Choosing Thanksgiving wine is a minefield of trying to pair with many flavours of the dinner table and attempting to please all the family. Ray Isle gives us his top tips for finding the perfect bottles...
See the 2016 wine recommendations from William Kelley below
Writing about Thanksgiving wine pairings is, for wine writers, almost as much as yearly ritual as Thanksgiving itself.
And like Thanksgiving, there are traditions involved. For example:
- Stating that turkey in and of itself doesn’t taste like much and therefore one should consider the plethora of side dishes on the table;
- Noting that Pinot Noir and Riesling have been anointed by sommeliers (and many others) as go-to wines that pair with anything;
- Noting that since turkey-day is a deeply American holiday, wines from the US are the appropriate option.
Nothing wrong with all that. However, my suggestion is actually to more or less ignore what’s on the table.
Most Thanksgiving dinners involve a mass of different foods heaped together on a plate: roast turkey, gravy, stuffing, green beans, mashed potatoes, yams, cranberry sauce, and the list goes on. One bite may be turkey (white meat? dark? with gravy? without?); the next a brussel sprout (roasted? steamed? buttered?); then yams with marshmallows on top (in our house, at least; see above tradition).
Worrying about pairing a specific wine with all that seems a bit far-fetched.
Instead, I’d suggest that Thanksgiving wine choices are really more about pairing wines with people. To put it another way, a holiday dinner isn’t the time to try to convince your father-in-law that an orange-hued, skin-fermented Ribolla Gialla is a better idea with the roast bird than the affordable red Bordeaux, which he’s had at every Thanksgiving dinner since time immemorial. Better to give him a wine that will make him happy, and keep the family peace.
What kind of Thanksgiving guest are you?
To that end, I’d suggest slotting your Thanksgiving guests into one of three categories:
- Old School
- Moderately Adventurous
- Off the Wall
In my case, for instance, a large number of elderly in-laws would likely stage an armed rebellion at our Thanksgiving dinner if there wasn’t Chardonnay on the table.
On the other hand, if the in-laws suddenly decided to go on a lengthy cruise during November and I were able to invite my wine-geek friends, they’d all be appalled to find affordable Chardonnay on the table; a bottle of Jura Savagnin or two, though, and they’d be thrilled. With that approach in mind, here are some excellent Thanksgiving dinner options, at various prices.
Find Thanksgiving recipes on Decanter.com
Simplest Roast Turkey Contributed by Dana Cowin Cooking time: 5 hours Serves: 10-12 Course: Main Skill level: Easy Ingredients: One 13- to 15-pound…
Sausage-and-Bread Stuffing Contributed by Grace Parisi Cooking time: 2 hours Serves: 12 Course: Side Skill level: Easy Ingredients: 1 stick unsalted butter, plus…
Pumpkin Pie Bars Contributed by Sarah Jordan Cooking time: 1 hour 45 minutes Serves: 1 tray Course: Dessert Skill level: Easy Ingredients: 1/4 cup…
Old-Fashioned Apple Pie Contributed by AJ Perry Cooking time: 4 hours 30 Minutes Serves: 8 Course: Dessert Skill level: Medium Ingredients: Crust 2 1/2 cups…
The Thanksgiving wine options
Chosen by Decanter contributor William Kelley
Foxglove, Chardonnay, Central Coast 2013 A crisp, unoaked Chardonnay, versatile at the table and stunningly well-priced. Foxglove is the second label of the Varner Brothers, whose complex, Burgundian-styled Chardonnays from the Santa Cruz Mountains and Santa Barbara are keenly sought after by connoisseurs. Juicy and pure, with aromas and flavours of yellow citrus, honeysuckle and apple.
