I am thankful for…wine! And the best advice I can give for a stress-free Thanksgiving holiday is to keep a glass of vino nearby before, during, and after the big meal. It doesn’t even have to be excellent wine—just something that’s refreshing and takes the edge off.
Planning a multi-dish feast for your nearest and dearest and coordinating the logistics of fitting a houseful of people around your table for dinner is arduous enough, so don’t fret over the perfect bottle. Do, however, be sure to err on the side of extra—one bottle per of-age guest is sensible. Besides, leftovers are the best part of Thanksgiving anyway, and wine can certainly fall under that category. Don’t make yourself crazy by selecting multiple bottles to side with every last side dish. Stick with one red and one white to carry you through the course of the meal. If you want a little something extra, splurge for a sparkling wine or rose to kick off the festivities, both of which can act as a failsafe backup.
Make mine Italian
Wines from the base of Sicily’s Mount Etna posses a kindred spirit to the wines of Beaujolais, with their energy and lightness. Mount Etna is one of the most active volcanoes in Europe, with regular smolderings of ash and lava, and the vines growing at its feet thrive on the deposits of rocky, volcanic soil. The nutrient-poor earth creates wines with minerality and acidity specific to this region of Italy. The 2009 Meraviglie A Picca A Picca Etna Rosso is made with the elegant nerello mascalese grape indigenous to this area, and will set you back $19.95 for a bottle at Tastings. It rivals gamay with its brimming cherry notes, yet offers a peppery spice more reminiscent of syrah.
Sangiovese, hailing from Tuscany, is also a fine partner for complex feasts, as it retains acidity while having enough backbone to stand up to the bird. Focusing our attention on American version instead (for the sake of the holiday), I chose the 2008 Pietra Santa sangiovese from Cienega Valley, California. Characteristically, it is similar to its Italian counterparts with notes of tobacco leaves and earth, but with an added juiciness that your guests are likely to enjoy ($16.95 at Tastings).
Barbera d’Alba takes the prize for most versatile red wine, with or without food. It is luciously juicy with just enough grip to give the wine texture and weight. It’s the classic “table wine” in Piedmonte, which is also responsible for gems like Barolo and Barbaresco, which often steal the spotlight. Thanksgiving is Barbera’s time to shine. The 2009 Montaribaldi “Du Gir” barbera d’alba is a crowd pleaser to say the least. The wine loves turkey, cornbread stuffing, and Aunt Celeste’s green bean casserole. You name it, and they’ll get along swimmingly.
Finds from France
I tend to gravitate toward Italian wines, which are both versatile and usually affordable, when it comes to pairing with classic holiday dishes. But if you love French wines, there are Burgundys and Beaujolais that would make any turkey swoon. Beware, though, they can be difficult to serve for a crowd, as the price tag is often hefty.
You may have noticed the Beaujolais Nouveau cases stacked at the end of grocery store and wine shop aisles around this time each year. This is not the same Beaujolais I’m referring to here. Beaujolais Nouveau is fermented for just a few weeks, making the wine light in body and color, youthful in vigor, and always released the third Thursday of November. These wines are intended for immediate consumption, whereas wines from specific appellations in Beaujolais are smooth, ageable, and perfect for Thanksgiving. My unbridled choice is the 2010 Jean-Paul Thevenet Morgon. It helps that 2010 was a particularly ripe year and excellent vintage, rounding out the tartness and showing more fruit and earthiness. Tastings still has a few cases at $35.95 per bottle, so stock up while you can.
If you’re willing to shell out a little extra, the Domain Besson “Le Petit Pretan” 2010 Givry Premier Cru is worth the splurge. At $37.95 from Tastings, this quintessential Thanksgiving wine warrants its price tag. Known for its cheerful acidity and lean fruit, a good burgundy is just plain hard to beat. If you’re hosting a small, wine-savvy crowd, invest in a few bottles, but know that it’s not for everybody. Pinot noir from Burgundy is much leaner than new world styles like the Doman Besson, with less jammy fruit, more earth, and quite a bit of acidity, making it a more universally friendly pairing wine.
Once you’re seated at the table and facing whatever spread you’ve treated your guests to, certain aspects of the meal will call for a white wine. Chenin Blanc is often a sommelier’s pick for its off-dryness, tropical fruit notes, and aromatics. Vouvray, France, is a good region to find respectable chenin blanc, even if the grape isn’t mentioned on the label. Jacky Blot’s Domaine de la Taille aux Loups “Les Cabroches” is the perfect balance of piercing and honeyed, and can be picked up at Tastings for $22.95. The wine is rich but not cloying, and will be a hit from the pre-meal appetizers down to the last bite of apple pie.
I also can’t get enough of the white wines from Piedmonte, Italy, namely arneis. This varietal is medium bodied, and its persona is not strongly defined by any one attribute, which makes it perfect for pairing with food. The 2012 Collina Serra Grilli “Quantus” Roero arneis fits the bill with unassuming notes of grapefruit and citrus which will perfectly complement the vegetables alongside your turkey.
These particular bottles have found their way into my own kitchen on Thanksgiving, but they’re just a representation of the types of wines that go well with turkey and mashed potatoes. On a day centered around food and gratefulness, drink what you like, and try to relax.