The Five Wines Everyone at Your Thanksgiving Table Will Enjoy
This week I’ve been flooded with e-mails and texts from friends and readers pleading for Thanksgiving wine advice. The all-American holiday seems to cause more wine stress than any other meal, especially this year.
After a divisive election, everyone is asking for the one wine that will not only go with every dish, but also please every guest from twentysomethings to grandparents, whatever their politics.
Sorry. I’m here to tell you that no single “unity” Thanksgiving wine exists. And that’s true even if you’re hosting a feast with just your partner and your best wine-loving friends.
But take a deep breath—and relax. The five wines I’m recommending below are sure to satisfy everyone at your table.
In addition, having enough chairs, a delicious, succulent turkey with lots of comforting garlic mashed potatoes, and an ability to cool off reheated political squabbles (excuse me, discussions) will matter much, much more. Anyway, the main requirement of a successful Thanksgiving wine is that it be wine.
But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to serve good wine that will add to the flavors of the meal and the conviviality of the event. I’m not one of those hosts that just puts a lot of random wines on the table to see what happens. Been there, done that. Over years of trial and error, I’ve boiled down my view of the Thanksgiving wine conundrum to the following principles.
The Five Principles of Thanksgiving Wine:
People. It’s just as important to match wines to your diverse guests as to the food. My table always seems to include a couple of French wine snobs, at least one lover of dull pinot grigio or fat-bottomed chardonnay, newbies who say they don’t know what they like, craft beer enthusiasts, and a few wine geeks who turn up their noses at any wines with a whiff of popularity.
Yes, it’s possible to find wines they’ll all like. But remember, this isn’t the time to pull out your best bottles. (You’ll just be annoyed that no one picked up on the subtleties.) I serve easygoing, drink-me-now wines whose flavor profiles—lots of juicy, tangy fruit, low tannin, and little oak—have the widest appeal.
Food. Luckily, these types of wines also happen to be highly versatile with food, and they are reliable partners for the culinary mash-up of tastes on a traditional Thanksgiving table. The day’s food pleasures usually include not just crisp roasted turkey with rich oyster or spicy, savory sausage stuffing (and sometimes both), but also tart cranberry sauce, earthy baked onions, and even sugary marshmallow-topped sweet potatoes that no foodie would ordinarily embrace.
Forget ideal matches. Each wine just needs to be as food-friendly as possible.
Refreshment. I don’t know about you, but my Thanksgiving dinners start early and go late, with guests who keep on eating and drinking and talking (sometimes even singing) for hours. Lighter wines with zingy acidity have enough energy to refresh palates so we can all eat and drink some more. Heavy, alcoholic ones are torpor-inducing and make people want to yawn and stretch out on the nearest couch.
Quantity. There’s nothing worse than running out of wine at Thanksgiving, unless it’s running out of food. Plan on at least one bottle per adult and have more in reserve. Since I always have a crowd, the wines have to be easy on the wallet, too, around $25 a bottle or less.
Source. Serving American wines seems especially appropriate for an all-American holiday, but this year I decided to adopt a global, inclusive view that brings in international bottles. Just so you know, I’ve field-tested those below with a wide variety of guests.
NV Miotto Fedéra Extra Dry Prosecco ($18)
Bubbles go with everything. They’re great starters because they signal celebration and put everyone in a generous mood. Proseccos are traditionally lighter and fruitier (and, of course, way cheaper) than Champagnes, and that makes them good with the flavors on a Thanksgiving table. This one, made by a young, energetic producer, has floral aromas and a creamy texture.
2014 Elk Cove Vineyards Pinot Noir ($27)
People like to tout pinot as the one, perfect Thanksgiving wine, but pinots vary in style, from big and rich to delicate and spicy and everything in between. The good ones usually cost more than my self-imposed price limit, but this delicious example from Oregon’s Willamette Valley shows red cherry, berry, and spice flavors at a reasonable price.
2015 Pierre Chermette Beaujolais (Domaine du Vissoux, $16)
Before it became like cotton candy and crashed and burned, the ideal turkey wine used to be Beaujolais Nouveau. Now gamay (the grape from which Beaujolais is made) is fashionable again, especially among wine geeks, who rightly see examples from top producers as major bargains. This one has the right tart, juicy, cherry and pomegranate fruitiness to pair with the bird.
2015 Abbazia di Novacella Kerner ($20)
I’ve yet to have anyone at my table who doesn’t like this wonderfully harmonious white, made from the kerner grape by monks at an abbey in the Alto Adige region of northern Italy. Its crisp, vibrant, fruity, savory, salty, and floral flavors match well with all those tart, sweet, and spicy tastes on the table. And it has depth and roundness, too.
2014 Chateau Ste. Michelle & Dr. Loosen Eroica Riesling ($20)
The subtle, fruity sweetness in bright off-dry rieslings counters spicy tastes, and zingy acidity keeps the wine from being cloying. This widely available example from Washington State is a joint project of German winemaker Ernie Loosen and giant wine company Chateau Ste. Michelle.