Whether you go with the traditional turkey with sage and onion stuffing, giblet gravy, candied yams, and cranberry sauce; put a cultural twist on it, with a chipotle rubbed bird, red chili gravy and cornbread chorizo stuffing; or go the vegan route with a mound of riced potatoes shaped like a bird and glazed with browned butter with all those wonderful vegetable side dishes, Thanksgiving is a dinner you can sink your teeth into. But what to drink with it has been debated for many decades.
Every Turkey Day, the family sommelier faces the perplexing question: do I go with something sweet that can stand up to candied yams and tart cranberry sauce and keep Mom happy? Or go with Beaujolais Nouveau because it’s available now, red and fruity? Decisions, decisions.
Thanksgiving wines shouldn’t be intimidating. This is not the time to pull out that bottle you’ve been cellaring for a while. Serve something familiar, homey and delicious enough for those neophytes to be satisfied and thoughtful enough for wine lovers to appreciate.
Pairing wine with roasted, brined or deep fried turkey is a piece of cake but short of a dessert wine, nothing is sweet enough to do battle with yams blanketed with toasted marshmallows.
Dry, high alcohol wines will perish with all that sugar and salt. And white wines need a decent amount of acidity to cleanse your palate. Uncomplicated, fruity wines with a little residual sugar are the best recourse for matching with these courses.
Some of the better partners for Thanksgiving dinner, in my opinion, are Alsatian whites, German Rieslings, Grenache blends from France or Spain and Tempranillo from Spain or the West Coast. Pinot Noir, contrary to some opinions, has never worked for me with all those strong flavors dished up at Thanksgiving- unless, of course, it’s in the bubbly.
Balance is the key for the perfect pairing. For a white, think Riesling or one of those soft, slightly sweet Pinot Gris. For reds, fruity and friendly, low alcohol Zinfandels, Tempranillo or even Carmenere would work well.
Every holiday dinner should begin with something celebratory and good. At my table, nothing says celebrate better than a bottle of bubbly. The pop of the cork signals the start of the celebration. And it’s off to the races from there.
Given the tradition of the day, here are some American bubblies with good acidity and a core of fruit to consider: Chateau Ste. Michelle’s extra dry which is actually slightly sweeter in style than a brut despite its description; Oregon’s Argyle brut or Washington’s Treveri Cellars would grace any table. Treveri produces several Columbia Valley sparkling wines you should try. Three that would be perfect for this occasion would be their sparkling Riesling, Gewurztraminer or Syrah. You will be impressed! These sparklers range in price from $10.49 to $23.
White wines to serve, could be California’s Oak Grove Pinot Grigio which is soft, fruity with crisp citrus flavors. Or Wine by Joe Pinot Gris from Oregon that has wonderful flavors of citrus, pear, and green apple with refreshing acidity. Both are under $10, so stock up for the holidays.
But Riesling is really the best white to serve. And Washington makes second best – after Germany, of course.
Pacific Rim Riesling from Columbia Valley is a delicious off dry, richly fruity wine packed with peach, apricot flavors with a hint of wet stone. Milbrandt Riesling scored high with its fresh, lively stone fruit flavors and juicy acidity. These guys have been growing from in the Columbia Valley for generations. Latah Creek Columbia Valley Riesling is filled with flavors of green apple, ripe pear and spice with a crisp finish.
Jones of Washington Columbia Valley Riesling is an orange blossom special touched with pineapple and fresh picked apples. He also makes an estate Pinot Gris from the Ancient Lakes AVA that would perk a lot of interest at the table.
Two Mountain Winery Rattlesnake Hills Riesling is another crisp refreshing wine with a nice balance of pear, citrus, and minerals on the palate.
Red wines are trickier than white but if you make sure the alcohol is around 13% or less and there is a modicum of fruit, your chosen one will be a hit. With that in mind here are a few grape suggestions: Lemberger, Tempranillo and Baco Noir.
Lemberger, a dark-skinned grape from Austria, is typically fruity with ripe plum and black cherry and a hint of pepper. It does well in colder climates where it goes by a more mellifluous name of Blaufränkisch.
Look for Kiona Vineyards and Winery on Red Mountain, the largest grower of Lemberger in the United States. Others include Alexandria Nicole Cellars, FairWinds Winery, Kana Winery Olympic Cellars, and Whidbey Island Winery. Priced between $10 and $22.
I had hoped to recommend another grape of Spanish origin from Washington and California that would be fabulous with dinner, but they all went past the affordable for a big dinner party price. So I’m taking you to Spain for delicious, affordable and the perfect reds for Thanksgiving.
The best made and priced would be the Campo de Borja Borsao Red from La Mancha, Spain. With its intense, smoky, black cherry and spicy flavors, this wine is a blend of mostly Grenache and a dollop of Tempranillo this wine is a deep ruby/purple color.
From Valencia, the El Prado Red is another blend this time Tempranillo and Cabernet. It’s a medium bodied with raspberry and current flavors. And from Rioja, with 100% Tempranillo is the Cune Rioja Crianza. The toasty, cherry flavors are smooth and satisfying.
Also from Spain but made in Prosser is the Red Diamond Temperamental. Red Diamond sources grapes from the best locations around the world. This Spanish blend offers flavors of berries and plum has a silky smooth finish.
Garnacha de Fuego Old Vines from Calatayud is another intensely flavored wine that emphasizes fruit. Mostly black cherry but there are plum and raspberry with smooth tannins and a long finish.
The best thing about these wines is the price – all under $10 and most around $7. So, stock up on these affordable wines, because there are more holiday dinners in your immediate future.
Have a warm and happy Thanksgiving.