|Dining Out on Thanksgiving|
|Thanksgiving in the Berkshires|
|Harvey Steiman's Food and Wine Recipes|
From a wine lover's perspective, the best Thanksgiving dinner is a familiar one: turkey, gravy and a nice herb stuffing. These meaty, slightly gamy flavors make a mellow impression that does wonders for almost any dry table wine; white wines from Riesling to Chardonnay or reds from Beaujolais to Bordeaux only get better.
The wine-matching problem comes with traditional side dishes such as marshmallow-topped sweet potatoes and sugary cranberry sauce. Their sweetness makes dry wines sour and sweet wines insipid. You could eliminate those elements, but then it's just a turkey dinner, not Thanksgiving.
The safest solution is to drink young, lively, uncomplicated wines, which lose fewer of their charms to the riot of flavors in your standard Thanksgiving meal. Ebullient Beaujolais Nouveau or its New World nouveau-style counterparts can do the trick nicely. On the white wine side, Riesling, Pinot Gris and Chenin Blanc handle the yams better than Chardonnays can, and are generally less expensive.
These wine types have two elements in common: They are low in tannin and They see little or no oak in their making. Sugar in the food can make the tannin in Cabernet or the oak in Chardonnay taste bitter. The answer is not light, delicate wines; their flavors will just disappear. The same thing happens to the nuances of aged wines. The primary consideration in finding a wine match with a traditional Thanksgiving dinner is to seek fruit character in the wine.
That's good news if you favor homegrown wines on this all-American holiday. Fortunately, fruit is a hallmark of American wines, especially of less costly ones. The presence of oak flavors increases as the price goes up, so the best wines for a traditional Thanksgiving table should not break the bank. For reds, think California Gamay, Grenache, Mourvèdre or Zinfandel (remember, we're talking less expensive, less oaky versions here) or Washington Lemberger or lower-priced Merlot. For whites, go for budget Chardonnays or Sauvignon Blancs (low in oak) from anywhere in the United States, Pinot Gris from Oregon or Riesling from Washing-ton. For the more adventurous, Viognier and Marsanne are inspired choices.
Slight modifications to the menu can improve the wine match significantly. At the very least, minimize the sweetness level of every dish. Make squash instead of yams, eliminate the marshmallows and move the cranberries to dessert. Add wine to the gravy and even to some of the side dishes. Make a stuffing that won't clash with wine. If it contains oysters, consider limiting the selections to white wines; if the main ingredient is chestnuts, stick with off-dry wines. These adjustments allow for more serious wines, particularly if they are young and have retained their fruit. Cabernet, Merlot, Syrah, an upscale Zinfandel or Barbera can perform nicely, and Pinot Noir can work if the menu flavors are kept refined. Luxury Chardonnays and barrel-fermented Sauvignon Blancs can enter the picture, as well.
To make an aged wine the centerpiece of the dinner, eliminate all sweetness and emphasize the meaty, gamy flavors of the turkey and gravy. Then the meal can do justice to that Cabernet you've been cellaring since the 1970s. Finally, if the gathering is big enough, open a variety of wines to match a range of taste preferences. Any combination of red, white, sparkling, rosé or off-dry wines will add to the festivities. And who knows? By trying several different types of wines with the spectrum of flavors in a Thanksgiving meal, perhaps everyone can learn something that will make the next wine choice a little easier.
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