There are several myths about Thanksgiving and wine, and I’m sorry to say that they have been propagated by lazy wine writers looking for an easy November column. Unfortunately, they have the effect of making our wine choices for the feast more stressful than they ought to be. Wine writers should not be making this harder; we’re here to take the stress away by pointing you to the sure things, the wines that offer more value than their price would suggest.
Here are four myths, debunked:
No wine can stand up to the Thanksgiving meal. That baloney stems from the logic of pairing wines to a progression of courses during a meal. Start with poached oysters, and your sommelier might recommend a nice minerally chablis. Follow that with roast pheasant and mushrooms; a grand cru Burgundy would seem to be in order. But roast those oysters inside a turkey served with mushroom gravy, cranberry sauce and marshmallowed sweet potatoes — well, the sommelier runs screaming from the room. The challenge isn’t the food. It’s the cacophony of flavors together on the plate.
Maybe, just maybe, no single wine can stand up to all that. But several wines together can put up a good defense. So open a variety, and use the Thanksgiving feast as an experiment in wine-and-food pairing. You’ll probably have enough people around the table to need more than one bottle of each.
Only American wines are appropriate for an American holiday. Again, wine writers stretching for a theme. There is certainly nothing wrong with having only American wines this Thursday, but I see no problem in celebrating our European or South American heritage with imported wines. (Of course, taking that argument to its logical conclusion, I’ll be drinking Scotch.) Don’t let the Wine Police intimidate you into drinking something you don’t want to drink.
Only sweet wines work with turkey and the trimmings. The idea stems from the maxim that the wine should be sweeter than the food and from the wine writer’s fear of those sweet potatoes and that blob of cranberry jelly. It also gives the writer a chance to pat himself on the back for mentioning Riesling and Gewurztraminer once a year. I love Gewurz and usually do open one from the Finger Lakes on Thanksgiving. But dry wines work, too, as long as they are sufficiently fruity and balanced with adequate acidity to cut through the heaviness of the food.
Pinot noir is the perfect Thanksgiving wine. Well, we’re getting closer to some truth, at least. Writers love any excuse to sample and write about pinot, but its attraction for Thanksgiving lies in its versatility with food. And its versatility comes from its medium weight and relatively high acidity. Other wines are equally versatile: Barbera, Beaujolais and dolcetto among reds, and Riesling among whites are prime examples. So don’t feel you have to limit yourself to pinot noir.
So what are our takeaways from this discussion? With all those relatives coming over, you have more to worry about than wine pairings for the turkey. Just be sure to have a variety of wines, and to have enough.
And remember: Bubbles go with everything.