On the most food-centric of holidays, I tend to completely geek out over the food and the wine. I’ve tried every method of cooking the bird: grilling, frying, roasting, brining, not brining, stuffing with various herbs and/ or fruits, basting with truffle butter, etc. I’ve been the hostess with the mostest and cooked for twenty people (three turkeys!), and I’ve been the grateful fat-and-lazy guest that brought a bottle of wine, snoozed and watched the parade and football. As you can imagine, I’ve also experimented heavily with wine on Thanksgiving over the years as well, in search of my favorite pairing so I can repeat the sublime experience, and also recommend the perfect pairing. Thanksgiving isn’t all about the culinary experience for most people, however. It is about family, friends, football, breaking bread, and most of all, being thankful. What I’ve decided about this holiday is that it totally depends on the crowd, not the cuisine.
Talking Turkey With the big bird being the center of attention, let’s start there. There’s a myriad of textures and flavors just with the main course due to light and dark meat and crispy golden skin. The meat tends to be a relatively neutral backdrop, however, making it a blank canvas for an expressive wine (and gravy). Think about it, and let’s be honest: turkey is pretty bland without the trimmings, and the wine selection for the day centers around the turkey for a very short amount of time. Therefore, choosing wines shouldn’t totally center around the meal. The wine should be deliciously drinkable all day. So, think about your audience that day in order to choose.
The Whole Family- If you have a huge flock of mostly family, go for value and crowd-pleasers. This may seem obvious, but it may be the toughest choice to make. Go for easy-drinking and fruit-forward, but something with palate-cleansing acidity. The most unoffensive wines that please most palates include Pinot Grigio and Chardonnay for whites and Pinot Noir and Gamay for reds. Remember, Beaujolais (made from Gamay) is truly made and meant for the American Thanksgiving- for good reason!
What I’ve decided about this holiday is that it totally depends on the crowd, not the cuisine.
More friends than fam- Having a gathering of the strays?
Good for you! You are both generous and hosting more of a non-traditional party. If you open your home to those not making the trek to their hometown, it may be more of a free-for-all. Ask this group to BYOB. It will be a more relaxed occasion, and will most likely defy tradition in terms of the food. It could be a medium-sized group or a rager. Go for the crowd-pleasers here too, and look for magnums that are good quality (mind out of the gutter, please- I’m talking about large bottles of wine. This is a wine article, after all). Good quality meaning over $15, not the bottom-of-the-barrel, cheapest you can find. And stay away from wines with critters on them.
Hey, Hostess! Leave Those Geeks Alone!
Nervous about entertaining a chef, self-proclaimed foodie, or “wine expert?” Definitely have this group bring their own wine for the meal. I will bet they are dying to drink their own selection on what is probably their favorite day of the year. But also have wines on hand to offer before and after the meal. Looking to impress? For a white wine, pick up a Savennieres, which is Chenin Blanc from the Loire Valley of France. For stunning red, choose a Pinot Noir from Sonoma Coast for elegance or from Santa Lucia Highlands for intensity, and spend over $25. Looking to blow them away? Serve a dessert wine with the punkin’ pie. A 20-year Tawny Port or a TRUE Madeira (both of which will be $25 and up, but stay delicious and fresh for up to six months after opening) will knock their socks off and win over the wine-Os.
Etiquette, schmetiquette If you catch one of your geekiest guests stashing their bottle somewhere in your house and not sharing with other guests, leave them alone. They are super cork-dorky about the wine that they brought. They probably pondered their selection for days, weeks, maybe months. Thanksgiving gives foodies and wine geeks a hall pass to be downright territorial, if borderline rude, about sharing. They are thankful for their cellars (and I’m sure their families, jobs, life, etc…) but especially for this all-important selection on this all-important of holidays. This is a hall-pass holiday for these people. And if you are the cook on Turkey Day, we’ll give you a hall pass to stash your fave too.