(This column appeared in the 11/19 issue of Dan’s Papers)

Five Turkey Day Wine Tips
Choosing wines to serve with your Thanksgiving Day spread can seem a monumental task. Typical Thanksgiving dinners include a plethora of different flavors and textures—turkey (white and dark meat), stuffing that can contain almost anything, rich gravy, sweet potatoes, tart cranberry sauce and sweet pumpkin pie. Add other possibilities like ham, prime rib or even Italian food (like we have) and it can be overwhelming.

It doesn’t have to be and it shouldn’t be. There’s only one rule for matching wines with Thanksgiving: there are no rules.

Here are some tips and suggestions that I share with friends and co-workers when they ask for my advice. But if you ask ten other wine lovers, you’re sure to get ten different answers. That’s the great thing about wine…it’s so personal. You like what you like and no one else can tell you differently.

Tip #1: Start With a Sparkler

Despite what many people think, sparkling wine isn’t just for New Years Eve and weddings. No other wine sets a celebratory mood like a nice bottle of bubbly. You don’t need to go crazy, spending $100 on a bottle. Italian Prosecco and Spanish Cava are often good values…perfect for toasting what you’re thankful for this year.

Tip #2: Make it a Tri-Color Holiday

You don’t want to pick one kind of red wine and just serve that. Beyond being boring, there’s probably at least one person at your table who doesn’t like red wine. By offering both red and white, everyone can feel a part of the holiday meal. If you get a bright, dry one, you could even serve a Rose as well.

This also allows people to try different wines with different courses to see what they like, which is always fun.

Tip #3: Keep Things Juicy

Your wines should be like your roasted bird – juicy. This isn’t the time to uncork that bottle of bold, young California Cabernet Sauvignon you just picked up. It’s going to be way too tannic, and it will overpower the milder flavor of turkey. For reds, stick with fruit-forward wines like Shiraz, Beaujolais and Pinot Noir. Merlot can even be a good choice. Just ask your wine merchant about ones that aren’t too tannic or oaky.

On the whiter side of things, I usually avoid rich, buttery Chardonnays because, while they may go well with certain parts of the meal (turkey, mashed potatoes) they often lack the acidity to stand up to the rest of the meal. Fruity Viognier is often a nice pairing, but my all-time favorite food-friendly white is Riesling. You shouldn’t choose one of the sweeter ones, but a crisp, floral example is great with most any meal. Most of my favorites come from Germany.

Tip #4: Serve Dessert in a Glass

Everyone serves pumpkin pie, but how many people serve dessert wine at the end of a delicious Thanksgiving dinner?

Not many, so start a new trend!

A lot of people eat so much during the meal that they barely have room for dessert, so serving a small glass of sweet dessert wine can bet a welcome option. Avoid fortified wines like Port – they are usually the reason people think they don’t like dessert wines Stick with late harvest whites or, my personal favorite, ice wine. I bet people will be surprised how much they enjoy it.

Tip #5: Don’t Leave Out the Leftovers

You know that you’re going to have leftover turkey tomorrow for sandwiches, so have some wine ready to serve Friday. My personal favorite with turkey sandwiches is Zinfandel. You can get good ones (usually from California) for around $10 a bottle. Try a couple different ones to find a new favorite.

At the end of the day, the single most important thing on Thanksgiving is to have fun. If you don’t like Pinot Noir or Riesling, ignore my advice completely and get something that you think you’ll like. The best way to learn what you like with different foods is to just go out and try it.

No one knows your wine palate better than you, regardless of what most wine “experts” will tell you.

Lenn Thompson is a contributing wine writer for Dan’s North Fork. Email lenn@lenndevours.com