Right about now, you hear a lot of Thanksgiving wine advice. But why? Why is Thanksgiving food and wine pairing such a challenge?
One reason is simply that it’s one of the few meals where we pay close attention. Most times, it works to plunk a bottle of whatever you like on the table. But for Thanksgiving, every dish is scrutinized and planned for, and so is the wine that goes with them. And most of us are just unused to that level of food and wine pairing scrutinization.
But the bigger reason Thanksgiving food and wine pairing is such a challenge is that the Thanksgiving meal has so much going on. It’s a minefield of tastes and textures! All of which effect wine pairing.
Now, when I talk about different tastes and textures, I don’t mean nuances like herbal, earthy, buttery, and fruity, although those may be present at the table and they can come into play with food and wine pairing.
But if you’ve heard me talk about it, read my books, or been following along on my blog, you know that what matters most in food and wine pairing are the broad characteristics of food and wine, not the nuances. And those broad characteristics are: sweetness (or lack thereof), acidity, tannins (or bitterness), weight, and intensity.
So let’s evaluate Thanksgiving with those in mind.
Some dishes are sweet (candied yams, cranberry sauce, a dressing with dried fruit), which would indicate one kind of wine, while others are savory (turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy), which would indicate another. Some dishes are bright and acidic (salad, green vegetables, cranberry sauce), which would indicate yet another kind of wine, while others are weighty and rich (mashed potatoes, creamed corn, a dressing with sausage and mushrooms), which would indicate another wine again.
Long story short, when there are one or two dishes on the table, it’s easy to find a wine that’ll work with them. But because Thanksgiving involves so many more, and they have such diverse broad characteristics, it’s almost impossible for any wine to be ideal.
So—good news! The pressure for perfection is off! You can relax and enjoy!
Here, then, are a few strategies for doing just that:
Serve an off-dry wine, like Riesling or Gewurztraminer. A wine with a little bit of sweetness—not a dessert wine but one with just a touch of sugar—will work with the little bit of sweetness in the overall meal.
Serve a middle-of-the-road wine, like Chardonnay or Pinot Noir. In the spectrum of light to heavy, these wines tend to be in the middle, Chardonnay being heavy for a white and Pinot Noir being light for a red. So they’ll sort of split the difference between the lighter and the heavier foods on the table.
Serve something festive, like sparkling wine, a Cabernet Sauvignon you’ve been saving, or a magnum of something. If no wine is ideal, why not serve one that’s special and exciting?
Serve a combination of the above, and let everyone drink what they like. After all, the most important thing about food and wine pairing is to have fun, experiment, and enjoy.
What’s the worst that can happen? It’s a holiday. It’s about appreciation. It’s all good.
I’ll drink to that. Happy Thanksgiving.