Thanksgiving day meals, whether traditional or uniquely creative, offer a terrific opportunity to showcase the marriage of wine and food. A lot of people fret over the wine pairings because there's a lot of time and money invested in the meal. Let me suggest that the pairings don't need to be exacting and a wide variety of wines will suffice.
Some general categories of wine tend to be very good pairings for Thanksgiving. This is partly due to that fact that most meals have a number of dishes and a wide variety for flavors. Wines that do well in this situation are wines that naturally accompany food, both red and white. The red wines that are often viewed as traditional Thanksgiving meal accompaniments include Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, and Zinfandel.
Cabernet Sauvignon is a great way to enhance the meal. Is it too red- meaning too full-bodied and powerful? I say no. Cabernet Sauvignon does well with meats, even poultry, especially when accompanied by sauces, gravy, and starches. To refine this selection, try a Cab with a little bit of age on it. The age will likely have mellowed the wine's tannins and softened its edges.
Pinot Noir can be a stunning accompaniment to a Thanksgiving meal! It's really an amazing varietal that has the capability of total success and total failure. Therefore, it's the riskiest choice. For example, I paired a highly regarded Oregon Pinot Noir with the meal two years ago, but it didn't work at all. It was an amazing wine, for sure, but too exotic and smokey. It just didn't work. If you know you've got a good one, then go for it. Otherwise, be careful because Pinot Noir is the most unpredictable varietal.
Zinfandel is often considered a perfect pairing for Thanksgiving. After all, it's the most American grape. Stick with a traditional Zinfandel if you're going this route. Some of the newer single vineyard bottlings are highly ripe, alcoholic, and overpowering. They won't work well. Make sure you are serving a traditional, balanced wine. A good wine merchant can help you find the right wine. For example, Ridge produces Zinfandel blends that are very elegant and balanced.
On the other side of the spectrum, if you're looking for white wine, consider Riesling, Chardonnay, or Chenin Blanc. Riesling can be an amazing food wine, but you'll have to stick with the dry versions. These dry Rieslings are produced the world over, but if you're shopping in the German aisle look for kabinett or spatlese bottlings.
Chardonnay can be a nice choice, especially if you're unsure of your guests' preferences. Because Chardonnay comes in so many forms, look for a wine that has the reputation of ripe tropical fruit and enough acidity for food.
Chenin Blanc could deliver a nice pairing if you're looking for something on the lighter side. It can be very crisp, so get the help of a good wine merchant if you'd like to find one with a little more body.
Obviously, you can find success with a number of wines and, therefore, have some flexibility. In fact, not only do you have some flexibility in wine selections, you have an opportunity to present multiple wines. I always recommend this as a way to satisfy different palates and make the meal more festive. Multiple pairings give people the chance to figure out what they like and go back for more of the same. If you have the means, I recommend placing two glasses at each place setting- either one red and one white or two red glasses.
Also, when considering multiple pairings, use finger food and appetizers as a way to offer up other wine options. Before the meal, consider opening a sparkling wine or use this as a chance to offer a white wine if you're only offering reds with the meal. Rose can also be a nice pairing for appetizers. And don't forget about dessert wines. For example, this year we are having three small dessert courses. With the first two, we'll have a dessert wine and with the last one we'll have coffee.
Wine can ehance a Thanksgiving meal in many different ways. Realize that you have many options and don't fret over exacting your wine pairings. With all the flavors and various dishes, a number of different wines will work. Just enjoy making wine a part of the festivities. Raise a glass!