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Q: What are the Best Wines for Thanksgiving Dinner?

by David on September 29, 2008

Question from Janice: I’m hosting Thanksgiving for the first time this year and I want everything to be perfect! What wines go best with a traditional Thanksgiving meal of turkey, spicy stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, candied yams, etc? There will be about 20 people.

Reply: Hi, Janice! Thanks for writing! I’m so impressed!  Congratulations on being one of those organized people who plans ahead!

Wow – with 20 people, I hope some of them bring some wine so you don’t break the bank! But, you’re smart to assume they won’t…

The Thanksgiving meal is such a wild hodgepodge of flavors that it presents a wine-matching challenge. And, with 20 people, there’s no way everyone will like or want the same thing. So, over the years, I’ve learned to worry about it less and less. Truly, the best advice I can give you is to put several bottles on the table – some white, some rosé, some red – and some sparkling if you want! – and let people choose for themselves.

But, which white, rosé and so forth? Go for wines that are versatile – good, solid acidity and not too high in alcohol, not too tannic, not too sweet. So, here goes:

Bubbly wine: This is a great mood setter. Truly – how can you be in a bad mood with a glass of fizzy wine in your hand???? Plus, the high acidity can take you through from the first welcome until you scrape that last bit of gravy off of your plate.  Sparkling Rosé or a Blanc de Noirs is a little more full bodied than the Blanc de Blancs and might go better with dinner, if that’s your goal. Of course, there’s always Aunt Marge or someone in the group that doesn’t like sparkling wine – IMAGINE!!! In that case…

Rosé wine: Well-made rosé that’s dry or off-dry is remarkably versatile. This is another wine that makes a very nice greeting for your guests, because it’s so pretty, and can sustain you right through to the very end of the meal. I have to say, we made a killer Merlot Rosé under our State Lane label. This wine is just slightly sweet and has strawberry and orange peel out the kazoo with a cleansing, ruby grapefruit finish. When you mentioned spicy stuffing this wine popped into my head because spicy and sweet like each other a lot! Also, a good rosé is darned tasty with turkey – white or dark meat. I thought of Gewütraminer, too. The rosé and Gewûrtz are great bridge builders when you have a cacophony of flavors like you do on Thanksgiving. Which leads us to whites!

White wine: You want a white with very good acidity and also plenty of flavor, that’s dry or off dry. Unless your Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Grigio are unusually flavorful, in spite of the acid, they may be out-shouted by the food. Reliable whites for this situation: High quality Riesling, to repeat myself, Gewürtz, Viognier and cool-climate Chardonnays that go easy on the oak. Hey! Goosecross Chardonnay has cool-climate acidity and goes easy on the oak! That should work well, too!

Reds: Not too heavy and low in tannin and alcohol. My top three recommendations: Pinot Noir, Pinot Noir and Pinot Noir! It’s one of the most versatile wines around. Finding a good one that’s actually affordable is another issue… Thanksgiving is a great excuse to get yourself a bottle of Beaujolais Nouveau - the 2008 should be released exactly one week before Thanksgiving this year. The best ones smell like ambrosia salad, are very light on the palate, and are dry and refreshing (by red wine standards) – almost like a rosé. Relatively light-bodied Zins that aren’t too oaky would be nice for the red-wine lovers. By Thanksgiving, we should have released our AmerItal VI – packed with fruit, racy by red-wine standards and low in tannin – yum!

Can’t let Thanksgiving come and go without sharing one of Colleen’s favorite Thanksgiving recipes. She makes her famous Green Bean Casserole for the family every year (no, we’re not talking mushroom soup and canned onion rings…)! ;-)

Not sure what you’re serving for dessert, but the general guideline is that the wine should be at least as sweet as the food or it will taste sour. If you’ve got a really fruity dessert, like apple pie, Muscat wines can be refreshing and delicious! The State Lane Orange Muscat is something to keep in mind. If its a rich dessert, like pumpkin cheesecake, you may want to go with a late harvest. Our downtown-Napa tasting room carries a scrumptious Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc by R.A. Harrison that might just fill the bill.

Of course, everything tastes better when it’s shared by good friends and family! Cheers! I know you’re going to have a great meal and a wonderful time! Happy T-Day!

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