Wednesday, November 14, 2012


Oh, Wineaux - this is the perennial question: what, oh what, to serve with Thanksgiving dinner?!?!

This question transcends the usual food-and-wine-pairing quandaries.  Thanksgiving dinner is arguably the most scrutinized meal of the year for American families.  It is a gathering fraught with family-dynamic stresses.  Not to mention culinary ones: cooking a large turkey can be a pain in the rear.

Even if you have a relatively harmonious group of relatives and a sure-fire way of brining your bird, the fact of the matter is that Thanksgiving dinner is a pretty bland affair.

Boring turkey, fatty gravy, bready stuffing, other starchy sides mashed within an inch of their lives... maybe, just maybe, a tang of cranberry.  "What in the world do you pair with this?"  Wineaux ask me every year.

The answer is not that helpful:

"Pretty much anything."

Before you fling a spoonful of mashed potatoes in my face, hear me out.  With the exception of a humongous, hearty red wine, almost any other wine will stand up to this blob of boring, starchy food.

A white with a lot of acidity will cut through the fat of the gravy and butter-infused starches.  A heartier white with maybe less acidity will balance out the bland turkey (I mean, come on - even if it's juicy, turkey is pretty bland, people.)  A light red with good acidity and even a medium-bodied red will enliven the table of beige in front of you.

But wait - before you whine, "That Minx is no help at ALL, so we'll just open that Cheapo Chard Aunt Maud brought," let me implore you to have some fun with your wine choices this Thanksgiving!

You put an array of food out there on the table in front of you, why not do the same with wine?  Grab a few extra glasses off the shelf and let your guests pour a few different wines to sample with their meal.  Each guest can have a smorgasbord of food-and-wine-pairing options in front of him or her!

Here are some ideas to get you started:

Champagne or other sparkling wine: (White or Rosé)
Champagne is festive, Thanksgiving is festive, Champagne is Thanksgiving, QED.  Plus, the bubbles and acidity will perk up the food.  If your budget is tight, try a sparkling Chenin Blanc from the Loire Valley, a Spanish Cava, or an American bubbly like my faves Gruet (from New Mexico, of all places!) and Domaine Chandon.

Grüner Veltliner from Austria: (White)
With light, citrus fruit and a characteristic note of white pepper, GV is an easy-drinking and affordable white option.  Just call it "Groo-ner."  While many people, myself included, usually think of Grüners as a summertime quaffer, they are a good wine to have on hand as a lighter option in this kind of array.

Alsatian Riesling, Gewürztraminer or Pinot Blanc: (White)
I have twice in the past month enjoyed outstanding wines from Alsace with my meal.  The 2005 Domaine Weinbach Riesling Clos des Capucins was viscous and rich with outrageously heady florals - a party in its own right, and perfect to pair with food.  (~$60)  Also, scroll down to the prior Hurricane post for my reports on some of MaisonTrimbach's amazing offerings.  Gewürz-es will have rounder fruit and spice, and the Pinot Blancs will show more clean citrus when they're young and gain a special complexity as they age.

Beaujolais (Beaujolais Nouveau): (Red)
Beaujolais is a region in France near Burgundy and it is where the Gamay grape shines.  Gamay is one of the lightest, flirtiest red grapes out there.  And later this week (Nov 15 to be exact,) le Beaujolais Nouveau will be arrivée!  The Nouveau is the first wine - from anywhere - released from this year's harvest, because the freshness of this grape requires no aging.  It is made to be consumed straightaway, so it coincides wonderfully with our Thanksgiving holiday, and darned if it doesn't go perfectly with this kind of meal.

Spanish Grenache: (Red)
Another favorite grape for the crunchy red berry, cranberry, pomegranate experience.  In many cases, it will also exhibit spicy notes, chocolate, and dark fruits for a richer experience.  Ask your wine merchant for a recommendation - as Grenache is a less-common solo grape variety, chances are your purveyor has hand-picked his or her selections and will be very familiar with their personalities.  These should also be quite affordable with many good options under $20.

The Boom Boom Syrah, a rosé from Provence,
and a bubbly (Cava) that is ALSO rosé!
New World Syrah: (Red)
Like our friend Grenache, Syrah wines can swing far into the spicy, meaty, big and bold range.  But there are some, like the 2011 Charles Smith Boom Boom Syrah from Washington state, that gloriously exhibit a berry salad of fruit.  I have written about this wine before, and return to it again and again for its fun personality and brightness.

Viognier: (White)
A white grape that should have more fans, Viognier is naturally lower in acid so often ends up as a richer wine-drinking experience in the glass.  Some styles are light and floral, but there are others - many from CA or Australia - that are quite complex.  And many from the South of France have intense herb and earthy notes.

Rosé: (erm, Rosé)
Finally people are catching on to the idea that rosé wines aren't just for the summer.  Since they can be made well from almost every red grape, just imagine the array of styles out there!  With the lightness of a white wine and the oomph from the red grape skins and personalities, you have to try at least one rosé with your Bird.  I did a post in 2011 highlighting a number of different styles if you need a few ideas: Rosé Around the World, or, Not Yo' Momma's White Zin.

Me: "Maggie, put the bottle down before you
drink it all, I need to get a picture for my blog!"

And, please, skip the White Zin - if you want something a little sweet, try a German Riesling Auslese or a slightly sweet Brachetto from Italy, like the NV Banfi Rosa Regale.  Muuuuuuch better.

Here's hoping your Thanksgiving is a glorious celebration with family and friends, and if it is also an opportunity to sample a few different wines, so much the better!


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