Quick . . . name one wine you imbibed at Thanksgiving last year. Can’t? Didn’t think so — I can’t either and wine is my job. Why? Did the food coma erase our brains or were we sucked in by the perennial Cowboys versus whomever game? Or maybe it’s because no single wine makes a memorable pairing with the Thanksgiving feast.
Thanksgiving is all about the food. As a kid, it was always — and remains — my favorite holiday. It’s the pinnacle of gluttony, a gustatory bacchanal, an excuse to eat 20 pounds of poultry and not agonize over the diet. And it is the perfect pretext for opening numerous bottles of wine without being labeled the family drunk. Use my “walking around wine” technique. Sharing the cooking duties — as we do in my family — can be a social affair if a bottle of chilled vino comes out. The occasion calls for something light and lower in alcohol, like a crisp sauvignon blanc or Spanish albariño. Or you could opt for a festive sparkling wine from California or fizzy Italian Prosecco. Walking-around wine even spurs creativity, emboldening your buzzed brother to sneak some fresh herbs into the gravy. Other added benefits to this plan: It promotes hunger and adds a party aspect to cooking, especially if you eat the big meal at noon. It’s a feel-good holiday . . . ten a.m. drinking is allowed, even needed in some households.
But that’s where my Thanksgiving wine recommendations end. Old-school turkey day food-and-wine-pairing guidelines are bunk. This traditional meal has too many variations on a theme — like the infinite coffee permutations at Starbucks — to be arranged into a neat little pairing package. Sure, there are general guidelines to a vaguely symbiotic union of juice and food, but the perfect pairing is only achieved after tweaking a recipe or the wine choice until the union makes your toes curl (and the right pairing will, indeed, achieve this level of bliss). Otherwise, like an awkward one-night stand with a coworker, you’re left with the hazy sensation of the two just tolerating each other.
Across the nation every fourth Thursday in November, American dining-room tables are decked out with dishes influenced by the cultural makeup of the host. And Thanksgiving in our wonderfully diverse land is not just turkey anymore. My friend John from Brazil serves bacalao (baked codfish) to celebrate the holiday, and Adam’s family from Puerto Rico has roast pork at their table. Side dishes also vary widely, from a Scandinavian mashed-turnip dish called rutmus to roasted sweet potatoes to bacon-seasoned butter peas at my family’s Southern table. Basically, recommending one type of wine to pair with our melting-pot menus would be as pointless as trying to stop immigration with miles of fences.
So, barring hiring a wine professional to create the ultimate harmonized Thanksgiving menu, what to do? Simple: Drink what you like and don’t try to overthink it. A good bottle is all you need, or several. Bring your tried-and-true favorite to the meal, or that treasured pinot noir you’ve been saving. Go ahead — enjoy the wine’s flavor, along with good, warm conversation among family and friends — these are the best pairings of all.
GREAT WINES FOR THE BIG MEAL
Snoqualmie 2007 Chardonnay Columbia Valley (Washington) Recession Buster! Soft on the palate with a perfumed, tropical aroma. Tastes like peaches slathered in slightly sweet, vanilla-infused cream. Refreshing citrus finish. Well made for the price. $11. ****
Rodney Strong 2006 Knotty Vines Zinfandel Sonoma (California) Smooth and elegant with blackberry and black cherry vanilla cola. A dash of black pepper adds some spice. $20. ***
Spy Valley 2007 Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough Classic New Zealand style: dry, crisp, and clean, with bracing lime and grapefruit, and some softening ripe apricot and honeydew melon. $14. ***