As a chef, during the holiday season I am frequently asked what I prepare for Thanksgiving, and the conversation at some point usually includes drink preferences. The traditional Thanksgiving meal includes a complex variety of flavors. Add to that a larger-than-usual group of people with their own wine preferences and you have a dilemma—a good one—but a dilemma. Thanks to the enormous variety of wines with which we are blessed, picking one or two wines to please everyone at the table and finding that perfect pairing is intimidating at best.
When it comes to wine, the first rule with any meal should be drink what you like, but consider the foods being served. Turkey, roast or ham, stuffing or dressing, yams, any number of vegetable preparations and cranberry sauce—this meal features a multitude of both sweet and savory on one plate. Given the scenario, I’m recommending three wines, a riesling, a dry rosé and a pinot noir. As a bonus, none of these will break the bank.
For a riesling, why not try the wine most consumed on the transcontinental voyages of the Zeppelins (including the Hindenburg) in the 1920s and 1930s. The Max Ferdinand Richter Mülheimer Sonnenlay is that wine. You’ll recognize it by the striking Art Deco label designed by Bauhaus artist Hans Schlosser. It has the friendly fruit and acidity of green apples and lemon, lending it an almost frizzante quality (seemingly, but not really carbonated) which helps it clear the palate and balance the richer attributes of the meal. The lingering finish allows one to enjoy the experience of sunshine in a bottle. And did I mention that it goes great with the turkey? Or spicy foods? Or cheese or sweet potatoes? Or while you’re preparing for the festivities.
The La Closerie des Lys Les Fruitières Rosé 2015 is another wonderful companion to the holiday table. A blend of grapes from the foothills of the French Pyrenees, this wine is floral and has the characteristic strawberries and lighter fruits of a respectable rosé. Its acidity helps balance the more robust flavors of the table, like roast lamb, Brussels sprouts, cheeses and cheese sauces, or that green bean casserole with mushroom soup and onions on top.
For those that prefer a red wine, keep in mind that this is not necessarily the meal for a big California cabernet or zinfandel (unless that’s the wine you absolutely love). I suggest something more along the lines of a pinot noir, specifically the Calera 2014 Pinot Noir from the Central Coast of California. This wine exhibits generous fruit—red berries and the like. It also has a pleasant spice (think pepper and cloves) that would resonate with the piquant elements of the meal, like black pepper in mashed potatoes, herbs in the dressing, and whatever variety of spices and citrus you use in the cranberry sauce. Its medium body and finish won’t obliterate the milder flavors of the meal, and it’s flavorful enough to sip after the feast with a slice of pumpkin pie or a little chocolate in any form.
An oft overlooked point, more than pairing wines with food, more than your guests’ preferences and particulars, more than your own personal entertaining style with wine—don’t run out. Just please keep in mind that the most important aspect of the holiday table is not what’s on it, but what’s around it.