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Thanksgiving wine pairings

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All festive meals, and nearly all extended family gatherings, are greatly improved by the judicious provision of choice wines and spirits. Thanksgiving is no exception.

Indeed, Thanksgiving should be thought of as an opportunity—unbounded by the usual constraints imposed by Shabbat and Jewish holidays—to entertain big with kith and kin. It is a festive meal entirely free of religious overtones or holiday-specific obligations.

Barring relationship break-ups, tumultuous screaming matches, and unwelcome visits from law enforcement, it seems there isn’t really a wrong way to do Thanksgiving. So open a few bottles of wine, relax, and have a little fun.

The only wine rule I consider inviolable is this: do not run out of wine!

When planning a relative feast, such as Thanksgiving, I estimate roughly one bottle per drinking guest (about 6 glasses). It is better to have leftover open bottles of wine, than to run out entirely. If the thought of unfinished opened bottles of wine is irksome, hand them out to your guests as a parting gift.

When it comes to pairing wines with your Thanksgiving meal, keep in mind that there is no perfect pairing. Indeed, the so-called rules for pairing food with wine are no different than at any other time. The goal of pairing wine with food is balance; neither the food nor the wine should overpower one another.

General wine-pairing rules of thumb—like lighter foods go with lighter wines and richer foods with richer, full-bodied wines—are dependable guides on average and so can be very handy, but should not be thought of as absolute. The interplay of wine and food is necessarily subjective. Besides, in the context of the general bonhomie of Thanksgiving, it’s hard to imagine anybody being actively displeased by whatever wines you offer.

Armed with a few tips and a little common-sense, picking wines to accompany your menu should be a cinch.

In general, I recommend wines that are fairly light, lithe, and versatile; wines that can work well with a variegated menu eaten over several hours. Typically such wines will be relatively low in alcohol, not too “oaky,” not especially tannic, and will have some lively acidity to help keep them vibrant and refreshing.

For whites look to Riesling, Chenin Blanc, bone-dry Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, and un-oaked Chardonnay; for reds consider Beaujolais, Barbera, Chianti, Tempraillo, and Pinot Noir.

Experience is the surest guide to one’s own tastes, so experiment liberally in advance. Even still, consider hedging your bets by providing guests with multiple wine options and even additional stemware if you have it.

Below I paired several wines with this year’s featured recipes for Thanksgiving.

For Roast Turkey with Strawberry Pineapple Salsa, for example, consider the Hagafen Lake County Riesling 2016 ($24; mevushal) – a light, delicious, off-dry Riesling from Napa Valley that offers lovely tropical fruit notes beautifully balanced by soft but refreshing acidity.

Or, if red is more your style, consider the Louis Blanc Côte de Brouilly (Beaujolais, France), 2013 ($26)—a lovely, medium-bodied Beaujolais with very soft tannins, medium acidity, notes of ripe raspberries, blackberries, boysenberries, and dark plums with some lovely earthy notes.

Either of these wines will be great with the turkey itself, yet either should also interplay nicely—albeit differently—with the fruity salsa.

The Riesling’s freshness and tropical fruitiness should complement the salsa’s fruity tang, while the Beaujolais’s savory and earthy quality is likely to balance the sweetness.

Another great option here—and really for nearly any roast turkey dish—would be a dry, un-oaked chardonnay, especially classic Chablis from France. There are currently two excellent kosher Chablis available: the outstanding Pascal Bouchard, “La Classique,” Chablis, 2016 ($38; mevushal), and the equally wonderful Domaine Les Marronniers, Chablis, 2016 ($33; mevushal).

Though different, both offer classic Chablis characteristics – both are crisp, dry (the Bouchard is less flinty), restrained, and elegant with apple, citrus, and earthy and herbal aromas and flavors, and a fabulous, almost saline foundation upon which other fruit notes lovingly swim (the Bouchard offers a bit more white peach, the Les Marronniers a bit more quince). Either will help elevate and enliven your turkey dinner.

In the case of Turkey Pot Pie, a Thanksgiving-leftovers classic, consider the Hagafen, Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley, 2016 ($27; mevushal). From vintage to vintage, this Hagafen Sauvignon Blanc is invariably one of the most reliably beautiful, delicious, aromatic, fresh and refreshing kosher Sauvignon Blancs on the market, with soft yet crisp acidity balanced perfectly against floral and fruit notes — such as white peach, green apple, mango and kiwi—with mineral-rich citrus and citrus-peel characteristics on both the nose and sumptuous palate. Or consider a nice 2016 New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc —either the Goose Bay ($20; mevushal) or the O’Dwyers Creek ($21; mevushal). Both of these are wonderfully brash, brisk, vivacious—I find the O’Dwyers is nearly always slightly edgier than the Goose Bay—and herbaceous with pungent aromas and flavors of gooseberry, green pepper, and passion fruit.

When it comes to pairing wine with dessert, like a classic pecan pie, look to a sweet-wine dessert-style wine. Consider the Baron Herzog, Late Harvest Zinfandel, Lodi, 2015 ($20; mevushal): rich, luscious, and slightly fruitier on the nose, with aromas and flavors of under-ripe white peach, apricot, and sweet berry fruits, this is well balanced and deliciously satisfying.

Finally, for those seeking a budget-friendly quaffer to quench thirsts and accompany the proceedings nicely, consider the newly released The Abarbanel, 25th Anniversary, Special Reserve, Rouge, 2016 ($20; currently available for $17 at Value-priced, light-to-medium bodied, and light in tannins, this is an all-around inviting and enjoyable single vineyard blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (65%) and Merlot (35%) from the Aude River Valley in the South of France. This is easy drinking and food friendly—though let it breath in the glass a little first; offering aromas and flavors of cherry, plum, and cassis with some subtle herbs and light tobacco, and perhaps a whiff of coffee. L’Chaim!

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