It's that time of year when wine lovers cringe and delight at the same time as they prepare to pull corks for Thanksgiving dinner.
Those with deep wine collections look forward to big dinners because it is an opportunity to pull out five to seven bottles of wine to share with family and friends. However, a traditional Thanksgiving dinner has so many flavors going on, it can be difficult to make accurate and elegant pairings.
Here are a few ideas for how to approach Thanksgiving.
Wines to pair
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-- Sparkling: Sparkling wine is a great way to start a meal not only because of the celebration associated with bubbles, but also because it tends to pair so beautifully with food. Northwest wineries that focus on sparkling wine include Domaine Ste. Michelle, Mountain Dome and Argyle.
-- Pinot noir: Most famous in Oregon but also made in small amounts in British Columbia, Washington and Idaho, this red wine tends to be suave and smooth, thanks to minimal tannins and plenty of bright fruit that reminds one of raspberries and cherries. It also pairs well with many dishes, including turkey.
-- Riesling: Washington is making its reputation as one of the finest producers of this white wine anywhere in the New World. Riesling is a chameleon and can be everything from bone dry to ultra-sweet. The best examples are steely in their acidity with a bit of residual sugar. This means it will go well with many dishes on the table, from cranberry sauce to mashed potatoes.
-- Gewürztraminer: Generally, this hard-to-pronounce white wine pairs poorly with foods because of its low acidity. But it really shines at the Thanksgiving table because it matches perfectly with dark turkey meat. It also usually is off-dry, appealing to those who don't normally drink much wine.
-- Dry rosé: Several Northwest wineries are making delicious dry ross from such grapes as sangiovese, syrah, cabernet franc, syrah and pinot noir. These are versatile food wines, and the pink colors are delightfully pleasing to the eye, a nice complement to the Thanksgiving table.
-- Sangiovese: Like pinot noir, good sangiovese provides food-friendly acidity and fruit without much tannin getting in the way. Many Washington wineries make this Italian variety, and it's often not too expensive.
-- Syrah: This red wine is made well in all four regions of the Pacific Northwest. It often is made in a softer style, thanks to its naturally low acidity. This makes it easy to drink and easy to pair, thanks to its ripe flavors.
-- Cranberry wine: Most serious wine lovers eschew fruit wines, but a couple of Washington wineries make stunning cranberry wines, and they are amazing on the Thanksgiving table. Check out Heymann Winery in Centralia and Westport Winery in Aberdeen.
-- Dessert wine: This is a tough one because many sweet dessert wines will end up clashing with apple or pumpkin pies. Perhaps end the meal with a luscious late-harvest riesling or ice wine after dessert or skip the wine and serve coffee -- especially if guests are driving.
Wines not to pair
-- Cabernet sauvignon: The king of wines and wine of kings is great in nearly every situation, just not at a traditional Thanksgiving dinner with turkey. It's a big, bold wine with plenty of tannin and will clash with just about every dish on the table. That said, if prime rib is your family's Thanksgiving tradition, then this is the wine for you.
-- Older wines: Thanksgiving is not a great time to pull out an older wine you want to share. First, so much is going on at the table that few of your guests will take the time to appreciate the elegance and intricacies of an aged gem. And second, an older wine often will be overwhelmed by what is on the table. Instead, save it for intimate dinners with someone who can appreciate them and with a meal prepared to best enhance them.
*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.