Thanksgiving can be one of the most stressful meals of the year for the person charged with selecting wine. In fact, when faced with the daunting task of trying to pair wines with the myriad flavors and textures on the Thanksgiving table, it can be downright terrifying. Fear not, for a few simple guidelines will turn this holiday horror into a delightful experience.
-- No. 1: Depending on the number of people around your Thanksgiving table, offer a wide variety of wines. Caterers figure a half-bottle of wine per guest on average. That sounds a bit high to us, but we still like to open a lot of wines for our guests. Any half-empty bottles can be enjoyed the next day with leftovers.
-- No. 2: Lean toward high-acid wines. The Thanksgiving table has lots going on, so the wines need to be versatile. Think about such wines as riesling, pinot gris and sauvignon blanc for whites and pinot noir and sangiovese for reds. And don't forget about a dry rosé.
-- No. 3: The greatest food-pairing wine also is one associated with celebrations. Starting your meal with a bottle or two of sparkling wine will set the tone and will go beautifully with just about everything on the table.
-- No. 4: Don't bother with older wines. Have you been saving a special bottle of wine for just the right occasion? Well, Thanksgiving isn't it. First, nobody will pay attention to it because they'll be so busy eating and talking. Second, aged wines tend to fall apart easily and generally will not show well with the wide array of foods on the table. Instead, save that bottle for a meal where it will be the center of attention and the food choices will be built around it.
-- No. 5: Leave the big reds in the cellar. Cabernet sauvignon, merlot, malbec, petite sirah. They're all big, beautiful wines, but they just don't work for Thanksgiving. Generally speaking, their tannins will overwhelm the food and neither will end up tasting good. There are rare occasions when this rule can be broken, however. For example, if your father-in-law is coming to town and you feel the need to impress him, go ahead and pull out that bottle of Leonetti. He did let you marry his daughter, after all.
-- No. 6: Gewürztramer and turkey are a perfect match. People seem to think that Gewürztraminer goes well with spicy foods just because the word "Gewürz" is German for "spice." But this refers to the aromas of clove, cinnamon, cardamom and other exotic spices that reveal themselves in the nose. To the contrary, Gewürztraminer is a high-pH wine, which means it's naturally a bit flabby in the acid department. In other words, it is one of the worst wines you can pair with, say, a spicy Thai dish or a steaming bowl of pho. That said, Gewürztraminer shines with turkey, especially dark meat. Thus, the best place for a bottle of Gewürztraminer is on your Thanksgiving table.
-- No. 7: Surprise and delight your guests with a fruit wine. Wine snobs might scoff at this, but we love serving a cranberry wine with Thanksgiving dinner. It can be dry or off-dry, and the explosive flavors of a well-made cranberry wine are perfect with many of the dishes on the table. Washington wineries such as Westport in Aberdeen or Heymann in Centralia make amazing cranberry wines. You will not be disappointed.
-- No. 8: Dessert wines are fun. We like to serve ultra-sweet dessert wines such as ice wines from British Columbia. They do tend to take center stage because they are so exotic and special. So if you don't want to overshadow your aunt's famous apple or pumpkin pie, perhaps save the wine for a post-dessert conversation piece.
*Andy Perdue and Eric Degerman run Great Northwest Wine, a website that provides news and information about the wines of Washington, Oregon, British Columbia and Idaho.