What to pair on Thanksgiving Day? The answer is not always a very clear one for the reason that the 21st century Thanksgiving meal is not the same one from years ago, which consisted of the same menu items, year after year. Today, households across America are taking the traditional Thanksgiving feast to the next level by incorporating ethnic influences, using different cooking methods, and substituting many of the commonly used ingredients with more exciting ones. That said, the best wines for this festive day are not necessarily “spot on” pairings, but wines that are versatile with numerous ingredients, as well as ones that add some sort of value to the overall holiday experience.
To simplify things, I have chosen my top 3 wine picks for Thanksgiving Day. These wines are regional styles of wine. A number of options exist in each category, and accessibility to these wines is not limited to only three wineries. I feel these three styles of wine are the most user-friendly, whether connoisseur or novice, and most importantly are fun to drink on Thanksgiving Day. The first style is the All-American wine, Red Zinfandel. I only drink Red Zinfandel once a year, which is on Thanksgiving Day. American Zinfandel is arguably the one wine that Americans can call their own. We are the only country to specialize in this grape, and we do it quite well.
Wineries such as Hendry, Turley, Rosenblum, and Robert Biale have been making some rockstar Zins over the years, and I feel they are best consumed on one of the holidays we treasure most as a country. These “fruit bombs”, as some in the wine world call them, are very compatible with the foods of Thanksgiving. The jammy, spicy flavors contrast very nicely with ham, turkey, goose, quail, hen, etc., as well as complement a lot of the side dishes that consist of squash, dried fruits, and any other semi-sweet flavor profiles.
Lastly, Red Zinfandels tend to be exceedingly higher in alcohol levels than most dry wines, which doesn’t hurt in adding to the festiveness of the holiday. The second style of wine that I find to work best on Thanksgiving is Riesling. Whether from Germany, New York, Alsace, or Austria, the structure of Riesling fares very well with the varying flavors of the holiday. The wines have high levels of acidity, which are balanced by some residual sugar in the wine. They are generally light to medium-bodied, depending on style, and are great pairings for lighter game dishes, as well as being very versatile with various vegetables.
Riesling is a beautiful accent to the Thanksgiving meal, in that it lightens up a lot of the rich dishes, in addition to always being a crowd-pleaser, especially to those who may only drink wine on the holidays and have palates that are a bit more sensitive. The third style of wine is my personal favorite (year-round), and is a must in my mind for the holidays. This wine is Rosé Champagne.
Champagne in general is the most compatible wine with food, hence its usefulness on a complicated wine and food pairing day such as Thanksgiving. Why Rosé? Well, for one, Rosé Champagne has that elegance that warrants a special occasion for consumption. It’s one of those wines that are taken out of the cellar when festivities of family, the holidays, and celebration are amidst us. Additionally, whether from a grower such as René Geoffroy or Duval Leroy, or a négociant such as Krug or Perrier Jouët, Rosé Champagne has a complexity that stands up to the various flavors of the Thanksgiving, as well as providing an ample amount of acidity and effervescence to continually liven the palate throughout the meal.