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Wines for the Thanksgiving Table

November 25, 2009

by Monsieur Anton

So it’s late in the game and Thanksgiving is looming.  The bird is in the brine (sounds like a good call for a hockey goal), cranberry sauce is at the ready, and the pumpkin pie is cooling.  All systems go for the Super Bowl for foodies; except the wine.  Whether you are buying wine for your own dinner, or as Mom taught you as a child to never come empty-handed, wine is an essential for Thanksgiving.  Nothing adds to the festive mood of the holiday, or takes the edge off having to deal with your relatives like a good bottle, or several of wine.

Now this comes up every year.  People are always stressing over the wine.  After all, so much work has gone into the holiday feast, the wine has to be perfect, right?  Wrong.  The most important thing is to enjoy your food, wine and family.  Who cares?  The idea is to enjoy yourself, and not to worry about the wine snobs.  At the end of the day it is just grape juice.

That said; why not try to enhance the meal with a great wine pairing?  The tricky part about Thanksgiving wine is that there are so many components to the meal.  Everyone goes overboard on Thanksgiving dinner, crowding the table with 5,000 different menu items ranging from the traditional to the avant-garde.  No one wine can multitask with so many foods to compliment.  As long as we understand that no one wine can be perfect, many wines can do justice to the meal as a whole.

We’ll start with white wines.  Many people regard red wine as the color of choice for serious meals, and there is no meal quite as serious as Thanksgiving.  Don’t listen to these people!  For one, there are likely to be guests at your dinner who do not like red wine.  Do we exclude these people?  Once again, I caution against wine snobbery.  Remember also that it can tend to be a long day, and a lighter white wine can be easier to drink over an extended period of time.  When selecting a white wine, make sure to find one with balanced acidity.

Riesling: Perhaps the best selection among white wines.  An off sweet Riesling works well with salty and sweet foods, the likes of which you’re likely to find at your meal.  Look for a Spatlese which a bit of residual sugar, or one of several California or Pacific Northwest Rieslings.  Hogue and Bonny Doon come to mind as very reasonable choices.

Gewürztraminer: Gewürztraminer works for much the same reason Rieslings do.  A little extra sugar and layers of complex flavor with a floral bouquet lends a balance against the salty and spicy foods at the table.  Washington State’s Chateau St. Michelle makes a fine low-priced offering.

Viognier: Fruity and crisp with flavors of green apples and stone fruit.  What more can you ask for out of a food wine?  For value, Clay Station makes a fine Viognier.

Gruner Veltliner: This food friendly grape from Austria is a great pick for many types of meals.  It is a good choice for many of the side dishes served on Thanksgiving.  Try the Mozart Gruner Veltliner.

Now we move on to the more traditional red wines.  Many oenophiles (wine snobs) think you have to have red wines with great food.  Red wines will either complement your feast quite well or they will just overpower the meal.

Pinot Noir: A traditional Thanksgiving selection, Pinots tend to be light and fruity, practically void of tannin, perfect attributes for your dinner.  Be aware however that there are different styles of Pinots, especially ones produced in California, so buyer beware.  Look for Burgundian light styles such as France’s Louis Latour Domaine de Valmousine, and California’s Clone 5.  Both of these wines can be had for under $20.

Syrah: Another popular choice for your Thanksgiving spread.  Syrah, or Shiraz as those down under like to call them, features strong fruit and pepper.  Who doesn’t like a little pepper with their food?  Want to start a scandal with Aunt Martha, and some interesting conversation at the dinner table.  Pop open a bottle of Australia’s Fetish Shiraz “The Watcher.”  Available for fewer than twenty bones, it is a fine selection, and just a wee bit racy!

Zinfandel: Nothing says autumn like a good hearty Zin.  This works for much the same reason as Syrah does.  The fruit and pepper are there, but beware.  Some Zins have pronounced tannins.  Stay away from these, and instead try Four Vines “The Biker” Zinfandel with its great jammy fruit and subtle spice.

Beaujolais Nouveau: “Le Beaujolais Nouveau est arrive!” This is the cry that goes out on the third Thursday of every November in France, perfect timing for Thanksgiving in the States.  The Beaujolais Nouveau, made from the Gamay grape is extremely light, fruity and tart.  Unlike other reds is meant to be chilled.  It is an uncomplicated wine that drinks just like the grape juice it is.  This is a fun wine to be quaffed and drank young, within months of its release.  That is the charm of Beaujolais Nouveau and one of the reasons I always make sure I have some for the holiday.  There’s not much difference from producer to producer, but George Duboeuf is a good place to start.  By the way, did I mention they’re cheap?  So pick up a couple extra bottles.  This tends to disappear quickly.

Lots of choices here, and that is the point. I’ve left out Chardonnays, which some people would consider a must.  Muscato or Port for dessert?  I’d even add a sparkling wine for pre dinner toast, or to go with dessert.  A dry rose would be fine selection as well.  Thanksgiving dinner has so many components that many wines can fit.  The main thing is to enjoy what you drink, and don’t let anyone tell you you’re wrong.

I lift my glass to all our readers who have joined Gusteau and me on this journey that we call At the Pass.  We are just getting started, and we have no idea where we are going, but with good friends, good food, and good drink, we look forward to the future and all the friends we hope to make through this venture.  Happy Holidays to all of you!

Chef Gusteau says:  Well done Anton!  I must admit that for some uncanny reason I imagined you saying MY name every time you made comments about wine snobs.  I love your suggestions, and agree with your approach.  Drink what you enjoy and the pairing happens magically for everyone.  As we wine “enthusiasts” (not snobs) say, the only cheap wine is what the other guy brought!  I happen to enjoy Syrah and Zinfandel as my turkey friendly wine.  In fact, it has been discovered that Zinfandel is among the few original wine grapes from the United States, making it the perfect accompaniment for the American tradition of Thanksgiving.  Seriously, enjoy the holidays, and thanks for spending some quality time away from your work and surfing our blog instead!  Happy Holidays!

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