Choosing the Right Wine for Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving wine

The following advice on choosing the right wine to go with your turkey and stuffing is from Natalie Berkowitz, author of The Winemaker’s Hand: Conversations on Talent, Technique, and Terroir:

The Pilgrims couldn’t have imagined how their fabled first Thanksgiving would morph into the glorious holiday all Americans treasure. New information redefines the myths surrounding that celebration, but whether fact or fiction, Thanksgiving is embedded, even sanctified, as America’s premier national holiday. Wherever we came from, we all have reason to celebrate the unifying holiday.

Variations of the iconic dinner are prepared in most kitchens across our country. While preparation of the meal may differ from culture to culture, from palate to palate, and from one culinary preference to another, a question often posed is which wine pairs the best with these elaborate meals.

Some good advice begins with the choice of wines with a lower alcohol level ranging from 10 to 12%. A light red wine is considered the best partner for the multicourse dinner, although my friend Michaela Rodeno, former CEO of St. Supéry Wines in Napa suggests champagne or sparkling wine as a perfect pairing. I agree wholeheartedly. There’s no question several other wines are a fine choice when our palates are challenged by an overabundance of holiday foods and we tend to recoil from wines with intense flavors.

Within the range of light wines, there are many to choose from. One of the best is Beaujolais Nouveau, a wine often referred to as “refreshment in a bottle.” Banners in wine shops announce the yearly arrival of Beaujolais Nouveau with fanfare in November, just in the nick of time for the holiday season. The wine is young and fresh, a step away from grape juice, hot off the wine press, bottled two months after fermentation and ready for immediate consumption. It’s meant to be drunk without intense examination. Think of them as adolescents in a glass, a middle ground between white and red wines. Best of all, these wines are accessible since their alcohol levels normally range between 10 and 10.5%, it is suitable for a range of guests from kiddies (diluted with water, of course!) right up to grandparents. It solves the problem of whether to pour red or white.

The Beaujolais region lies just to the south of its more famous neighbor, Burgundy, whose wines are ranked among the best in France. The region has been producing wine since the time of the Romans, and many of the vineyards were planted centuries ago, proof of its longevity and popularity. Unfortunately, these wines can sometimes be thin and lackluster, but finding a lovely version is a worthwhile venture. Reliable bottlers are Bouchard Aîné & Fils, George Du Boeuf, and Louis Jadot.

Wine lovers of a serious sort may turn their noses up at this wine, questioning whether a light wine is as enjoyable as its big, bolder siblings. Since these inexpensive wines are one step away from grape juice, their attractiveness lies in their reasonable prices, and qualities that make them as an easy quaff, light on the palate, yet flavorful enough to pair with this rich dinner. Beaujolais Villages, a step up in quality is produced in several areas in the eponymous region, are more sophisticated and relatively inexpensive. They range from $8.99 to about $15.

Pinot Noir whether from the Carneros region of California, the Burgundy region in France, or Oregon can be a crowd pleaser when it is produced well. Ask for guidance about the wine in your local wine shop in order to avoid those with funky or too earthy flavors. A wine like Little Penguin from Australia or two styles of the varietal in Little Rabbit French whose California Pinots are sold in a Tetrapak are drinkable, especially at a price of around $7 a bottle. They won’t break the bank, especially if there is a large crowd at table.

Now we come to my all time favorite, Zinfandel, the red varietal (not that inexpensive pink stuff) that’s great if something more flavorful is your fancy. Go for a red (again I reiterate red) Zinfandel by Seghesio from Sonoma or, Frog’s Leap from Napa Valley. Zin is particularly suited to the holiday meals because of its generally smooth, slightly peppery, and satisfyingly delicious flavors.

All these wines complement a variety of food, don’t require decanting, or a certain temperature for serving. And any of them will make a happy holiday even happier.

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