Thanksgiving Wine and Turkey Pairing Recs

You may want to sit down for this: Thanksgiving is a mere week away! How crazy is that?! But ready or not, here it comes. Which means that both your menu and wine lineup need to start rapidly coming together. Even if you are not hosting (which makes life that much easier) you can still have a huge impact on the meal by bringing the right wines for your family and friends to enjoy. I mean, who doesn’t love the guy who rolls in with a few bottles of great juice?! Which then begs the question… what are the right wines to pair with a traditional Thanksgiving meal?

The great thing about a roasted turkey and all the trimmins is that there are a ton of wines that will pair well with the meal. It just depends on what style of wine you crew prefer. The one possible wine component you may want to try and avoid are very high tannins. Turkey doesn’t have the fat content of red meat, which typically will bind with those tannins. Instead, the tannins can take center stage rendering the turkey and stuffing as bland as opposed to full of flavor.  So while just about any wine will work, here are some options that may complement your meal better than others.

The classic white wine pairing with turkey is Riesling. The low alcohol and high acid can be a refreshing complement to the inherent richness of the meal. I prefer to stick with the drier style (Kabinett) as opposed to those that have a sweeter profile (Spatlese). The Willim Alsace Riesling is one of my favorite options for around $15 and for a real value the Chateau Ste. Michelle Riesling is consistently solid and goes for under $10 at most retailers.

If you like your whites a little bigger and bolder then a buttery, oaky Chardonnay or Burgundy may be the way to go. Although be careful of the super oaked options, as those woody tannins can stifle the richness of the bird. My favorites from CA right now are from Gary Farrell and Stonestreet (both around $30-35), but I’ve been on a real Chablis kick these days. The searing acidity on those wines will certainly complement your properly roasted bird. On the value side try the Joel Gott Chard from CA or the Fox Run from the Finger Lakes. Both are unoaked clean, vibrant and delightfully refreshing options for around $15.

Traditionally the most commonly recommended red wines to pair with turkey are Pinot Noir, Zinfandel and Rhone Blends. Pinot is arguably the best option as the higher acid levels, vibrant fruit and peppery spice really bring out the best in just about any poultry dish. The problem in my family is that no one drinks Pinot. Almost everyone at that table prefers their wines big and opulent and tend to reach for a massive Napa Cab over an elegant red Burgundy. But I plan to enjoy my deep fried turkey with a healthy glass or two of the Davis Bynum 2014 RRV Pinot, even if I’m the only one at the table that does.

So the pairing that usually works best for my crew is a hearty Cali Zinfandel or Red Blend.  They tend to have loads of big, dark and spicy fruit but a little lighter body and softer tannins than Cab. Seghesio produces high quality Zins across their entire portfolio, and if you want to go for a mouth filling red blend than grab The Prisoner, as that is always a crowd pleaser.  This year I’m going with the Method North Coast Proprietary Red. This hearty blend of Syrah, Zin and Petite Sirah is balanced and layered with flavors of red and black cherry, blueberry, vanilla, ground espresso and brown sugar… a perfect partner for your perfectly prepared Thanksgiving bird.

Wines from Southern Rhone typically consist of Grenache, Syrah and Mouvedre with Grenache usually taking center stage. Grenache leans on the lighter side in terms of body with good acid, spicy berry fruit and plush tannins. Blend in some meaty Syrah and a dollup of dark Mouvedre and you have an ideal blend for your Thanksgiving table. Cotes du Rhone Villages wines offer a step up in quality (usually) over a standard Cotes du Rhone, and still can be found for less than $20.  However they have a hard time standing up to those bigger and more complex Chateauneuf du Pape and Gigondas wines, which is why those are just about impossible to find for under $40. Some value producers include Barville, Santa Duc, Chapoutier and Louis Bernard. But if you are from the ‘Go Big or Go Home’ mentality then you can’t go wrong with any of the big dogs such as Domaine de Pegau, Vieux Telegraphe, Chateau de Beaucastel or Saint Cosme. Just be sure to give those bigger wines some oxygen before you start digging into them, or they may come off a little tight and inexpressive.

Wine Ratings vs. Vintage Ratings

Wine Ratings

If you are familiar with wine ratings in general, you already know they are often used to try and communicate to the consumer the quality of a specific wine or vintage. However, ratings are in no way a clear indication that you are going to enjoy a wine. Many wines will have varied ratings from numerous wine publications and media outlets, meaning there is no science to this but more of an art.  For example, the recent 2013 Gary Farrell Russian River Selection Pinot Noir recently received a 95 Pt Rating from one highly regarded wine publication, and an 89 from an equally highly regarded wine publication. A 6 point differential is a pretty big spread! That being said, wine reviewers are judging wines on overall quality, aging potential and any flaws a wine may have. So ratings are probably still the best overall indicator of quality. However ratings can come in a couple of different forms, either on the wine itself or on an overall vintage from a specific location.

A wine rating is pretty self-explanatory.  A wine is sampled (hopefully in a blind tasting) by a reviewer and that reviewer determines the score on the 1-100 scale (or 1-20 in certain publications like Decanter) based on appearance, aromas, palate and finish. The higher the score, the better the wine (theoretically). Often a reviewer will specialize in rating a specific region(s) so that they can really focus on the intricacies of the different wines they taste. However, it is important to remember that since there are so many wines in the world, not all of them get reviewed.

However an entire wine region is also rated by many publications on the overall quality of the juice being produced from that particular year from said region. Moreover, there is much research during the growing period of each vintage in every important wine region to make some early predictions on how the vintage should fare. For example, the 2013 vintage in Napa was being touted as one of the greatest vintages since the iconic 2007 vintage, so it was no surprise when Robert Parker gave that Napa Vintage 2013 a 98 Point Rating. That is not to say that every 2013 Napa Cab is a 98 point wine. More that with the overall quality of that particular vintage, the level of quality in wines produced within that vintage should be higher than most other vintages.

Can bad wines be made in good vintages? Sure… Can great wines be made in poor vintages? Absolutely! 2000 was notoriously one of the best vintages Bordeaux has ever seen, yet it was equally bad in Burgundy. Yet I have tasted a number of 2000 Burgundy wines that showed as much delicacy and elegance as form the highly acclaimed 2009 and 2010 vintages. And remember, a rating is still just one person’s evaluation and opinion. The best way to find out which wines and vintages are best suited for you and your palate is to keep trying new and different wines from different years. If you find a professional wine reviewer that has the same palate as you do, than you probably want to watch out a little more closely for his or her wine and vintage ratings as you may find some of your new favorite wines by doing so.

Cheers!

(This post was also featured on Wine Express with a few edits for their needs, take a look below!)

Wine Ratings vs Vintage Ratings