Thanksgiving Wines: Make Good Choices

Thanksgiving is really the perfect time to apply my favorite rule about wine: don't overthink it.

We're getting ready for a meal that's large, varied, likely to take a while, and, in most cases, involves pretty straightforward food. Thanksgiving dinner isn't a meal for a Michelin-star restaurant; it's family comfort food, simple and good. So this isn't the time to break out complex, extravagant wines. You need a bit of variety and something that you enjoy drinking. That's it.

As we've already learned in thinking about beer for this meal, a typical Thanksgiving spread has a lot of competing flavors. This is good news, because what doesn't work with one side dish will almost certainly work with something else. Try a little white, a little red, and taste everything.

WHITE WINES

Yes, you can drink white year-round. Because you can drink WHATEVER YOU LIKE. But if you're used to drinking ice-cold Sauvignon Blanc, you're missing all the wonderful things white wines can do. A nice dry Sauvignon Blanc - at something higher than freezer temperature, please - will likely appeal to almost everyone during Thanksgiving dinner. A good one, like something France's Loire Valley or a domestic wine from Oregon (we have a lovely Sauvignon Blanc from Gaspard in the shop and one from Patricia Green Cellars), can take you from a cheese course through salad to roast turkey and green beans with no problem. For a little more body and more savory notes, try a Viognier, which is nearly perfect with sweet potatoes, squash, and stuffing.  Fausse Piste's Mineral Selection Viognier, from Oregon winemakers who really understand food, is my favorite here. Another no-fail crowd pleaser is a good Grüner Veltliner, which finally got Americans' attention about 20 years ago, and simply tastes good.

What about the people who think they love only Chardonnay? Give them some. White Burgundy wines aren't going to fail you. And if you want a nice domestic choice, Forlorn Hope Queen of the Sierra Estate White is a blend of Chardonnay, Verdelho and Riesling that's got something for everyone. We'll be recommending this wine and its sister red blend as a Thanksgiving strategy to anyone who asks this year.

RED WINES

Again, no rules, but if I can sneak in one guideline, it would be this: Thanksgiving isn't the best time for big, powerful Super Tuscans and California Cabs. Those are steakhouse wines for a reason, and their tannins and strong fruit will probably make it impossible to taste your turkey. So, what to serve? Pinot Noir seems like the obvious answer, and we always carry a few nice Pinots. The really good ones can get expensive, though, so if you need to be a little budget-conscious, look to Spain. There are tasty Tempranillos available at reasonable prices, and the grape's tart flavors are lovely for Thanksgiving (you've already got cranberries on the table, right?). I like a Cabernet Franc with some nice herbal notes to highlight fall foods. Challenge your wine-snob cousin with a bottle of d'Orsaria Cab Franc from, unexpectedly, Italy. It finishes with a little rosemary flavor, which is nice with most of what's on a Thanksgiving plate.

DESSERT

Have room for more? The good news about Thanksgiving dessert is that, even if you end up with a pairing that doesn't taste fabulous, you're likely to be too full to care. The even better news is that a great pairing might wake you from your food coma and leave you ready for another round of eating. My favorites: pumpkin pie with tawny port; cheesecake or pear-based desserts with late harvest Gewurztraminer; blue cheese and nuts with Manzanilla sherry.

Still not sure what to choose? Really - don't overthink! We've put together a few combinations for Thanksgiving that will do just fine, so come in for a taste of cheese, a friendly chat with a cheesemonger, and the reassurance that, whatever family drama may arise next Thursday, your wine choices won't be part of it.

Elizabeth Falk
Hoppy Thanksgiving! Craft Beer Pairings for Turkey Day

Ahh, Thanksgiving. It's the beginning of cold weather comfort food season; it's the celebration of bountiful harvests and family bonds; it's a day to eat more than any sane person would contemplate. In the spirit of enjoying the excess, then, let's talk about beverage pairings for the classic November meal. We'll start with beer, which is generally much simpler to match with food than wine (more about wine tomorrow).

