My wife, Cindy, and I both come from families where Thanksgiving is a big deal. Preparation begins almost a week ahead and yet the rush to get everything on the table in time for dinner always reaches a chaotic crescendo just as everyone is sitting down.
But we love it because it is an opportunity to gather with family and friends, and celebrate with fabulous food and an assortment of wonderful wines.
Each year, we like to pick a variety of wines for Thanksgiving and have some fun with it. However, the biggest challenge still remains pairing the wines with a traditional Thanksgiving meal.
With all of the competing flavors and textures battling it out for space on the palate, selecting the right wines can be a little bit like navigating a culinary maze without a recipe.
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.
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So a few years ago, Cindy 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 a particular dish.
Since there is usually a wide range of guests whose taste may not be in sync with each other, having several different wines on the table will not only wake up the palate between courses, but it also helps 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.
While we can’t help you pick your guests this Thanksgiving, we can offer a few useful suggestions that should please most palates and pocketbooks.
Last week, I shared favorite white wines to enjoy with your family feast. This week, here are some favorite red wine picks to help perky up the turkey.
One of the most misunderstood wines in America could very well be the perfect wine to enjoy the classic American dinner. The 2018 Georges Duboeuf Domaine de Quatre Vents from the Beaujolais region of France in the Fleurie AOC. The vineyard has been owned and operated by the Darroze family since the mid-1950s.
Fresh aromas of dark fruits and red cherries permeate the nose and are repeated on the palate, where baking spices and tea combine with silky tannins on the fresh and oh-so-lively finish. Serve it slightly chilled and keep plenty on hand, since I predict it will disappear quickly throughout the evening. $22
My friend Cecile recently reminded me that Tuscan wines work wonders with Thanksgiving meals, particularly Sangiovese-based wines. So I am teeing up the 2014 Ruffino Chianti Classico Riserva Ducale Oro from the Tuscany region of Italy. It has just enough age on it to mellow any tannins that might get in the way of the delicate turkey flavors and enough acidity to keep the palate filled with juicy flavors of bright cherry, red plum, and a touch of cedar wood and tobacco. If there happens to be a bit of pasta on the table, so much the better! $30
Between the cranberries and the sweet potatoes, there’s a lot of tart, sweet and savory flavors cramming onto the palate. I think the 2017 Cakebread Cellars Two Creeks Vineyard Pinot Noir from the Anderson Valley in California hits all the right notes. Aged for 10 months in a combination of new and used French oak barrels, this fresh and lively pinot noir offers up gorgeous aromas of sweet black cherry, raspberry and rose petal. Supported by fine, supple tannins, this velvety pinot gives a generous mouth feel of dark berry fruits — think Bing cherries — and brown baking spices. It’s a tad more robust than its French cousin and more complex than most domestic counterparts. It will pair beautifully with the turkey’s dark meat and crispy skin, stuffing, rich gravy and even pumpkin pie. $45
No Thanksgiving table would be complete without a wine that America calls its own — Zinfandel. The 2016 Carol Shelton Rocky Reserve Zinfandel from the Dry Creek Valley appellation in Sonoma, California, is a distinctly American wine made from a blend of 87% Zinfandel and 13% petite sirah, sourced from the deep red, rocky soils of the Florence Vineyard, 1,400 feet above Lake Sonoma and Dry Creek Valley.
This elegant red wine elevates the Thanksgiving meal with rich flavors of dark cherries, black plums and black pepper. The substantial finish is smooth and lush, with a rush of spicy oak and chocolate-covered berries at the end. It will definitely stand up to a variety of flavorful dishes, as well as a chocolate-based dessert. $38