the stuffing, the cranberry sauce, the potatoes. Dozens of flavor combinations are spread on the table, surrounded by guests with different taste preferences, all waiting for you to wow them with yet another taste sensation: the wine.
It sounds daunting, but choosing the wine for Thanksgiving dinner doesn't have to be a stressful task. One way to play it safe is to select one white wine and one red wine. You might not want to buy a whole selection of wines and let your guests make the decision -- they'll be thankful if you take the time to find the best wine match.
No problem, you say, there's got to be a standard match to the traditional Thanksgiving meal, right? Wrong. First of all, the flavors of a traditional meal at the Browns' will vary from the traditional meal at the Thompsons'. But let's not be so picky. It's going to be hard enough to select a wine that brings out all the flavors of a traditional meal consisting of roasted turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, stuffing and cranberry sauce.
For this year's Thanksgiving menu, Wine Spectator editor at large Harvey Steiman suggests finding a wine that will truly accent the flavors of the meal, not just complement them. The Thanksgiving meal is too special to be served with a bland wine, he explains. For the big day, Steiman suggests pouring a red from Rioja, Spain. His four top picks are:
La Granja Nuestra Señora de Remelluri Rioja 1996 (90, $20)
Consejo de la Alta Rioja Alta Rio Crianza 1996 (87, $12)
Bodegas Montecillo Rioja Viña Cumbrero Crianza 1996 (85, $10)
Bodegas Bretón Rioja Loriñon Crianza 1996 (86, $13)
In the past, Steiman has also suggested serving Zinfandel as an "all-American" wine for the meal and a Sangiovese as a great match with turkey and stuffing.
In one of our Weekly Polls, readers were asked what is their favorite wine match for the typical Thanksgiving dinner. Here are the top ten wines, listed with their percentage of the total vote:
Another wine you might want to try is a Beaujolais Nouveau. This light and fruity wine made from the Gamay grape is released on the third Thursday of November, so it's available just in time for Thanksgiving. While it might not be as flavor-revealing as a Rioja, Beaujolais is a fruity, fun wine that may appeal to just about anyone's palate. American as well as Italian versions are available, but styles will vary considerably from region to region. (Read Thomas Matthews' exclusive tasting notes on the 1999 vintage)
If you're looking for a white wine, readers loved the versatile Riesling grape as well as the spicy and delightful Gewürztraminer, which reportedly can be a fabulous match with stuffing. Other wines that usually pair well with just about any feast are Chenin Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc.
If you're not quite ready to take the plunge, you can always play it safe by serving an old standby wine along with your daring pick. And if you still don't feel confident enough, don't worry; you can just start gearing up for next year.
If you still have food on the table after the last guest has waddled off to watch football, we've got an experiment that will help you select wines for next year's feast. Grab a bunch of bottles from your cellar. Pop 'em open and start pouring as you nibble on the leftovers. Use a notebook to write down notes about the wines and how they tasted with certain dishes and the overall meal. This way you'll find your own best match for the mushroom stuffing Aunt Hilda makes every year -- or your famous apple pie.
-- Tammy Deckman
What do our readers' favorite wine and food matches for Thanksgiving dinner? Get the poll results.
Check out Harvey Steiman's 1999 Thanksgiving Menu.
For Steiman's other Thanksgiving recipes:
Get tasting notes on the 1999 Beaujolais Nouveau.