It's not as if there are any "correct" pairings or Rules You Must Not Break. There's no need for expertise: eat and drink what you like, and don't worry about what anyone else says you should be pairing. That said, here's what I think you should be pairing. Or at least what I like.

Pre-Dinner Prep/Appetizers/Salads

You'll want to pace yourself as you prepare to overindulge. Whether you begin your day as a cook or as the lucky person who just shows up at dinner time, something light is the answer here. And as you prepare for hours of eating with the first round - appetizers, cheese and charcuterie, whatever - it's nice to have a beverage that isn't going to obliterate your palate and mask the taste of your food. In our family, pre-meal snacks include a lot of cheese, so I'm looking for a beer style that will complement rich milky goodness. I'd start with a witbier like Finback Double Sess or, if you really need some hops, a low ABV pale ale like Banded Brewing Wheat n' Potatoes. Either way, you'll have a beer with a crisp mouthfeel, light herbal/vegetal/spicy flavors. I particularly like the addition of ginger and chamomile to Double Sess; it reminds me of a refreshing herbal tea. Nice way to clear the palate and the mind as you prepare to do battle with a big meal.

Turkey Time

OK, so this meal is actually a tricky one for beverage pairings. Turkey doesn't have a lot of fat or intense flavor. Surround it with roasted, caramelized meats and veggies, rich carb-y stuffing, potatoes, and gravy, and you've got a lot of things competing for your palate's attention. Fortunately, most Thanksgiving sides are very good friends of malty beverages, so lots of beer choices can work.

If the centerpiece of your table is roast turkey, you'll be very happy with an Oktoberfest-style lager or a nice smooth brown ale.  There's nothing assertive or challenging about these brews, and their light maltiness will balance out the mix on your plate. I wouldn't hesitate to recommend Four Quarters Festbier or Black Hog Granola Brown Ale to anyone who needed an easy-drinking crowd pleaser.

If you're gazing dreamily upon a smoked turkey, you can manage something a little more robust. Porters and stouts are lovely with smoky flavors; some, like Greater Good's Good Night Moon milk porter or Banded Brewing's Norweald Stout, have some smoky aroma of their own. The chocolate and coffee notes in these beers can complement savory meat and roast veg very nicely.

But what if brown ale feels too simple, and you want to save the stouts (which, really, are the milkshake of beers) for dessert? Here's the simple answer, and my favorite choice: find a really good saison. My all time favorite - and something that you can drink with pretty much everything you're likely to eat during Thanksgiving dinner - is H2 Chardonnay Saison from Transmitter Brewing. A little fruity, a little funky, but not likely to overwhelm any element of the meal, this one will even please the wine drinkers at your holiday table. Woody notes from oak barrel fermentation will enhance roasted vegetables; a little yeasty funk will brighten up even bland turkey; the vanilla you notice at the finish will make sweet potatoes sweeter even without marshmallows.

Dessert

Ahh, Thanksgiving dessert. Because you haven't eaten enough. And it's time for more beer! If you're ready to settle in to a nice comfy couch with a slab of pumpkin or pecan pie, that porter or stout you set aside earlier will be perfect. Banded Brewing's Jolly Woodsman stout is as good as a nitro cold brew coffee. Want something to fight off the food coma? A refreshing sour ale might do that, and sours can be very nice with berry or cherry pies. If you want a memorable end to your meal, open a barleywine. Idle Hands Swarm, a beautiful golden honey ale, is a fun alternative to dessert wine (and I'm thinking it would be fabulous with cheesecake or some post-dinner blue cheese).

You can find everything I've suggested at our shop, or browse Untappd to find some options close to you.

Next up - some ideas about hard cider (perhaps the ideal fall beverage pairing) and wine for Thanksgiving dinner.

 

Elizabeth Falk