The traditional Thanksgiving menu with its sweet, heavy and assertively flavored dishes is a challenge to a host or hostess choosing a wine. On the one hand, region of roigin does not seem to be an important variable. You could choose a bottle from as far north as Germany or as far south as Chile and not go wrong. But on the other hand not every wine goes well with this kind of meal. What does seem to matter is that the wine be relatively well-made and at least lightly fruity; whites should not be austere or steely, and no matter what the color, the wine should be neither too acidic nor to tannic.
Another factor that should be considered is cost. The gathering of a large family could require four or more bottles. If expensive wines were served their cost could easily surpass that of the food.
This Thanksgiving I wanted to serve American wines. In particular I wanted to share with my family some of the wines produced in the District of Columbia's hinterland that I enjoyed during the past year. In addition, I wanted a few wines from the West Coast.
With these factors in mind, I tested three sets of wines: light, fruity whites, dry roses, and beaujolais-style reds. I included a highly rated French beaujolais to see if it was noticeably different from its U.S. cousins. It wasn't! Each group contained some wines I was not familiar with but which were highly recommended by retailers. All bottles ranged in price from the equivalent of $2.50 (for example, a 1.5 liter jug for $5) to $7 per bottle in D.C.
Each set was subjected to a double blind-tasting (people did not know the names of the wines in each glass) with a Thanksgiving style dinner of turkey roasted with a sausage-and-apply stuffing, candied sweet potatoes, gravy, cranberry sauce and salads.
The tasting panel consisted of three serious and experienced wine lovers and three casual wine drinkers who know and enjoy good food.
The results were surprising:
1) The food so affected our sense of taste that some of the wines we had enjoyed in the past without food or with other kinds of dishes did not show well against Thanksgiving fare.
2) In all three groups jug wines were the most preferred. At Thanksgiving they will provide a lot of pleasure and value for the money.
3) Whites, roses and reds all went with the meal. There was, however, a wide range of feelings about many of the wines. Because of the diversity of tastes among the six people on my panel, I recommend serving more than one kind of wine if you are having a lot of people to dinner.
Here are comparisons within each group. Evaluations are based only on how well the wines went with the meal. WHITES Most Preferred
Souverain North Coast Colombard Blanc, 1979. About $5 for a 1.5 liter jug. This wine had a lot of character, with an intense, fruity, slightly sweet aroma. In the mouth it was fruity, tart, and off-dry.
Foppiano Northern California Chenin Blanc, 1979, $6 to $6.50 for a 1.5 liter jug. This is a dry chenin blanc, and some people may find it too dry for turkey. It had an intense fruity bouquet within which some off aromas were detected. The taste was fruity and slightly flinty.
Byrd Vidal Blanc, N.V., $4. This Maryland wine had a light fruity aroma. It was spritzy (had small bubbles in it), dry slightly flinty, rich, and easy to drink. Some found its fruitiness nondescript. Controversial
Byrd Seyval Blanc, N.V., $4. Some tasters felt this Maryland wine went well with the food but was uninteresting. Others liked the wine alone but felt it was overwhelmed by the food.
Montbray Seyve Villard, 1979. This Maryland wine had a lot of oak in it which a few people did not like. I felt the oak gave the wine character and stamina against sweet and strongly flavored foods. The wine is bottled straight from the cask and those bottles filled first have less oak than those filled later. If you like a wine with a lot of oak, choose a bottle with a high vat number, found on the back label. Our bottle came from vat 106. Disliked
Meredyth Seyval Blanc, 1978, $3.75-$4.25. This Virginia wine did not show well against the food, though two people liked it. Some off aromas were detected.
HMR, Hoffman Vineyards, Franken Riesling, 1979, $3.50-$4. One of the experts liked it but nobody else did. Off aromas and strange taste were a common complaint. DRY ROSES Most Liked
Souvarian North Coast Pinot Noir Rose, $3.29-$3.75, $5 for 1.5 liters. With turkey it is light, pleasant, slightly fruity, cherry-like, with slight initial sweetness that is offset by tartness so it finishes dry and clean. Controversial
Caymus Vineyards, Oeil de Perdrix, Rose of Pinot Noir, estate bottled, 1978, $6.70-$7. This was considered light and easy to drink but lacking in character. For this reason some tasters did not care for it. Disliked
Simi Alexander Valley Rose of Cabernet Sauvignon 1978, $4.25-$4.80. All but one person felt this wine had an odd aroma or taste. REDS Most Preferred
BV, Beaulieu Vineyard, Napa Valley Burgundy, NV, $6-$6.50 for a 1.5 liter jug. This wine was the first choice of two of the experts and one of the non-experts. With the dinner it was rich and fruity with a slightly buttery aroma.
Stags Leap Wine Cellars Napa Valley Beaujolais 1979, $5-$5.50. This wine had a light fruity aroma, was pleasant, but considered not dry enough for some.
Beaujolais (French) 1979 by Francois Protheau et Fils, $4950-$5.25. The flavor and aroma of this wine were weaker than those of the Stags Leap. The wine was acceptable but nothing special.
A. Rafanelli Sonoma County (Dry Creek Valley) unfiltered Gamay Beaujolais 1978, $5.75-$6.25. Beaujolais-like, good fruity nose with the aroma of berries, but it had a few flaws. Controversial
Meredyth Virginia Marechal Foch 1978, $4.30-$5. One of the experts found it spicy and excellent with the meal. Others felt it was not compatible. This wine has an intense fruity, pungent aroma. In the mouth it is tart. (Montbray Wine Cellar Red Table Wine, NV, $5.50-$6 is also made from the Marechal Foch grape. It is less pungent than the Meredyth. Unfortunately, I was not able to get any for this tasting).
Foppiano Northern California Burgundy, NV. $4.50-$5 for a 1.5 liter jug, $6.50-$7 for a 3 liter jug. Two of the experts liked this wine a lot; one even compared it to a good 1978 commune beaujolais. The third expert and one of the non-experts perceived a chemical smell in the aroma. Disliked
J. Lohr Monterey Gamay 1978, $3.75-$4.25. Opinions ranged from okay, tiring to drink, to not good with this meal. All but one of the tasters found the wine flawed by off aromas or flavors.
NOTE: The whites and roses should be served well chilled. Keep them refrigerated for six hours before serving. The reds can be served slightly chilled. Refrigerate 750 ml. bottles for about 45 minutes, 1.5 liter jugs for two hours.