I can’t decide which I am more tired of at this early stage of the holiday season: the Target Christmas television ads or the seemingly thousands of articles, social media posts and press releases extolling the “perfect holiday wine” or “incredible Thanksgiving food and wine pairing.” Enough already!
From a philosophical point of view, I’m not even sure that it’s possible to find a wine that works with everything on the typical American family’s Thanksgiving table. The problem is that there are far too many variables and unknowns, especially if you are not in control of the menu and, as happens often to me, you are tasked to “bring some wine.”
Think about the last year’s Thanksgiving table, wherever you were. If yours was like most households, that table held an incredibly wide variety of dishes. Was the main event turkey? Was it roasted, brined or deep fried? Was there also ham or some other meat? Seafood? How many different types of side dishes can you imagine? From 100 different flavors of stuffing/dressing to potatoes, yams, sweet potatoes, green beans, Brussels sprouts—and forget about all the condiments and appetizers!
If that wasn’t complicated enough, then think about the people who will be sharing these holiday meals with you. If it’s your extended family, do they ever agree on anything? I didn’t think so. So what are the chances that they will agree on the wine? Let’s face it; most of them would probably prefer to have soda or iced tea or coffee or even a vodka.
Don’t get me wrong. I love Thanksgiving. I love the wonderful holiday meals (and leftovers) and truly look forward to them every year. I also look forward to breaking out some really interesting and fun wines to share with my friends and family.
But, truthfully, most food and wine pairing is done with a focus on a particular wine working well with a particular dish. Maybe it’s different for most of the pundits, but I don’t eat my Thanksgiving dinner in courses with cool pairing menus. I load up a single big plate with whatever looks great and drink the wine that’s in front of me. All I want is a wine that tastes great.
So, while I have no specific “100 percent guaranteed awesome Thanksgiving wine” to recommend to you here, I do have two standing rules for picking wines for the season (actually, they work well the rest of the year, too):
Rule #1: Keep your choices simple. Unless you are in control of the menu, don’t bring out any really old, really big, really oaky or really sweet wines. Go for wines that are mainstream in flavor and well balanced. For reds: Pinot Noir, Zinfandel or Grenache. For white wines, I’d look at Sauvignon Blanc, unoaked Chardonnays, dry Rieslings or even some really nice dry Grenache or Pinot Noir Rosés.
Rule #2: Whatever you choose, make sure it’s something that YOU really like and want to drink. That way if things get really strange at the table (and you know that’s a possibility!, at least you will be happy.
As always, you can email me with questions or comments at [email protected]
Greg Walter, a Sonoma resident for more than 20 years, has been in wine and food publishing for more than 30 years, 15 of which were spent as a senior editor and later president of Wine Spectator magazine. Today he writes the PinotReport newsletter (Pinotreport.com) and publishes books through his Carneros Press imprint (Carnerospress.com).