I like wine. You (probably) like wine. But a lot of times, I find that when it comes to wine pairings, people get a little nervous. Let me be the first to tell you here and now that there is no safer place to experiment with pairings than Thanksgiving. Why? The reality is, there are too many damn flavors happening on that table — from the snacks, to appetizers, to the main event, and all the sides — for any one wine to be a perfect pairing for every dish. So first and foremost, don’t worry about it that much. And second, pairings are all kind of relative. If you want to drink something, and you like the way it tastes, then by all means, go for it!
That being said, there are definitely some wines that will pair better with more of the flavors that many folks serve on Turkey Day. So today, I thought I’d share a few recommendations — some super safe, some a little more fun!
(PS — if you’re at all interested about my random background in wine, read on!)
Let this first serve as a PSA that any sparkling wine not made in Champagne, France, is NOT Champagne, and shouldn’t be called such. File this under super pretentious, random pet peeve of mine. ANYWAY, California sparkling wines are a great way to go for Thanksgiving. Blends — often labeled as “cuvées” — will be among the most affordable. California sparklers typically have good toast, ripe fruit flavors, and of course, any sparkling wine is festive and fun! Look for brut wines, not extra brut — this refers to the amount of residual sugar in the wine. Brut will give you the right amount of sweetness to pair with a variety of things, whether it’s apps beforehand or the main course later (but note, brut does NOT mean sweet wine).
Say it: cuvée = “coo-vay” // brut = “brute”
Riesling is a variety of grape that pairs wonderfully with foods that are spicy, sweet, and salty (which is why you so often see them on menus in Thai restaurants). Even dry Rieslings often have a bit of residual sugar in them, so their light sweetness and lush, fruity flavor go well with lots of Thanksgiving sides, like sweet potatoes, or any stuffings that make use of sausage.
Say it: Riesling = “Reese-ling”
WHITE RHÔNE BLENDS
Rhône is a region of France well known for a variety of different wines — most notably probably Syrah. Their white varietals are some of my favorites. Classic Rhône white varietals include Viognier, Marsanne, Roussane, and Grenache Blanc. Viognier especially is a great bet for the holiday, as it has a perfumey, floral, fruity flavor, with medium body that can stand up well to heavier food. Fun fact: Viognier, though it’s a white grape, is often used to make red Syrah wine, because of the structure/mouthfeel it lends the wine.
Say it: Rhône = “Roan” // Viognier = “Vee-own-yay”
BOLD PINOT NOIRS
Pinot Noir is certainly the safe red wine bet when it comes to Thanksgiving, not only because so many people like it, but also because you can find it virtually anywhere these days, and at a huge range of price points. The earthiness of Pinot naturally lends itself well to anything else that’s earthy (think mushrooms), but the acidity, fruit, and lack of tannins make it easily drinkable. If you want a Pinot with a little more body, spice, and fruit flavor, Pinots from Southern California are typically a little “bigger” than their counterparts from Washington or Oregon.
Say it: Pinot Noir = “Pee-No Nwah”
PROPRIETARY RED BLENDS
This is my secret to finding amazing, unique wine, and I’m letting you in on it. Here’s the deal: often, wines produced in certain regions of the country (or world) typically follow a similar style. So that if you’re buying a Cab from Napa Valley, you basically know what you’re going to get, plus or minus a few stylistic details. That’s pretty boring to winemakers after a while, so many will often mess around with proprietary blends that they’ll release under a different name or label. These wines are usually labeled “Proprietary Red Blend” or “Red Table Wine” — and I find them interesting and totally delicious. The catch is don’t buy a “table wine” that’s $5 or something — that’s not what I’m talking about here. If you see a proprietary or table wine from a producer, and the price is more in the $30+ range, odds are it’s going to be really good. In fact, most years we order a few bottles of Sequoia Grove’s Rebellious Red for the holiday, and a recent favorite is Hall’s Darwin Blend (we just ordered a bunch yesterday, actually!). If you are interested in finding a proprietary red, check your local wine shops — you’re more likely to see them there than at larger grocery store chains!
Do you have a favorite wine pairing you like to serve over the holiday? Or do you stick to beer and cocktails?
My random wine jobs story: Circa 2008, I worked in a winery. Before that, during part of my time as a freelance food writer, I worked in the cellars at the San Francisco Chronicle, sorting, cataloging, organizing, and tasting more wine than anyone should ever have to see in their lifetime. In the late summer of 2008, I decided I wanted to learn more about the winemaking process, so I worked as a harvest intern at a local winery in SF, making about a bagillion different types of wine in small lots. True story. In fact, my days at the winery were the subject of some of my first blog posts, ever! (No, you don’t squish grapes with your feet to make wine.) Even though I eventually switched career tracks, you might say I’m still heavily invested in the wine industry…just ask the glass I had at dinner last night.