While turkey is often the centerpiece of the Thanksgiving table, many say it’s really the bevy of sides that make the meal. Mashed potatoes and gravy, sweet potato casserole, wild mushroom stuffing, and maybe a green side salad (to make us feel a bit more virtuous), are just a small sampling of the delights you might taste.
But just as you wouldn’t limit yourself to only one side dish for your turkey, you shouldn’t limit yourself to just one wine either. In order to tackle the full spectrum of flavors, bring out a selection of Thanksgiving wines to play different roles during the meal.
With a day of rich and creamy foods ahead of you, palate fatigue is definitely a possibility. Wines with high acidity and clean flavor profiles can help keep your taste buds at attention for the entire day.
Rieslings are great choices, not only for their high acid and crisp fruit flavors (lime, apple, apricot, nectarine), but also because they come in a range of styles. Bone dry Rieslings will cut through rich, fatty foods, while off-dry styles will complement that sweet potato casserole quite nicely. Germany is the spiritual home of Riesling, but also look for interesting options from Washington State, as well as Australia’s Clare and Eden Valleys.
Pinot Blanc is another great palate-cleanser, with its clean flavor profile (lemon, green apple, white peach) and medium acidity, often with a hint of residual sugar. This wine’s medium-bodied style stands up to bold flavors just as well as it complements that token green salad. Alsace, France is the traditional home of Pinot Blanc, but also look for delicious options from Oregon.
And Thanksgiving is a celebration after all, so don’t forget the bubbly! The clean fruit (lemon, apple) and high acidity of sparkling wines are a great way to wake up the palate before the meal, and also pair well with a wide range of foods. While Champagne is always a great choice, don’t forget about French Crémant (made in the same style as Champagne) and Italian Prosecco, which are both delicious and wallet-friendly.
While there’s no denying the versatility (and popularity) of Chardonnay, sometimes it’s nice to change it up a little. For alternative whites that can complement the savory flavors of Thanksgiving, consider Semillion or Marsanne/Roussane blends.
Hailing from Bordeaux, Semillion is a rich-tasting, medium- to full-bodied wine that is often blended with Sauvignon Blanc, which gives it a bit of an acidic zing. Marsanne and Roussane, traditionally grown in France’s northern Rhone region, are often blended together to create a rich, medium- to full-bodied white with floral and herbal notes that lend these wines a savory quality. In addition to France, Australia also makes terrific versions of all of these varietals.
Thanksgiving Wines to Go the Distance
While white wines could certainly take you through the entire Thanksgiving meal, a few warming reds will round out the experience.
Pinot Noir is a terrific and reliable choice for your red team. This wine’s bright, red fruit (raspberry, cherry, cranberry) and black pepper spice complements a range of Thanksgiving flavors, and its medium body and medium tannins won’t weigh you down. Oregon Pinots are definitely a popular choice but don’t overlook New Zealand! This cool climate producer is making some amazing Pinot Noir and at a great price point.
And while you might have heard that Beaujolais Nouveau hit the shelves just in time for Thanksgiving, its sibling Beaujolais Villages is also a great addition. You’ll get the same high acidity and low tannins of the Nouveau, but a bit of oak ageing lends the Villages a deeper flavor profile and more structure to stand up to Thanksgiving’s hearty dishes. The fresh, red fruit (strawberry, red raspberry, cherry cola) of the Gamay grape makes both the Nouveau and the Villages eminently drinkable throughout the day.
Bold and Beautiful
Zinfandel is another popular choice for Thanksgiving, and for good reason! This full-bodied red is full of ripe and jammy black fruit (blackberries, black plum), baking spice, and smoke that will amp up this holiday’s traditional spices (think black pepper, cinnamon, clove, and allspice). Plus Zinfandel’s higher alcohol and full bodied structure will match the intensity of boldly flavored dishes. California Zinfandels are the most well-known, with particularly good examples from the Sonoma and Napa Valleys.
If Zinfandel is a bit much but you’re still looking for a robust red to round out your team, try Primitivo, the Italian interpretation of this grape. Although the intensity is dialed down a bit, Primitivo still delivers a full-bodied wine with ripe, black fruit notes (blackberries, blueberries, figs), well-balanced by warm spice notes.
So, as you enjoy the bounty of this year’s Thanksgiving table, don’t worry about having to choose between white or dark meat. Have both, with a wine to go with each.
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