Thanksgiving – Let the Holiday Season Begin!

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Can you believe how quickly this year has passed?  It seems like we were just ringing in 2016…yet we are just weeks away from 2017. How will you describe this year?  It has definitely been a wild, emotional ride.

Since several people have started asking me for suggestions, I decided to post some Thanksgiving food/wine pairing options. Your personal favorite is always a good bet, but there are some “safe” choices that work well with traditional Thanksgiving (holiday) foods. Look outside the “bottle” and explore! Here are a few helpful tips to keep in mind when pairing your food and wine.

Cooking method: How you prepare the food matters! Roasting deepens flavors in meats and brings out natural sweetness in vegetables.  Grilling will add a smokiness to your food.  Sautéing keeps foods light and fresh.

Seasoning/Sauces/Herbs/Sweetness/Spice (heat): When pairing wine with seasonings and sauces, the name of the game is balance!  (Acidity vs. sweetness // fat vs. tannins.) Experiment and find flavors that work together.  Keep in mind that “heat” and higher alcohol wines do not play nicely together…opt for a lower alcohol, off-dry style instead. No need for a food riot in your mouth!

Weight and texture: With both food and drinks, finding harmony in the textures of the dishes and the weight of the wine/food will help everything meld together.  Contrasting or complimenting  helps them enhance one another, bring out the best in both.

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I realize our “traditional” Thanksgiving feasts vary from family to family.  I am offering the mere basic of pairings and reasons why they work together. You may have found different pairings based on your own preferences…that is the beauty of wine… there is something for everyone!!! Extra tip: with white wines the pairing priority is finding a wine with well-balanced acidity, with reds you should opt for lighter, milder tannins that will yield to and support the flavors of the food. Let’s start pairing!

Sparkling Wines: Nothing says “celebration” better than bubbles!  Sparkling wines (Spanish Cava, Italian Prosecco, French Champagne, etc….) have by nature good amounts of acidity which helps when pairing with food.  Bubbles go with everything!  Tart and effervescent, a bubbly will cut through fatty, salty, savory, or sweet flavors, all which make up ther dishes found on any Thanksgiving table. From “brut” to “extra dry”- which is a little bit fruitier, your guests will enjoy the festiveness brought by these wines.

Riesling: From bone dry or fairly sweet, excellent with any dish that is spicy, salty or sweet, Riesling wines are an outstanding for pairing with Thanksgiving dinner. Riesling’s innate flavors of apple, apricot, honey and its noticeable acidity make it a perfect foil for the likes of sweet potatoes, turkey meat and spice-laden or herb-filled stuffing.

Pinot Grigio: A lovely, white wine that can handle garlic and onions, herbs and rich, flavorful, high-fat dishes, making it a natural choice for the Thanksgiving table.

Gewurtztraminer: This white wine delivers an aromatic punch and spicy palate that works beautifully with turkey and gravy, bringing out the best in both. (You don’t have to be able to pronounce it to enjoy it!)

Albarino and Viognier: Want to reach out of your comfort zone? Try one of these! They offer the perfect opportunity to liven up your Thanksgiving meal and provide an international feel, while still maintaining perfect pairing power.

Sauvignon Blanc: Citrusy and herbaceous, with good minerality makes it a delightful pairing partner for turkey and mashed potatoes. It is also a great match for many vegetable side dishes like Brussel sprouts ans asparagus.

On to the reds…

Pinot Noir: My personal favorite red for Thanksgiving.  I love the earthy, “mushroomy”  flavors found along with the bright cherry, red fruit notes. It works so well with roasted  turkey and and savory stuffing.  These are two of the best parts of the dinner in my opinion- the turkey and stuffing- so pairing it with my favorite red varietal makes me smile!

Gamay:: The Gamay grape is the star in the Beaujolais wines…from the Beaujolais Nouveau to the Beaujolais Cru. The wines range from light and fruity to complex. This lovely little grape makes wines that go quite well with turkey and all of the fixings. Check out the Beaujolais Nouveau wines which will be released from France next week (always the third Thursday of November), just in time for Thanksgiving!

Zinfandel: A fuller bodied red wine, with big fruit and intensity, is able to keep the needed balance with many traditional Thanksgiving side dishes. When Pinot Noir and Gamay just aren’t “big” enough for some of your guests, this is a great wine choice for those who prefer those spicy, bitter and sweet flavor profiles. Zinfandel is a lovely partner for ham as well!!

Syrah/ Shiraz: Another big, almost meaty, red, can work well with the abundance of flavors found in your Thanksgiving meal. Its complexity, its spicy, peppery notes pair nicely with the herbal, savory stuffing as well as the white and dark turkey meat. Not a real turkey fan, Syrah is an amazing partner for lamb and beef.

Rosé:  As with sparkling wines, Rosé provides a a great alternative that can go from start to finish with the meal. Dry Rosé offers the best pairing and is an excellent value.  The possibilities are many when talking Rosé… so try a Rosé of Pinot Noir or Sangiovese…or perhaps one from Provence.  Remember, Rosé isn’t just for summer!

What is a holiday meal without dessert? This is one area where I usually do not participate in…I am not, I repeat, not a pie person.  I know, weird, but that’s just how it is! That being said, when pairing pie and wine a few combinations come to mind.

Port: That decadent, sublime wine from Portugal works beautifully with the sweet spices in pumpkin pie and gooey, lush pecan pie. I have often brought a late harvest wine- Riesling or Gewurtztraminer- to my family’s holiday gatherings. They offer decadent, honey flavors to desserts. It is the sweetness and the viscosity found in both fortified and late harvest wines that are needed to balance the richness/spiciness of pumpkin pie as well as caramel notes found in pecan pie.

With whatever you choose to grace your table, at Thanksgiving or even Christmas…yes, I said it, I wish you and yours a very happy, safe, peaceful holiday season.  Cheers!

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About sommeliersusie

Owner of Tasteful Adventures- private in-home wines tastings Boisset Wine Living Ambassador- private and corporate wine tastings and direct to consumer sales, corporate gifting, Wine Educator, Sommelier- Level 1 Court of Master Sommelier, BASSETT Certification, French Wine Scholar, Member Guild of Sommeliers
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