As pleasantly cool weather settles in and our winter escaping neighbors return to the Cape, the chefs in our families start planning elaborate November feasts. While the Thanksgiving dinner is arguably the most uniform of any meal consumed on a given holiday in this country, there are still incalculably numerous iterations for our turkey, stuffing, potatoes and corn. Styles of preparation and flavor profiles vary based on regional predilections as well as historical influences and cultural traditions. These significant variations in taste mean the gourmands don’t get to have all the fun. Our household oenophiles are ready to revel in the annual task of performing sommelier for this vast multicourse menu presented to a multifarious group of palates. Due to the expansive diversity, no one wine is right or wrong and the potential pairings are as numerous and delicious as grape varietals themselves.
To match a wine with the ubiquitous turkey, it is useful to consider that white meat is worlds apart from dark meat in terms of taste and texture. Most folks are of one persuasion or the other, so it may be nice to offer two different wines that complement the guests’ meat preference. Dark meat aficionados love the rich unctuous qualities encasing the morsels and would be well served with an aromatic Vouvray. The high acidity in the Chenin Blanc grapes will cut the heaviness without adding uncomplimentary citrus flavors that other tart varietals may introduce. Alternatively, since white meat is a drier cut, a lush fruity wine such as a Zinfandel works wonders to liven up the slices. Also, although the Zinfandel grape is derived from Croatian varietals and is a cousin of Italy’s Primitivo, it is grown almost exclusively in the US, making it a patriotic accompaniment to our historically celebratory Thanksgiving holiday.
For the ham lovers, a red wine that is lighter in body and has a strong backbone of acidity will pair very well with a juicy pork loin or citrus glazed offering. Pinot Noir is the best match by far, but for an atypical option, a Valpolicella Classico (not Superiore!) is aged less than a year and can be served slightly chilled as a festive pairing partner to pork.
Side dishes range from heavy cheesy potatoes to light crunchy green beans to luscious cranberry sauce, making it a challenge to pair every bite with its perfect liquid counterpart. That being said, if the majority of sides on the menu are rich carb laden delights, a spicy single varietal Grenache will stand up the stuffing and gravy without overpowering an assortment of lighter veggie options. In contrast, tables boasting a fair number of green choices, such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, spinach and salads can spotlight a Pinot Gris or Spanish Albariño to much gastronomical pleasure. Finally, if the repertoire consists of marshmallow sweet potatoes, glazed carrots, cornbread and maple-roasted anything, serving a succulent Gewürztraminer will delight palates and garner smiles galore.
If family and friends host galas sporting an Italian flair with broccoli rabe and eggplant or showcasing a southern twist with collard greens and okra, there are a few other considerations for the wine selection as well. The aforementioned foods are inherently bitter and will pair best with wines that do not also contain bitter properties. So, elegant pairing partners will not be heavily oaked or tannic wines. An easy to find varietal that is certainly off the beaten path is Grüner Veltliner. This white grape hails from Austria but is grown in numerous vineyards around the world, including some very good renditions in California. However, if the guest list is dominated by less adventurous folks, a dry (not sweet!) Riesling is a more traditional stand-in that will tone down the bitterness for excellent results.
Taking into consideration the preceding paragraphs on diversity, one would be hard pressed to claim any wine wrong or a bad match for a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. However, it is worthy to note that, due to the heaviness of most of the plates, as well as the massive quantities that partygoers are likely to consume, avoiding full bodied, weighty wines is a good (albeit dramatically general) rule to follow. So, save the Cabs, Malbecs and GSM blends for your next winter barbecue and enjoy the Thanksgiving holiday comparing numerous lighter bodied bottles, analyzing each tasty course with loved ones!
By: MaryJane Baker Vu