All together, now: deep breaths. Stay calm. Don’t sweat about the wine for Thanksgiving.
Yes, it’s time for my annual reminder that you have much more to worry about than selecting wine for the holiday feast. There’s the menu, the timing, the seating arrangement around your loud relative who won’t stop yammering even as he’s stuffing his face with your food.
To be honest, the great national anxiety over which wine goes with turkey is a hob-gobble-goblin invented by wine writers desperate to stuff an article with seasonal advice. A cottage industry of wine snobbery has developed around the concept that turkey is a wine killer.
Nonsense. The turkey is just a big chicken, as they say. Whatever you drink with chicken will be just fine with the holiday bird.
(I’m not making this up. The very first wine article ever published by Hugh Johnson, the venerable British wine writer profiled in this space a few weeks ago, was in the British edition of Vogue magazine in 1960 — and it was about pairing wines with Christmas turkey. The article is included in an anthology, “Hugh Johnson on Wine: The Good Bits From 55 Years of Scribbling,” to be published in the United States in the spring.)
The wine-food conundrum for Thanksgiving stems from the plethora of dishes, spices and flavors on the table and on our plates all at once, rather than in orderly courses. Too often our wine-food pairings become wine-protein pairings, and we forget the sauces, spices, textures and vegetables that are also part of our dining experience.
My annual advice remains the same: Open one of everything. Or at least, a wide assortment of wines that will go well with the variety of dishes on your holiday table. Find wines you like at prices you can afford for the occasion. For example, pinot noir is a classic favorite because of its ability to play nicely with a variety of foods. But you might not want to buy a premier cru Burgundy unless you’re having turkey dinner for two. Feel free to offer a nice pinot from Oregon or California.
Think of Thanksgiving as a wine opportunity, not a challenge. Make a game of it: Compare several wines of various grapes and styles, tasting them with each dish on your table. While you’re avoiding conversation with your relatives, you’ll give yourself a clinic in wine and food pairings. What you learn will carry you through until next year’s gathering.
Here are some basic guidelines: Bubbles go with everything. Sparkling wines, including champagne and Spanish cava, are extremely versatile. The bubbles are palate-cleansing and refreshing, especially with salty or deep-fried dishes.
Fruity white wines, such as Riesling or grüner veltliner, also are friendly with a wide variety of foods and flavors. From bone-dry to sweet, the classically versatile Riesling can match nearly every dish’s acidity, spiciness or texture.
If you prefer red wines, pinot noir, barbera and gamay are classic pairs with a diverse assortment of foods. At the heavier end of the spectrum, syrah and nebbiolo also are good choices.
This year, I’ll be thankful for my family and friends, as well as for this wonderful country of ours. And I’ll be especially thankful there is plenty of wine in my house.