By tradition, more wine is sold for Thanksgiving Day dinner than for any other meal of the year. Local stores know this and post their wine specials the week before Turkey Day. Plan ahead what wines you will serve right along with your Thanksgiving meal to get the best value for this spectacular day.
In some ways, choosing a single wine for Thanksgiving dinner is difficult, given the great variety of foods and flavors. There's white and dark meat. There are sweet and rich yams, tart cranberries, buttery mashed potatoes, stuffing made with any number of ingredients, and spicy pumpkin pie for dessert. You may want to serve a little of several different types of wine so your guests can taste a wine with each dish. Or you may want to pick one good all-purpose wine. You might, as some purists do, serve only American wines at this uniquely American holiday. California has long been an obvious source, but great wines are now coming out of Oregon, Washington, Texas, Colorado, Missouri, and Virginia.
The most important consideration is the wine's taste, how it complements what you're serving, and what you like. There are no hard-and-fast rules for picking the right red or white wine. Whether you favor whites or reds, lighter, livelier, less complex wines go better with the traditional Thanksgiving feast than heavier, more complicated ones. (After all, you don't want everyone to be asleep by 3 p.m.!)
Here's a rundown of wines that are perfect with turkey and all the fixings.The Sparklers
The fine bubbly bite of a great sparkling wine makes any event more lively and special. Serve a flute or two as a starter as guests are arriving -- or at the table; they're wonderful companions for food. If you're serving a sparkling wine with dinner, be sure it is labeled brut (which means it is dry) and not a sweet sparkling wine such as Italy's Asti Spumante.The Whites
Though the standby white wine for many is Chardonnay, generally, the oakiness and intensity of most Chardonnays is not ideal for the Thanksgiving feast. Consider instead white wines that are refreshing, tangy, and fruity, such as:
- Viognier: Floral and fruity, with essences of peach, apricot, and pear. Low acidity.
- Chenin Blanc: Spicy and slightly sweet with high acidity.
- Sauvignon Blanc: Light and crisp, with grassy or herbaceous flavors. Higher acidity.
- Riesling: Can be dry or sweet; spicy, fruity flavor with touches of peaches or apricots and a floral fragrance.
- Gewurztraminer: Can be dry or sweet. The German word gewurtz means "spiced." These wines are highly aromatic with floral touches and spice notes such as cloves or nutmeg.
Yes, you can serve red wine with turkey breast. You may not want to serve Cabernet because it is generally too tart and high in tannins to match well with turkey, but you can serve a lighter red. In fact, it is a red wine that has long been the classic choice for Thanksgiving because its light berry brightness contrasts well with the heartiness of the traditional menu. But red wine doesn't stop there. Consider any of the following:
- Pinot Noir: Younger wines are fruity with essence of plums, strawberries, cherries, and raspberries. Older wines have a smoky edge to them.
- Syrah: Strong spice and black pepper qualities. Older syrahs are fruitier, with some smokiness. Also called Shiraz if it comes from Australia.
- Zinfandel: Lots of intense, plummy, jammy flavors with spicy or peppery notes.
- Beaujolais: Light and dry with fresh, fruity flavors. Choose more recent vintages and serve it slightly chilled.
- Rose: Crisp, light, and fruity, this lovely light pink wine (much drier than syrupy White Zinfandel) might be just the thing to serve with a hearty meal. Serve it chilled.
- Muscat: Can be white, light, and slightly sweet or dark and quite sweet. Perfumy and musky, with essence of oranges. Serve chilled.
- Port: Sweet, fairly heavy fortified wine. Younger ports are fruitier. Older ports are less sweet, tawny in color, and have a nuttier flavor from longer aging in wood.
- Sauternes: Be sure there's a final "s" on the bottle of Sauternes you buy. "Sauterne" is a generic name for cheap, dry to semisweet wines made from a blend of only fair-to-middling grapes. Real Sauternes comes from France and is delightfully sweet, with notes of vanilla, pineapple, and peach.
- Riesling or Gewurztraminer: Reprise either of these -- in their sweeter incarnations (see entries under "The Whites," above) if you served them with dinner. Or break out a new bottle with the pumpkin pie.
- Asti Spumante: A sweet or semisweet sparkling wine from Italy. Serve it well chilled.