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Thanksgiving drinks? Try low-octane wines

Carson Demmond's Thanksgiving survival guide...

  • Thanksgiving drinks are about versatility and levity 

  • Try refreshing wine styles with a low ABV

  • How about Pét-Nat sparkling, Riesling, or easy drinking ‘vins de soif’?

Full Thanksgiving survival guide

In the days leading up to Thanksgiving, it’s normal to start stressing over the details. To brine or not to brine? How do I minimize my trips to the grocery store?

Where can I secure enough folding chairs for all of the extra relatives flying in? Selecting wines to accompany the meal should be one of the most uncomplicated, least labor-intensive items on your to-do list.

This is where I invoke the same advice that my wine writing colleagues around the country relate year after year: forget about perfect pairings.

thanksgiving drinks

Forget about matching wines to specific foods on Thanksgiving. Credit: Wine Institute of California

Unless you’re an obsessive host who has planned a multi-course meal that would allow wines to be served in a progression, there’s simply no way to match bottles with all of the diverse flavors associated with the holiday.

More likely, the variety of side dishes will be out of your control, since guests always arrive with their own traditional specialties in tow. My family, for instance, has come to count on me for two particular contributions: my (hopefully fluffy) cracked pepper biscuits, and my bourbon pecan pie.

Think about levity

Versatility, we always say, is a wine’s greatest strength at the Thanksgiving table. I’ll add to that a second key attribute – levity. And here’s why:

Hardly anyone waits for the turkey to be carved before pouring a first glass.

The drinking usually starts hours earlier – while attending to the mashed potatoes over the stove, “advance sampling” your aunt’s squash gratin, mingling on the porch as guests begin to trickle in, or, as is frequently tradition, watching Thanksgiving day football games.

‘Acidity is your friend’

ph scale, acidity

Most wines sit between around 3 and 4 on the pH scale. Credit: Bradford Derustit

With a wine-fueled afternoon of prepping and cooking leading into a long evening of feasting, you’ll want to choose bottles of the sort beer enthusiasts might call “sessionable”. That is, wines with a low ABV and a high capacity to refresh.

Wines that aren’t oak-laden, ultra-extracted, overly complex or tannic. They should slake your thirst and feel festive. Acidity is your friend; think of it as the buffer between bites cooked in mounds of butter.

Sparkling wines

California sparkling, ultramarine

Decanter’s William Kelley is a fan of Ultramarine Pinot Noir rosé from California.

If bubbles come to mind, it’s because sparkling wine checks just about all of the above boxes. Champagne is as festive as they come, but if you’re buying for a crowd, Thanksgiving is not the time to splurge on expensive tête de cuvées.

Try instead a non-vintage Brut or Extra-Brut like Pierre Peters’ Cuvée de Résèrve or Larmandier-Bernier’s ‘Latitude’ Blanc de Blancs. Or reach for an even more affordable and fuss-free pétillant naturel.

Pét-nats tend toward bright fruit flavors and effusive aromatics and skew low on the alcoholic scale. Any number of examples from France’s Loire Valley will do the trick, but I have a growing fondness for Bloomer Creek Vineyard’s Heuriger Blend version, from the Finger Lakes in western New York.

White wines for Thanksgiving day

Finger Lakes travel, Riesling

New York’s Finger Lakes is known for its Riesling wines.

Riesling is a handy go-to, since rarely do dry versions get above 12 percent alcohol, and off-dry versions – such as German Feinherb or Kabinett – are significantly lower than that. What’s more, they’re zippy, mineral-laden, and pair particularly well with fall spices.

Sémillon from Australia’s Hunter Valley is another low-octane white, and its rich texture makes it an excellent alternative for guests more accustomed to Chardonnay.

Red wines for Thanksgiving day

vins de soif, wind gap

Light ‘vins de soif’ reds will help you to pace yourself. Credit: Wind Gap

For reds, look to the vins de soif category. These are light, easy-to-drink, gulpable wines that have gained traction amongst the natural wine set in France (think: Gamay, Grolleau, Gineau d’Aunis).

Now, great wines that adhere to a similar theme of lightness and drinkability are being made in the U.S. Wind Gap’s ‘Soif’, a valdiguié-based blend from California’s North Coast is generously juicy at 12 percent alcohol.

‘Twinkle’, from Donkey & Goat in Berkeley, might surprise anyone expecting Mourvèdre to be dense and earthy. And Lo-Fi’s Santa Ynez Valley Cabernet Franc is a bright, brambly rendition of the classic French grape.

Thanksgiving recipes:

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