Turkey Day is notoriously terrifying for the at-home sommelier.
Suppose you’re into food and wine. Should you flaunt your connoisseurship and create precise pairings to wow the palate? Absolutely not. The cousin who only drinks Budweiser will get annoyed, and everyone else will think you’re a snob.
Suppose wine is intimidating. Should you just stock up on Two Buck Chuck and call it a day? Again, the answer is no. That’d be a copout, as there are plenty of wines with character that don’t break the bank.
Just stick to this handful of guideposts. It’s actually quite easy to create a memorable meal with wines that everyone will enjoy.
For starters, remember that Thanksgiving is an American holiday.
So when you head to the store, embrace your patriotism and pick up domestic wine. And don’t hesitate to buy local. The Pilgrims didn’t import their turkey from a faraway land, so try to pick up at least one bottle that was produced within driving distance of your house. All 50 states now produce wine, and the Drink Local Wine movement is taking off.
Second, as San Francisco wine writer Jon Bonne has advised, “devise a roster of one sparkling wine, one white, and one red.”
Anything beyond three wines creates needless confusion. If you’re hosting Thanksgiving, you’ll have enough to worry about without guests asking which red matches the stuffing, or which white goes better with the sweet potatoes. So keep it simple.
You’ll also want to make sure you select wines with power and finesse. This is easier than it sounds.
A simple Pinot Grigio, for example, isn’t a powerful wine – so won’t stand up to mashed potatoes and gravy. Equally important, an in-your-face Cabernet Sauvignon lacks finesse, so will smother your food. Look for refreshing wines with body.
For the sparkler, this means avoiding bottles that are too sweet — look for “brut” or “extra brut” on the label. Old standbys like Domaine Chandon and Korbel are better than ever before, and there are some exciting sparklers coming from states like New Mexico (Gruet), Missouri (Les Bourgeois), and North Carolina (Biltmore). If you’re in the mood to splurge, America’s top sparkling wines easily rival French Champagne — look for Roederer or Argyle.
Every gathering should begin with a toast, of course, but sparkling wine goes with just about everything – so keep the sparkler on your table all evening.
For the white wine, remember to look for body.
Bold Chardonnays work well with turkey and can cut through just about every component of your meal – from sweet flavors like cinnamon to the bitterness of green vegetables. California is still on top, but look for wines with specific Viticultural Areas on the label, like Carneros, Monterey County, Russian River Valley, and others. These will generally have a bit more zing than your standard Cali Chard.
Riesling — either dry or slightly sweet — is also a wonderful wine for Thanksgiving. And you can have some fun with it by selecting a bottle from Michigan, Idaho, Washington, or New York. In Washington, Hogue Cellars and Pacific Rim are making some stunning wines, and just about everything from New York’s Finger Lakes would please your guests.
With reds, think refreshment. This means avoiding wines with lots of tannin, so steer clear of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Malbec.
Pinot Noir is the most popular choice on Thanksgiving, but it’s very difficult to find good Pinot for less than $15. That’s why Syrah — ideally from a cool-climate region like Washington or California’s coastal regions – is a better bet. Syrah is fruity enough to satisfy the guests who like big reds, and elegant enough to handle the cornucopia of Thanksgiving. There are literally hundreds of choices for less than $15.
Finally, and most importantly, have lots of wine on hand. The more wine on the table, the more your family will enjoy the meal!
David White, a wine writer, is the founder and editor of Terroirist.com. His columns are housed at Wines.com, the fastest growing wine portal on the Internet.