Don’t you just love this time of year? Everything that the fall brings in is just a treat for all the senses. The leaves changing colors, the clean and crisp air, the pumpkin flavored…..well, everything, football in all its glory, and of course, Thanksgiving. I always find Thanksgiving to be the purest of holidays. There’s no stress about buying presents, dealing with the angry mobs at the mall and no having to remember to keep that whole Santa thing a secret around the little ones (especially after a couple of Egg Nogs!!).
Thanksgiving is all about being thankful for everything that you have, giving something back to those less fortunate, spending time with family and friends, eating hedonistic amounts of turkey, potatoes, stuffing and whatever funky soufflé comes out of the family cookbook, and of course, enjoying the wines that are being served for the day.
Because of all the different foods, flavors, spices and textures that are typically part of the Thanksgiving meal, there are so many pairing options that will work based on the types of wine you prefer. The one thing to try and avoid is overpowering the meal with the wine. So you may want to shy away from those huge California Cabs as they can be a bit much. But if you want to go with a fun red wine, the one that my family and I love to drink at Thanksgiving is Zinfandel.
Similar to Cabernet, there will be lots of fruit right up front. But the nice part about Zin is that it is typically not as oaked, which can give wines that buttery, woody, vanilla flavor. What you get with the Zins is usually lots of spice, pepper, and hints of the oak characteristics. Match that up with turkey and stuffing and you have a winning combo. It is also arguably one of the oldest grapes grown in the US, so you’re doing your job as a Patriot as well.
Some of my favorites on the value side will be anything from Ravenswood, Rosenblum or Rancho Zabaco. Barefoot Cellars and Pepperwood Grove have Zinfandels for under $7 that are really tasty, especially for the price. If you are willing to spend a little more St. Francis and Seghesio put out some of the best Zins around, and the Turley Zins are truly the Gold Standard. In general, if you can find a Zinfandel that comes from Lodi, Amador, Dry Creek or Napa (all areas in Cali) you will be in great shape.
In the Rhone Valley of France, there are lots of Cotes du Rhones wines that are made up of Syrah, Grenache and sometimes Mourvedre (can be called GSM blends in Australia and California). Like the Zinfandel, these wines should have a nice spice and pepper component. But wines from this area of France tend to be a bit earthier and more subtle. There should still be lots of berry and fruit flavors, which will go really well with everything (especially the cranberry sauce!!).
Some very reasonable ones come from E. Guigal, Perrin & Fils, Louis Bernard and Delas. Chateau de Beaucastel puts out a Cotes du Rhones that will run about $25-30 but it is well worth the price from a value perspective….drinks close to their Chateauneuf du Pape (we’ll get into that in another post but for those who don’t know that is some kick ass French wine!)
There are those that will argue that white wines are the way to go with Thanksgiving dinner. While I tend to enjoy the reds more with this meal, I can’t say I fully disagree with the theory. When Chardonnays have that nice acidity to it (which makes them really clean and crisp) combined with the apple, pear and hint of vanilla flavors, it certainly makes sense to match that up with the turkey and all the trimmings. I would probably avoid the huge oaky, buttery ones though. The same way the big Cali Cabs can overpower the meal, the same goes for the big Chards.
However, if you can grab a Chardonnay from Castle Rock, Columbia Crest, Echelon, or Acacia you will find those desirable characteristics at a great price. For about $20 you can move up to the Cambria Katherine’s Vineyard Chardonnay from the Santa Maria Valley. This one drinks like a Chard twice its price. It has this wonderful smoky flavor, without being overpowering, that would work really well for Turkey day.
Lastly, there is a large contingency in the wine world that feels Riesling is hands down the best pairing for Thanksgiving dinner. I certainly would not argue against it, but if I am going to serve a sweet style wine with a meal I would go with the Gewurztraminer any day of the week (especially that Thursday!). Gewurz will be sweet like Riesling, but also possesses nice floral, peach and tropical fruit flavors that are very food friendly. The great part is that it is grown in many places of the world that can provide a bit of a cooler climate where it can flourish, which leads to some great deals.
Chateau St. Michelle (Washington) is one of my favorite values, as well as Trimbach and Wilim Vineyards from Alsace, France. Also, if you find anything with a Dr. in front of it from Germany (i.e. Dr. Loosen), you’ve got yourself a winner. The Dr. Konstantin Frank Gewurztraminer from the Finger Lakes in NY is a very well made wine and a great way to keep it local, well sort of…..
Once again, the main thing is to serve something that you know you will enjoy, and hopefully your guests will too. So if you have a huge Italian family who feels any wine not made in Italy is pure crap, ignore everything I said above, go grab some Chianti and Gavi (which would also totally work with this meal) and enjoy! Here’s wishing everyone a very happy and healthy Thanksgiving, from my family to yours….Salute!