It’s that time of year: the holiday wine recommendation season has officially begun. It’s not easy to recommend Thanksgiving wines because it’s such a wildly varied meal. Each family’s Thanksgiving spread is unique, and the only common threads are turkey and mashed potatoes, two of the most neutral-tasting foods in our culinary repertoire. So instead of specific picks, here are some guidelines I like to follow when choosing and serving wine for the holiday:
1. USA! USA! USA! I’ve said it before, but I just don’t get people who recommend non-American wines for Thanksgiving. I will give an exception to wines from your ancestral homeland if you’re big on celebrating your heritage, but otherwise, no way. It’s the ultimate American holiday, and the ultimate American meal — why drink anything but American wine?
2. It takes two. If I’m having a crowd over for Thanksgiving, I like to serve two sets of wine. First, an easy-drinking and straightforward white and red to offer guests as they arrive, then second, a fuller-bodied, more substantial white and red to enjoy with dinner. You can save a little on the first set and splurge on the second. Plus, a little choice is good — too much choice is chaos.
3. Get some backstory. OK, so this is a little dorky, but bear with me: spend a few minutes Googling your wine or chatting with the sales clerk to get some background info on whatever you’re serving (or bringing over to your in-laws.) Every family has a rich history behind its Thanksgiving meal, with stories that get told — and retold — every year about grandma’s green beans or That One Time Dad Put Sugar Instead of Salt in the Mashed Potatoes. Wine has a story, too, whether it’s about the people who made the wine, the history of the grape, or the place it was made, and Thanksgiving is a nice opportunity to share it. (It is not, however, the time or place for a 30 minute lecture on the genetic ancestry of the Pinot family. Be concise.)
4. Watch the alcohol. Thanksigiving is by definition a time for (over)indulgence, but no one wants to wake up Friday morning with a splitting headache. I recommend choosing wines that come in at 14% alcohol or under. That’s not all that easy if you’re going for American wine (which you are, right?), as our wines tend to have higher alcohol levels, but the extra effort is worth it.
5. Don’t forget dessert. One of the loveliest dessert wine matches around is late harvest Riesling and apple pie. It’s called “late harvest” because the grapes are left on the vine later in the harvest season, so that they begin to shrivel up and become dehydrated, concentrating the sugars. The end result is a sweet and luscious wine. If you live in the Northeast, try to get your hands on some New York State late harvest Riesling. I’m less convinced about matching pumpkin and pecan pies with dessert wines, however. Pumpkin pie strikes me as too spicy and vegetal to match nicely with most dessert wines — I’d recommend trying it with whatever dry white wine you drank with dinner. (Hey, if it worked well with the marshmallow-topped sweet potato casserole, it’s probably going to work with pumpkin pie.) As for pecan pie, I give up: it’s so intensely sweet and rich, it overpowers every possible drinking partner.
I believe these are all good ways to ensure Thanksgiving wine happiness, but if you’re still looking for specific recommendations, watch this space: I’ll be putting these guidelines to the test the week before Thanksgiving. Paul and I are inviting a handful of friends over the Saturday before the big holiday for a “friend-giving” potluck. Watch this space for a full report.