My first Thanksgiving dinner away from home was a different story. I wanted everything to be "gourmet," including the wine. Would Martha Stewart serve any old swill with her perfect Thanksgiving bird? Not likely. I set out in search of the ultimate Thanksgiving wine, one that would pair perfectly with herby turkey, tangy cranberry sauce, buttery mashed potatoes and sweet pumpkin pie.
After much sampling and sweating, I reached a conclusion: there is no perfect Thanksgiving wine. Sweet, herby, buttery and salty flavors co-mingling on the same plate? It just ain't natural.
The good news is that, while one single wine may not withstand those crazy Thanksgiving food-swings, plenty of wines out there will taste great with 95 percent of the stuff on your plate. Even the cranberry sauce.
Just follow these wine guidelines for a Thanksgiving dinner even Martha would approve of. Don't rely on a single wine. Even if the one you choose matches every dish perfectly, chances are your uncle George would rather have red/white/rose instead. Have two or three different wines on hand so there's something for everyone.
When it comes to reds, go for light, fruity wines like Pinot Noir or Burgundy, Zinfandel or Beaujolais. Ultra-dry tannic reds like Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot tend to overpower blander dishes like turkey and mashed potatoes, and clash with sweet items.
Sweet dishes such as cranberry sauce and candied yams call for a white (or pink) wine with a touch of sweetness. (Don't worry, the sugar in the wine will be balanced out by the sweetness of the food.) Think Gewurztraminer, off-dry rose, Chenin Blanc or Riesling. You also might go for a rich aromatic white like Viognier.
Don't overlook the bubblies. Sparkling wines are extremely versatile and food-friendly, especially the fruity roses. Try Roederer Estate Brut Rose or Korbel Rouge. Sweet, spicy desserts like pumpkin pie taste best with sweet, spicy wines like late-harvest Gewurztraminer, late-harvest Riesling ("late-harvest" means the grapes were left on the vines long enough to develop an intense sweetness) or Orange Muscat.
Don't believe everything you read. Experiment with different wines and see what works for you.
Gobble gobble, gulp gulp
With that last tip in mind, I grabbed a few bottles of wine and sought out Thanksgiving vittles at local restaurants. Armed with a plate of turkey, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce and sweet potatoes, I tasted my way through the bottles to present the following results:
Cline 2000 Oakley Vin Gris ($12) 1/2: Smells and tastes like strawberries and watermelon. Fruity and dry-ish, this pink wine tasted great with all the Thanksgiving goodies on my plate. Easily the most versatile wine of the bunch.
Trimbach 1998 Gewurztraminer 1/2 ($16.99): This wine from France's Alsace region has flowery, honeysuckle aromas and a golden color. It's full bodied, rich and nicely sweet. Great with turkey and sweet potatoes.
Paul Cheneau Blanc de Blancs Cava ($9): Despite the Frenchy name, this bubbly comes from Spain. It's pale yellow with lively bubbles and a nice toasty aroma. A hint of sweetness sneaks in after the initial sip, but the wine finishes dry. Quite a bargain at less than 10 bucks.
Ravenswood 1999 Vintners Blend Zinfandel ($12) : With a rich cranberry color, this Zin is smooth, simple and easy to drink. A decent match for everything but the cranberry sauce.
Gundlach Bundschu 1999 Sonoma Valley Pinot Noir ($28) : Starts out with nice raspberry aromas and follows through in the mouth with oodles of fruit and spice. This yummy, light-to-medium red was a bit dry for the cranberry sauce, but it tasted great with everything else.
Tina Caputo is a San Francisco-based wino who supports her nasty habit by writing for several wine publications. Comments? E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, mail to Corkscrew, 1310 E. Ninth Ave., Tampa, FL 33605 or call 1-800-341-LOAF.
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