Wine: How to match bottles to Thanksgiving dishes

wine thanksgiving
You'll be rewarded by putting a little thought into your wine pairings for Thanksgiving. (Deb Lindsey for The Washington Post)
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By Dave McIntyre
Special to The Washington Post
Tuesday, November 16, 2010; 2:51 PM

Thanksgiving dinner is stressful enough without sweating over which wine to pair with marshmallow topping. But if you're not so profligate as to follow my strategy - open one of everything and turn the feast into a bacchanalian food-wine pairing clinic - here are some basic guidelines to keep in mind, followed by specific suggestions to try with the Food section's Thanksgiving recipes.

- Try to match the weight of the wine with the weight of the dish: In other words, lighter wines with appetizers and salads, weightier wines with the main course. That's easier when we have a progression of courses rather than a table-groaning smorgasbord of several dishes at once, but it is a good rule nonetheless.

- The seasoning is as important as the food. Spicy heat makes wine taste drier, which is why sweeter wines are traditionally called for with Indian or Chinese food. If you flavor a dish with bacon, look to syrah, with its smoky, meaty character.

- Especially at Thanksgiving, remember that the wine should be sweeter than the food. This maxim applies not only to dessert but also to a main meal in which sweet flavors dominate, as they often do on holiday menus. American wines tend to be a bit sweeter and fruitier than their Old World counterparts (at least in flavor and body, if not in actual sugar content), making them versatile for this kind of banquet.

- Refresh your palate. Remember when fancy restaurants would serve a small scoop of sorbet between courses to perk you up? Sparkling wine does the trick just as well. Don't think of sparkling wine simply as the starter or for a holiday toast. Keep some on hand as a refresher throughout the meal. Besides, bubbles go with everything.

This year's all-American menu, with indigenous dishes from throughout the Western Hemisphere, is a great opportunity to showcase New World wines. Start, of course, with bubbles, such as the Alma Negra Sparkling Chardonnay 2009 ($20) from Argentina. This bracing wine should match well with the shrimp and avocado salad and can serve as a palate cleanser throughout dinner. California sparklers, such as the J Brut Cuvee ($22), are also good choices.

The turkey on this menu has some sweet-spicy flavors, with the maple-accented brine and the mole seasoning. For a white wine pairing, I suggest looking to an unconventional blend, such as Conundrum ($21), a popular and widely available wine from California, or the Arizona Stronghold Tazi 2008 ($23), a savory blend of sauvignon blanc, Chardonnay, Riesling and malvasia bianca from northern Arizona. For a red, the bird's flavors favor a rustic, Rhone-style wine such as the Bonny Doon Le Cigare Volant 2006 ($34), the Chateauneuf-du-Pape-style wine that launched California's Rhone Rangers movement. Another worthy choice (and easier to find) is the Cline Ancient Vines Mourvedre ($18) from Contra Costa County. Zinfandel would be another good choice. These reds should also fare well with Jim Shahin's bourbon-brined smoked turkey.

For dessert, the maple syrup tarts in the all-American menu suggest a Canadian finale, such as the Domaine Pinnacle Ice Apple Wine ($34/375 ml) from Quebec. This unctuous nectar, called cidre de glace in French, is made from apples that are picked and crushed while frozen.

Riesling, an all-purpose, food-friendly wine, would be ideal for the vegan menu and the menu for two. One of the best made in this country is the Eroica from Chateau Ste. Michelle ($25) in Washington's Columbia Valley. Other noteworthy Rieslings include the Chehalem ($21) from Oregon and the Dr. Konstantin Frank ($15) and Hermann J. Wiemer ($17.50) from New York's Finger Lakes.

And if you really can't make up your mind, open one of everything.

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