If you’re hosting Thanksgiving this year… or throwing a holiday dinner party of any kind… or having the boss-man over before your end of the year performance evaluation… odds are you’re giving some serious thought to the wine. Even if it’s not normally your beverage, you might be wanting to impress everyone with your fabulous taste in grape juice. And you may be wondering, where to begin? How do I go about picking that perfect wine to go with the turkey (or Tofurkey, as the case may be)?
Fear not, friends.
Drunken messybaker has tips for you. Oh, happy day!
First off, you need to settle an important question. What’s the main course? If you’re hosting Thanksgiving, you’re probably roasting up a turkey. The conventional wisdom says that you should serve a white wine – preferably Chardonnay – with turkey. And while Chardonnay is fine, it’s certainly not mandatory. What you want is to find a wine that will stand up to your main course without overpowering it. Chardonnay is often the choice when it comes to white wines to serve with poultry, especially in the colder months, because it does have the body to pair with turkey, and its aromas – often toast, butter, or vanilla if it’s oaked, or lemon, apple and pear if it’s not – tend to complement the flavors most people associate with turkey and the Thanksgiving meal. So if you want to pour Chardonnay, by all means, go for it. Pick a nice Sonoma wine – I love the Chardonnay wines from the Russian River Valley and Los Carneros – or be a little exotic and pour a white Burgundy.
But I don’t like Chardonnay, you say? It’s boring? Okay, that’s fine. (I happen to disagree, but there are plenty of people who are anti-Chard, probably because they’ve had too much mediocre stuff. Sometime I’ll do a post about that.) You don’t have to pour Chardonnay. If you want to stick with white, you just need to make sure that you’re picking a wine with enough power and heft to match with turkey – so that rules out most Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio. But you might always consider a lesser-known white varietal… like Viognier. Just as “big” as many Chards, but a bit sweeter and fruitier, Viognier is the unofficial official wine of Virginia. Since I’ve moved here I’ve come to love it, and it’s definitely worth consideration for your Thanksgiving table. Plus, you’ll get the bonus of looking erudite and sophisticated by choosing a wine that half your dinner guests haven’t heard of. Swirl on, my pretentious friends, swirl on.
Ah, but wait. What if you don’t like white wine at all? (That’s not crazy, Mom. Some people don’t.) Are you stuck swirling your water glass all evening? I say… NO! Now this might be sacrilege to some, but I don’t see any reason why you can’t pair turkey with a red wine. You just need to pick carefully. In this case, you’ll be doing the opposite analysis. Unlike white wines, which you’d be evaluating to make sure they have enough body to stand up to a rich roasted
turkey Tofurkey, if you’re going for a red you want one on the lighter-bodied end of the spectrum. A big Cab or meaty Merlot is going to be too much for your poor little bird (or Field Roast!) to handle. Steer toward a light, fruity Pinot Noir – I love the choices from, again, the Russian River Valley, or from Oregon. Or go for a fruity Rhone red. The key is to find a red wine with relatively low tannins and a good fruity character. (Some of the Rhones are like jam in a glass. You can tell people that they’re the alcoholic version of cranberry sauce.) Sure, the establishment will gasp and say that you NEVER, NEVER serve red wine with turkey, but who cares what they think? If that’s what you like, go for it – the only rule of wine pairing that I consider unassailable is that you should drink what you like, and only what you like. Plus, it’s fun to stick it to the establishment. That’s what the Pilgrims did… and isn’t Thanksgiving all about the Pilgrims?