The Bar Code: Wine Pairings for Thanksgiving Foods

Thanksgiving is a holiday that’s both fun and stressful. There’s all the work of getting the family together, the cooking and cleanup. One other potential stressor is what to drink with the meal, as turkey with stuffing doesn’t exactly have a slam-dunk wine pairing. But I’ve come up with some fun, creative, and delicious wine selections for everyone’s favorite 4 p.m. food coma day.

Bubbles! Champagne, and similar-quality sparkling wines from around the world, is often an afterthought at large events. Sure, you might crack a bottle or two to start (it’s a party, after all!), but generally the bubbly gets ignored once the food hits the table. This is a mistake! Well-made sparklers are amazingly drinkable and versatile food wines, as their crisp acidity and effervescence enable them to stand up against even relatively rich and robust dishes.

While Champagne is the best known, plenty of great French sparkling wines are almost as good; in particular, look for “méthode traditionelle” wines (those made the same way as Champagne) from the Loire Valley. These Crémants de Loire are often on a par with mid-tier champagne, yet more affordable. The brut rosé from De Chanceny is a beautiful expression of flowers and berries, while the Marcel Martin “Tête de Cuvée” is rich and elegant, with notes of brioche and lemon curd.

White! Again, when it comes to pairing with Turkey Day foods, acidity is your friend. However, I also like to look for a bit more body: a light, crisp pinot grigio will be swallowed by buttery mashed potatoes. Here’s a good opportunity to take a chance on some Washington whites: Syncline’s marsanne has a decent amount of heft while still retaining an acidic tang, while the Eroica riesling (a partnership between Chateau Ste. Michelle and famed German producer Dr. Loosen) combines a velvety mouthfeel with the flavor of crunchy, tart Granny Smith apples.

Red! Hold the expensive bottle of cabernet you’ve been saving for years; rich reds tend to dominate almost any food pairing. Instead, opt for Beaujolais (not Beaujolais Nouveau, unless you love alcoholic grape juice). From southeastern France, Beaujolais tend to have a bright, fruity quality that matches with turkey the same way that cranberry sauce does, while packing a decent tannic punch and a surprising depth of flavor. It’s usually relatively cheap, and reliable if you stick with trusted importers like Kermit Lynch.

Sweet! While most of us shun dessert wines, what better time to break them out than a holiday dedicated (in part) to excessive consumption? With pumpkin or pecan pie, I tend to like a slightly nuttier dessert wine: perhaps an oloroso or amontillado sherry from Spain. If you want to stay local, look for a late-harvest wine like the Kiona gewürztraminer, which will retain enough acidity to avoid seeming cloying.

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