Thanksgiving is an exercise in futile restraint. It’s the day to gorge on unbelievable quantities of carbs and collapse from the sheer weight of ingested food and drink. And a great bottle of wine helps wash down the potatoes and possibly wash away the guilt. But the real challenge lies in what to pair with this myriad meal, plump with so many different flavors on tables across the country. Each family brings their own twist or surprise dish to the table, so knowing what wine to serve is daunting. But it’s a surmountable, delicious dilemma.
To get things started, there are five basic rules for food and wine pairing: 1) The best wine with your meal is one that you like drinking. But sometimes it’s nice to marry two great flavors with each bite; the synergy takes the experience to the next level; 2) food and wine pairing is an art, not a science. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself. Get the wine in the ballpark and you’ll be the champ; 3) the dominant flavor or sauce of the dish should determine the wine choice. i.e., the mushroom sauce on top of roast turkey will hijack your mouth, so an earthier, “mushroom-y” wine will meld best; 4) match the dish according to its body – light-bodied wines pair with lighter food, i.e. turkey and a lighter red wine. Alternatively, strive for contrasting flavors. i.e. sweeter Riesling with a salty ham; and the most important to remember for those who like it easy: 5) refreshing bubbles pair with everything. (Click here to learn more about food and wine pairing.)
Heavier reds like Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah or Zinfandel tend to dominate the lighter, more delicate flavors of Thanksgiving. They’re too big, too tannic and egoistically demand all the attention at the meal. But there are some calm, fruit-driven reds that will dance the tango with your bird. Think of Beaujolais (even Nouveau – Duboeuf has a good one this year), Pinot Noir and Chianti (Sangiovese) as nicely acidic reds in touch with their “feminine” side, willing to share the plate with the food. And they won’t overwhelm the tastes of green bean casserole, mashed potatoes and yams.
For whites, stay away from high alcohol, oaky wines. Your best, populist white bet is an unoaked or lightly oaked Chardonnay. But, if you’re living on the edge or have some wine geeks in the house, explore Viognier, Vouvray (Chenin Blanc) or a dry Riesling. These wines tend to be on the softer, fruitier side and mesh better with holiday food. They’ll even do justice to a salty, smoky ham.
But a go-to necessity, if only to guzzle while preparing the meal, is sparkling wine. Inexpensive and fun, Italian Prosecco or Spanish Rose Cava represent the quintessential food- and crowd-friendly libation. Bubbles make everything better.