Friday, November 12, 2010

Making Sense of Turkey Day Wines

Gobble effin' Gobble.

Thanksgiving seems to put a normally sane, rational person into a state of mental (and often physical) paralysis. My belief is the logistics of this oh-so-American holiday have become overwhelming because as we're so wont to do in this society, Thanksgiving MUST be a GIANT CELEBRATION!!!!

I must respectfully call b.s. Perhaps not even respectfully so. Those of you who are reading this and are considered the "wine expert" or "wine guy/girl" in your circle of friends know all too well that around this time of year, the "what wine should I pair with Thanksgiving" question creeps back to life like a zombie in Shaun of the Dead.

Lots of experts and "experts" will tell you all sorts of cool wines to pair with your Thanksgiving meal. Wine Hipsters, those smug denizens of New York City wine bars, trade tastings, and San Francisco restaurants will suggest off-beat, funky wines that you have no chance in hell of ever finding. Stuff from some random obscure producer in the Loire Valley that makes 2 barrels of amazing wine, of which somehow seven 3-packs make it to the States.

Even better, you can listen to the cacophony of voices espousing the "Natural Wine" way of life. Who doesn't want an un-sulfured 2010 Viognier/Pinot Blanc/Marsanne blend that's just come 2200 miles across America's highways while still fermenting? Yummy! Who needs racking and barrel aging when you have potholes and brake-checks?

My point is this: on Thanksgiving, simplify the wines you choose! Let's face it, is there any one, singular flavor you'll be assaulting your palate with on the Big Day? I doubt it, and therefore trying to pair a wine with each dish or opening that crazy/unique/rare bottle will get tiresome and frustrating. My advice is to pick three wines, and get multiple bottles of each one.

Here's my short-list:

1. Sparkling wine: This could be some delicious grower Champagne or some German Sekt, or even a cheap Cava. Of course, I personally prefer the dry flavors of a Brut Champagne but if YOU like sweet, go with sweet. Bubbles are the key, they'll keep your palate fresh while the alcohol will help you and your guests chill out a bit. Keep multiple bottles of whatever you pick on hand and serve it when guests start arriving, a nice mellow tone to start the night will lower your stress levels.

2. White wine: I'll get flack for this, Wine Hipsters will roll their eyes and bloggers will castigate me via Twitter, but I suggest a Fume Blanc/Pouilly-Fume or Riesling. Keep the white wine simple, chilled and accessible to all your guests. For the vast majority of people, the stress of wondering whether your special bottle of Norwegian Roussanne/Gewurztraminer will work with potatoes au gratin just isn't worth it. With the Fume Blanc or Pouilly-Fume, that nice kick of acidity that's been softened by a bit of oak will work with a lot of the veggie dishes and can stand up to some of the creamier sides. An off-dry Riesling will add some fun with it's sweet but light blend of flavors. If you cook a turkey that has herbs added, the pairing will work with that too.

3. Red wine: I can sense the sharpening of attack-talons now, the jeers are going to rain down..Or worse, this entry will get relegated to the "that guy's full of shit" blog heap. Pinot Noir or Zinfandel. Either of these will work beautifully provided they're well chosen. Since the average Thanksgiving guest cannot taste the difference between a $740 Grand Cru Burgundy and a $90 Willamette Valley Pinot, why even worry? Grab two or three bottles of something that costs about $40 a bottle and you'll be getting some delicious juice. For Zinfandel, try to avoid a jammy fruit-bomb from Paso Robles, instead check out some stuff from Mendocino or Sonoma Counties. $30-40 gets you a slam dunk Zin that stands up to the turkey, stuffing and sweet potatoes yet doesn't leave you feeling like you just inhaled mixed-berry jam from Smuckers.

The Thanksgiving that most of the vast majority of us will celebrate will have a mix of wine fans and those who drink it because there's alcohol in it and everyone else is doing it. We who love to explore wine need to realize this and accept it. There are 364 other days in the year to explore new and interesting wines, so calm down with the Thanksgiving madness, take a deep breath, and just enjoy the way wine brings people together.

No turkeys or zombies were harmed in the making of this blog.

Beau Carufel


  1. Well done, and I'm happy to join you in the "bloggers full of shit" category by being really happy to see you recommend a Riesling. In addition to the potential pairings, off-dry wine is often very accessible and enjoyable to folks who don't drink a lot of wine, or who aren't into monster reds.

  2. It's a cool category to be in because we can say pretty much anything we want to and get away with it. :-)

  3. When I think of Thanksgiving, I tend NOT to think of zombies. Thanks for giving me nightmares, Beau.
    I'm also definitely on board with the whole Riesling thing. Or a Chenin Blanc. Maybe even a light Sauvignon Blanc, if it was less acidic and more fruit forward.