Suggested retail price: $12
Stockists US: Widely available including Woods (MI), Wine House (CA), K&L (CA), Wine Library (NJ), Westchester Wine (NY), MacArthur Beverages (DC)
Stockists UK: Borough Wines, Stannary St Wine Co
Coudert, Fleurie Clos de la Roilette, Beaujolais, Burgundy 2015 Cru Beaujolais is a winning combination with Thanksgiving fare, and the additional power and richness of the 2015 vintage makes this wine a good introduction for those new to the region. Notes of ripe cherry, rich soil and woodsmoke lead into an ample, plush wine, its chassis of savoury tannin nicely enrobed in rich fruit.
Suggested retail price: $25
Stockists US: Widely available including Vin Chicago (IL), Garnet (NY), Wineworks (NJ), Ancona’s (CT), Dion’s (MA), Tower (GA), Acker Merrall & Condit (NY)
Stockists UK: Lea & Sandeman
Ridge Vineyards, Three Valleys Zinfandel, Sonoma County 2014 Ridge’s Three Valleys bottling is another great-value, versatile choice for Thanksgiving. A Zinfandel-dominated blend, bursting with blackberry and raspberry fruit, subtly framed by new oak, 2014 is a great success for this historic winery.
Stony Hill, Chardonnay, Napa Valley 2010 Stony Hill’s Chardonnays are true classics: aged in neutral wood without malolactic fermentation, vintages from the 1970s are still drinking well today. Notes of ripe lemon, white flowers and green apple lead into an intense and vibrant wine with beautiful length and balance.
Eyrie Vineyards, Original Vines Pinot Gris, Dundee Hills, Oregon 2014 One of the most singular wines produced in North America, the Eyrie Vineyard’s old Pinot Gris vines have turned out a lovely 2014, bursting with aromas and flavours of poached pear, tangerine, ginger and subtle smoke; textural and mult-dimensional on the palate. A great match with Turkey.
Schramsberg, J Schram, North Coast, California 2007 Schramsberg’s J Schram, a Chardonnay-dominated blend which represents only 2% of the winery’s production, is a wonderful all-American choice for Thanksgiving. It is sufficiently rich and powerful to work well at the table – a complex bouquet of candied citrus, brioche and buttered apples introduces a full-bodied, nicely-balanced and altogether gastronomic sparkling wine.
Suggested retail price: $120
Stockists US: Widely available including Wine.com (CA), Gillette Ridge (CT), Wine Library (NJ), Michael’s (FL), Wine House (CA), Applejack (CO), Vin Chicago (IL), Sunfish Cellars (MN)
Marc Delienne, Avalanche de Printemps, Fleurie, Beaujolais 2015 This new domaine in Fleurie is the creation of Marc Delienne, who quit his job in Paris and moved to Beaujolais (after a stint with Eloi Durbach at Domaine de Trévallon). 2015, his debut vintage, suggests that this is very much an address to watch, for Delienne has produced expressive wines, bursting with notes of rose petal, ripe fruit and blood orange; youthful, vibrant and authoritative on the palate.
Off the Wall
Stolpman Vineyards, Combe Trousseau Pét-Nat, Ballard Canyon, Central Coast 2015 It doesn’t get much more eclectic than sparkling Trousseau. This is a deliciously refreshing wine, with aromas and flavours of lemon oil and wheat toast, balanced by ripe acidity and an elegant mousse. Low alcohol (11.8% ABV) makes this safe to knock back with abandon.
Jacques Puffeney, Trousseau Les Bérangères, Arbois, Jura 2014 Jacques Puffeney, the ‘Pope of the Jura’ is now in retirement, but his last vintage of Trousseau is still on the market. A lovely bright, acid-driven red, laden with notes of crisp red berries and subtle herbs. Juicy and invigorating, an antidote to the heaviness of the Thanksgiving feast.
Kalin Cellars, Pinot Noir Cuvée DD, Sonoma County 1999 The latest release from Kalin Cellars, California wine’s best-kept secret, this is always a beautifully Burgundian bottling. Its complex fruit tones are complemented by nuances of forest floor, raw cocoa and woodsmoke. Classical and sophisticated, the 1999 is fully mature and drinking well.
Ray Isle is executive wine editor at Food & Wine magazine