Thursday, November 10, 2011

Wines for Thanksgiving Dinner

By Carl Hanson  

Carl Hanson at Right on Wine Pairings

Beautiful roast turkey is the star of the show at Thanksgiving! But it’s a humble headliner, actually, content to stand back and let others shine.

You see, at Thanksgiving, the fowl is mainly a foil for other, more assertive flavors—the sauces, sides, and gravies; the sweet and tart cranberry sauce, roasted herbed vegetables, savory stuffings, vinegary green beans, and creamy gravy. Turkey is the blank canvas on which everything else gets to express itself.

Frankly, there's so much going on with this meal, it's tough to pair it with any single wine. Which is why I like to break out several different bottles and sample away until I hit upon a favorite. (If you’re new to wine varietals and wine pairing, get the basic scoop in Allrecipes’ Wine 101 article.) In general, though, there are some safe wine bets for Thanksgiving dinner. Here are a few favorites I’ll recommend and descriptions giving you a snapshot about each wine.

The Reds

Beaujolais (gamay): A light, food-friendly red you can serve just slightly chilled.

Oregon Pinot Noir or French Burgundy: Earthy, fruity Pinots often work well with the meal's many competing and contrasting flavors.

Italian Reds: Chianti can have an earthy quality and a good amount of food-friendly acidity, which makes it a terrific Thanksgiving wine. It's not just for pasta anymore! The same goes for Barbera from Piedmont. These are excellent, versatile food wines.

Zinfandel: Fruity Zinfandel shows many personalities; it's also an American original, and so a fitting choice for America's favorite feast. Choose a lighter style that's not booming with alcohol—no point in pitching forward asleep into the gravy midway through the meal.

Note: If you're like me—always looking for the path of least resistance to enjoying red wines—try pouring some port into your simmering gravy along with the stock!

The Whites

Chardonnay: The Thanksgiving table is loaded with rich food. It’s the right time to break out a rich, round California Chardonnay with ripe fruit balanced out by refreshing acidity.

Riesling: With so many flavors competing for attention, Riesling's acidity and touch of sweetness should complement them all, offering the right counterpoint to salty gravy-slathered turkey and taters, plus pleasant companionship for sweet cranberry sauce. Riesling also complements Thanksgiving spices such as cloves and nutmeg.

Champagne/Sparkling wine: Often forgotten once the toasting's done, Champagne and sparkling wines can be a fun alternative for dinner. You might pop a bottle before sitting down for dinner and find that you're enjoying it clear through to dessert. A sparkling rosé would be equally welcome because it's fruity, food friendly, and the sparkle washes the palate clean leaving you prepared to greet new flavors. 

Sauvignon Blanc: This wine's lively acidity and herbal characteristics make it another terrific choice for Thanksgiving dinner.

These are just a few suggestions. Truth be told, because Thanksgiving is a challenging dinner to pair, it's a great opportunity to simply drink your favorite wine. Nothing too fancy or expensive. Go with what you know and love. For more wine information, check out Allrecipes’ articles loaded with tips and info about wine tasting and cooking with wine. 


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