What wine to serve at Thanksgiving?

22 11 2010

Here are some ideas for what you might serve this Turkey Day.

My overall answer is, drink what you like.  I don’t believe there is any “Supposed To” with wine.  Now, wine lovers already know what they like.  Others — normal people — just want an idea, “please,” so they can check wine off their list.

So, here you go!

Some will tell you, Thanksgiving is the time for the very light red wine, Beaujolais Nouveau.  You’ll see a ton of this on sale now.  I think it sucks, usually, so I’m not going to recommend it.  If you see a beautiful bottle with colorful flowers all over it for a low price like $8, I suggest you steer clear.

I say, Thanksgiving is the time for crowd-pleasing wines.   If you’re putting on a fairly big, nice dinner, consider serving 3 types:

1.  Pink: It’s a holiday celebration, so something bubbly makes sense.  I suggest a rosé champagne (called “sparkling wine” if it’s not French).  The color is fun, and it has more flavor to compliment your food than regular champagne, because it contains some non-bubbly red wine.  My strategy here: go extreme.  Either cheap and sweet with something obvious like Martini & Rossi Austi Spumante, or invest in something really good like Nicolas Feuillatte ($40) — or even better. In my experience, spending $20-$25 and hoping for a “pretty darn good” sparkling wine leads to disappointment.  Even the well-regarded $30-$35 Domaine Carneros brute rosé is just, “OK,” to me.

2.  White: Riesling.  If you want your dinner spread to look really cool, Bree riesling ($12) — because of that super classy and unique bottle.  For more flavor, Kim Crawford dry riesling ($16) is better and more interesting.  And if you want to “buy American” this Thanksgiving, the delicious Eroica from Washington State ($20) is always great.  These are sweet wines, crowd-pleasers that go wonderfully with appetizers.

For something less sweet that is still on the sweet side, and is more of a conversation starter:  Evolution 9 white blend from Oregon ($15).  Nine different grapes! 

For something more dry and tart: sauvignon blanc.  Budget:  Nobilo ($11).  More expensive:  Mason Cellars reserve ($25), St. Supery ($18) or make your guests go “ooooh” with Cakebread Cellars ($25-30).

3.  Red: Make sure to open your red wine 1 or 2 hours before you serve dinner, to let it breathe.  Just pop out the cork and let the bottle sit there until it’s time to pour.

For me, the red for Thanksgiving is pinot noir.  It’s got grace, spice, and it’s a little lighter than most other red wines, so it’s perfect for turkey.  Budget:  Mark West Santa Lucia Highlands ($14) or MacMurray Ranch Sonoma Coast ($15).  Moderate cost, yet delicious: Bouchaine 2007 ($25).  Even better: Lange Three Hills Cuvee ($37) or Lange Freedom Hill ($65), or anything by Domaine Serene (they start at around $37-40 for the Yamhill Cuvee).   Serious budget: Mark West ($9) — this one is less of a “crowd pleaser” because it has a strong personality, but it’s great if you love pinot.

A more intense and more American choice is red zinfandel.  Red zin is heavier than pinot noir, but can still be nicely spicy.  Budget:  Zen of Zin ($12) or Rosenblum ($16).  Moderate to best: Anything by Ridge, or — look for a “reserve” or other special bottling that costs over $20 by any of these names, and buy the most that you can afford: Cline, Ravenswood, Rosenblum, Rabbit Ridge, or Rancho Zabaco.

Again, there’s no right or wrong answer and it’s always great to drink what you like.  Merlot, chardonnay, whatever, as long as you enjoy it, that’s what counts.  Either way, I hope this list helps.  And if you enjoyed it, I hope you’ll sign up to receive new posts by email (“Subscribe,” upper right of this page).  Cheers!