Thanksgiving Day Wines
There’s a classic rule of thumb to wine and food pairing; pair region with region. For instance, a juicy steak sourced from the U.S. goes well with a California Cabernet, while a dish of spaghetti bolognese couldn’t be better with an Italian Chianti-style wine. While Thanksgiving is the quintessential American holiday, a traditional Thanksgiving meal covers quite the range of flavors—there’s sweet, savory, creamy, tart, and everything in between, making it not so easy to select a wine varietal to compliment an array of aromas and tastes. So, let’s take a look at what will pair best for your holiday feast.
Back to the classic rule of thumb, a solid pairing to try is Zinfandel, an American classic, and we are not talking the pink stuff. The best expressions of red Zinfandel happen to come from the northern California region. This is a full-bodied wine which carries a rich bold fruit-forward flavor with enough substance to hold up to any turkey day plate. It’s spicy, yet fruity and American oak aging adds a vanilla hint that compliments both sweet and savory flavors.
If you’d like to expand your options, look to Beaujolais Nouveau, not traditional Beaujolais mentioned in July’s article on unexpected summer reds, but rather new Beaujolais, meaning there is no aging process, it’s bottled immediately after harvesting and is best to be drunk young and chilled.
If you’re not familiar with this varietal of French wine, here’s a little background. Each year, on the third Thursday in November, just prior to the Thanksgiving holiday, the new release of the current year’s Beaujolais Nouveau becomes available. It’s an annual celebratory occasion in its native country of France and said to be the only time when the French actually get drunk. Remember, this is a culture who includes wine as a food group and enjoys a small pour during meals, oftentimes even during lunch. So they literally have it in their blood and are acclimated to the alcohol content. Because it is also accompanied with food the effects are much different than when drinking wine alone and in large amounts.
You may notice a stacked display of this type of wine in the upcoming weeks. But be weary of previous years’ vintages. When you see it on sale during the summer months and beyond, there’s reason. It will have been past it’s prime because it is low in tannins and light-bodied, two characteristics that do not compliment a bottle-aging process.
Another fantastic French, and possibly a personal favorite, is Syrah (Shiraz in Australia) from the Northern Rhone region in France. Deep in color and full-bodied, you’ll taste fruit, but it will be dark fruit like blackberry combined with some spice and herbaceous notes like black pepper, anise, and fresh mint—a pleasant mix with a nice nose.
I did a test run and tried it with a baked sweet potato seasoned with cinnamon and an Indian curry spice blend to see how Syrah would hold up to sweet and bold flavors. It was a perfect pairing. The combination of sweet potato with added seasoning smoothed out the tannins and the wine had enough body to stand up well showcasing its spice and the dark fruit flavors leant a balance.
At the end of the day, or beginning of the meal, it all comes down to a matter of personal choice. So whether your Zinfandel is red or white (pink), you choose the aged Beaujolais or Beaujolais Nouveau, or Syrah or Shiraz, the only thing that matters is what tastes best to you. Cheers and a toast to a Happy Thanksgiving.