As much as we anticipate pairing wine with our Thanksgiving feast, let us not forget: that bird at center-stage is akin to winged tofu. Dry, winged tofu.
Doesn’t exactly tickle your wine fancy?
Not to worry. When selecting a wine for the festive meal, it’s not the turkey you’re pairing to anyway. Rather, it’s everything that touches the turkey on your plate: a sea of savory, sweet, creamy and crunchy side dishes that are the true stars of the holiday. For this reason, spry, fruity wines with little age and decent acidity are the best for turkey and its fixings. The great news is that young wines are affordable, widely available and thus perfect for serving large groups in troubled economic times.
Naturally, even traditional dishes such as stuffing and green bean casserole are subject to cultural twists. So it’s important to find wines of the moment that have mass appeal, says Lettie Teague, New York-based executive wine editor for Food & Wine Magazine. Teague’s taking Chorizo Cornbread Stuffing to her host’s home, and probably will arrive with a bottle of Riesling, like Dr. Loosen’s Blue Slate from the Mosel in Germany or Dr. Hermann J. Wiemer’s from the Finger Lakes region of New York.
“They are affordable and respectable and give us something to talk about,” Teague says. “They are wines with a narrative. After all, Thanksgiving is a holiday with a narrative and a history, so I like to bring wines that have a story as well.”
Dr. Wiemer was the disciple of the founding father of Finger Lakes Riesling — Dr. Frank — and was one of the first to make a top-notch wine from New York, Teague explains. As for Dr. Loosen: “It’s just one of the best properties in the Mosel and Eric Loosen is a renegade for quality,” she adds.
Riesling is ideal for Thanksgiving because it has acidity that is not arresting and enough fruit and richness to both stand up to and cut through all the flavors and textures at the table. Plus, the 2007 bottlings just arriving in the market come with high praise, and, in the case of the Loosen Blue Slate, a good price. That’s a combination to be thankful for, Teague notes.
For the same reasons of appeal — fruit, acidity and body — she recommends Alexander Valley Pinot Noir for those seeking a red wine. “It’s not the big extracted stuff,” she says of food-friendly Pinot Noirs such as Handley and Navarro.
Crave a bigger red? Go with Argentine Malbec instead of that tannic, high-alcohol Cabernet Sauvignon, which, with the 3,000 calories the average person consumes at the Thanksgiving meal, would probably send you to bed by sundown. “Malbec is trendy and even though it’s bigger and richer than Pinot Noir, it still has lush fruit and firmness,” Teague says. A good one is Alamos under the Catena family label, she adds.
Curtis Mann of The Vine at Bridges tasted dozens of wines before creating a three-bottle Thanksgiving sampler for sale in the Danville wine bar and retail shop. The $50-sampler features 2007 bottlings of Simonsig South African Chenin Blanc, Frias Napa Valley Rose and Aubin Cellars “Verve” Pinot Noir from Oregon.
“Chenin Blanc is just a great aperitif wine because it has decent acidity and enough earthiness to blend with food,” says Mann, wine director and retail manager at The Vine at Bridges. “It’s between Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc so it’s very flexible. Rose is fun, easy and those strawberry flavors go well with cranberries and sweeter dishes.”
As for the Oregon Pinot Noir, Mann calls it “the ultimate dinner wine.” “It has the perfect balance of earth and fruit,” he says, adding that the Aubin is dynamite with mushroom-based stuffings. Mann’s family is Italian, so he’ll be sneaking in Barbera to go with the spaghetti and ravioli that is served every year. “It’s the ultimate tomato sauce wine because it has such high acidity, so much fruit and lack of tannins.”
Tannins are evil when it comes to turkey because they dry out your mouth. And, unlike most game and poultry, turkey meat is already very dry in texture. So you need a mouth-watering wine to complement it, says Natalie MacLean, author of “Red, White and Drunk All Over: A Wine-Soaked Journey from Grape to Glass” (Bloomsbury). For reds, she suggests Beaujolais and Zinfandel, which have juicy, berry-ripe flavors that go well with turkey.
Chad Lamprecht of Danville’s Corks wine shop recommends the 2005 Watts Old Vine Zinfandel from Lodi. “It’s fruit forward and jammy so it complements all the foods at the table,” says Lamprecht, Corks’ general manager and wine buyer. “And most people love it.”
Just like turkey.
– Simonsig Chenin Blanc Stellenbosch: Sweet aromas of apples and pears and honey-drenched tropical fruits such as guava and pineapple on palate. Rich and smooth.
– Frias Napa Valley Rose: Zippy acidity, watermelon aromas and strawberry flavors are the cornerstones of this refreshing wine.
– Those eating crab for Thanksgiving can find a match with Aubin Cellars “Verve” Stoller Vineyard Dundee Hills Pinot Noir: Willamette Valley at its finest. A complex yet pretty wine with pomegranate and cherry flavors and earthiness both in the nose and glass.
— Jessica Yadegaran