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Wines to pair with Thanksgiving dinner

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Lohud wine expert Thierry Pradines explains the proper temperature for serving various wines.
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There is no holiday that unites us more than Thanksgiving.

Americans of every race, religion and creed gather around their dining tables to give thanks for their blessings. Although there are slight variations on the side dishes, the traditional meal that is prepared in home after home, from coast to coast, is nearly identical all over the country.

So it is interesting that selecting wine for the Thanksgiving table can be so challenging.

The reason it is not so simple to pair wines with the traditional Thanksgiving menu is because the menu itself is all over the taste map: sweet, salty, bitter, umami and sour (i.e. cornichons on the relish tray).

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The traditional dishes — from butternut squash soup, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes with marshmallows, green bean casserole, glazed carrots, to cranberry sauce — don’t easily lend themselves to pairing with one particular wine. And don’t forget the turkey, stuffing and giblet gravy! Technically, all these dishes could require a different paired wine.

Even the traditional desserts — pumpkin pie and pecan pie — could be paired with different dessert wine selections.

Another complication is the timing of the meal.

Many Thanksgiving dinners start hours in advance of the main event with pre-meal noshing underway in the kitchen with the cook or in the family room with the National Dog Show on the TV or by a roaring fire in the living room.

At some homes it’s an all-out tailgate party. No wonder we all watch football afterwards. By the time you sit down for dinner, you’re full from having eaten and sipped to curb your appetite.

Further challenges include the different tastes and wine knowledge of invited guests. How many families have one side who are wine connoisseurs and the other side who drink wine just once or twice a year?

In that instance is Thanksgiving really the best time to open a truly exceptional bottle? And what if we run out of wine?

I come bearing bottles of wine and solutions!

To appeal to many different palates and pair with the most dishes, I recommend serving one white wine, two red wines and, yes, one rosé wine.

The white wine should have plenty of crispness and bright acidity. Acidity in a wine is so important because it helps the wine stand up to the food and keep the pairing interesting. Acidity is the common denominator of all great pairing wines.

What white?

A white wine from the village of Sancerre in the Loire Valley of France would be perfect. The white wines from the Sancerre Appellation are produced using only one varietal: sauvignon blanc. The sauvignon blanc from Sancerre, as well as that from Pouilly-Fumé (on the other side of the Loire River), is dry with minerality and enough body and concentration of fruit to appeal to many different palettes. The sauvignon blanc wines from Pouilly-Fumé tend to be slightly fuller.

A good example is Karine Lauverjat Sancerre. Karine is a classicist and her wines enjoy strong reputations. These wines should be enjoyed within their first couple of years. Prices average $19 to $21.

If you want to select a new world sauvignon blanc, be careful not to choose one with too much grapefruit aroma, such as those from New Zealand. These are great wines but their very perfume bouquets will overwhelm savory food.

And the red?

As for your red wine selections, one of the most versatile varietals is pinot noir . Like sauvignon blanc, pinot noir has lots of acidity thus it is very food-friendly. Pinot noir has a very characteristic bouquet. Any good pinot noir will have aromas of cherry, sour cherry, black cherry, bing cherry, you name it.

This is its identity. It is also rather clear in color for a red wine because pinot noir grapes have white flesh and red skin. So the first juice pressed out of the grapes is clear. To give the wine a red color, the winemaker reintroduces the red grape skins with the juice.

Two very nice pinot noir selections that I recommend are: Johnson Family from Sonoma Coast California ($19 to $22) and Raptor Ridge “Barrel Select” from the Willamette Valley in Oregon ($25 to $29). I prefer to stay in Northern California and Oregon, which are cooler regions compared to Southern California where the pinot noir wines tend to be fuller bodied because of the greater sun exposure.

What about a cab?

For those guests who prefer something bigger than pinot noir, I would offer them a cabernet sauvignon from Washington State. Clark cabernet sauvignon from the Columbia Valley ($16 to $18) offers plenty of the blue fruit we associate with quality cabernet sauvignon wine. The cabs coming out of Washington State tend to be less extracted than their California cousins, which make them very food-friendly.

Add a rosé

This year I want you to add something else to your table: a rosé wine. Not a sweet, white zinfandel but a dry rosé. It will appeal to the white wine drinkers because it’s served chilled, it doesn’t have the tannin of red wine and it offers pleasing notes of citrus (lemon, lime, or grapefruit). A rosé will also appeal to the red wine drinkers because of its red fruit aromas (strawberry, raspberry, red currant).

Be sure to include a rosé wine on your Thanksgiving table and don’t be surprised if the rosé is the first bottle to be finished.

By mid-November, not too many wine stores offer dry rosé wines, as stock tends to run out.  I carry rosé wines all year long and make a point of purchasing enough to last through to winter. I invite you to drop me a line after Thanksgiving at tpradines@bestwinepurveyors.com to share the results of your rosé experiment.

Zinfandel, a jammy, richly flavored red wine with aromas of plum, black berry and black cherry, is another classic pairing for the Thanksgiving table. It has been one of my go-to red wine choices for Thanksgiving for several years now.

Although Croatian in origin, American vintners have embraced zinfandel more than any other country so it has become the “Great American grape.” It is California’s third most-planted varietal and the only important varietal grown in the U.S. that did not come to us from the French. For this reason it makes sense to serve zinfandel at the Great American table. Most can be spicy, peppery, and full-bodied so they need to be matched up with big food selections like the turkey, potatoes, cheese or cured meats.

According to Evan Goldstein’s book, “Perfect Pairings,” zinfandel also pairs well with strong flavored foods such as Mexican dishes, Indian, Pakistani and North African preparations as well as game and roasted red meats. None of these are traditional Thanksgiving dishes but if you drink zinfandel during the meal, savor it with the heavier, richly textured, fatty foods.

 

How much to buy?

If you are a large group you will want to stock up with multiple bottles of each of your four selections. Keep in mind there are four glasses in a bottle of wine (standard pour). On average guests will have at least one glass during a cocktail hour and then two to three glasses during dinner. Plan for a bottle of wine per person to ensure you aren’t caught short.

At the end of the day, your Thanksgiving meal will be very good, the wine will taste great and you will feel grateful to friends and family for having gathered around your table to enjoy it all. As for the marshmallow pumpkin pie that is the current trend … a bottle of Malmsey Madeira or Olorosso Sherry pairs very nicely.

 

Thierry Pradines is the proprietor of Best Wine Purveyors, a destination retail wine and spirits store in Pleasantville. The curated store offers free tastings from its tasting bar, weekly educational wine seminars, regular special events, sterling expertise, and a first-rate client experience. For more questions, please reach out to Thierry Pradines at tpradines@bestwinepurveyors.com

Best Wine Purveyors 210 Marble Ave., Pleasantville, NY 10570 914-579-2280

 

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