Wine of the Week: Annual Thanksgiving Day wine pairings

WASHINGTON — The Thanksgiving holiday is by far and away my favorite holiday.

I love spending the day with family and friends, cooking, watching parades and football on the television … and figuring out what wines I want to pair with dinner.

But unlike many wine lovers celebrating the holiday, I tend to pick wines that don’t necessarily focus on the turkey. Because most Thanksgiving spreads have a variety of appetizers and side dishes competing for space on the table and on the tongue, pairing a wine with just the center of attention can be a bit, well, dull.

From tart cranberries to sweet potatoes, there is a plethora of complex flavors that makes picking the right wine a genuine challenge. It is almost impossible to find one single wine that will match up with each dish on the table. So a couple of years ago, my wife and I began our own tradition of employing a “tasting menu” approach for the wine as well as for the food. We open several different types of wine throughout the evening to enjoy with each course or particular dish.

Additionally, there is usually a wide range of guests whose tastes may not be in sync with one another, so having several different wines on the table will not only wake up the palate between courses, but also keep the guests engaged. Personally, I like to move through wine varietals at dinner the same way I like to eat: start off with a wine to whet my appetite, move on to something a little more substantial and then end with a big finale.

So while I can’t help you pick your guests this Thanksgiving, I can offer a few useful suggestions that should please most palates and pocketbooks.

This year, I am keeping my wine choices All-American. It is by no means a political statement, but given the recent hurricane in Florida, floods in Texas and fires in California, Oregon and Washington, I just wanted to show my gratitude to American winemakers on a day we have much to be thankful for.

We always like to welcome guests to our festive occasions with bubbles, and sparkling wines are a great way to cleanse the palate and get ready for the beginning of spending the day together. The Non-vintage Domaine Chandon Brut Classic Sparkling Wine from Napa Valley, California, is a great way to get the party started, with tight bubbles carrying apples, pears and nectarines on a nutty frame. Notes of toasted brioche and white peach on the crisp, dry finish complete the scene and get the palate ready for the rest of the night. $19

If you simply must have something to pair up with the center of attention, then the ultra-balanced 2015 Chateau Ste. Michelle Eroica Riesling, from Washington state’s Columbia Valley, is the ideal companion. Originally conceived as a collaboration between the world-renowned German winemaker, Dr. Ernst Loosen, and the winemaker for Chateau Ste. Michele, Bob Bertheau, this off-dry wine has a lovely bouquet of tropical fruit, green guava and apple blossom on the nose that melds with flavors of green apple, pear and kiwi fruit in the mouth. Pleasantly unctuous with a touch of ripe apricot sweetness, the medium body has perfect acidity and a crisp, focused finish. $20

Cranberries are a staple at our house, and they usually have a touch of cinnamon and orange rind in the recipe, so I like to mimic those flavors in the wine as well. The 2015 Penner Ash Estate Pinot Noir from the Willamette Valley of Oregon is a fantastic choice. This wine is a bold-styled pinot noir, with a vibrant nose teeming with scents of dried cherry and black tea. The fruit-forward flavors of cherry, red berry and red plum are on the brighter side and lead to a soft, round finish in which notes of orange cloves and cinnamon linger on the back of the tongue. $65

If you’re looking to make a statement with a big, bold, all-American red wine, try serving the 2011 Ravenswood Dickerson Ranch Zinfandel from Sonoma. The juxtaposition of ripe boysenberry, sweet cherry and blueberry liqueur flavors against the spicy, peppery frame provides a wonderfully balanced contrast between richness and rustic. The long, spicy finish fans out over the entire palate and makes your mouth thankful for Thanksgiving. $38

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