'Tis the season for an onslaught of articles recommending wines that pair well with the Thanksgiving meal. Judging from the large number of google searches landing upon last year's post rounding up the food media's suggestions for wines with turkey, I decided to revisit the topic again this year, but this time with a twist.
Before collecting links to all of the major media recommendations for Thanksgiving wines, I thought it might be interesting to gather wine pairing suggestions from the growing world of wine blogs too. I sought out the opinions of several wine bloggers (as well as two particularly wine-oriented food bloggers). Their recommendations varied widely -- from Zinfandel to Champagne, German Riesling to Chenin Blanc. Thanks to all who responded, and without further ado, here's what they said.
Vinography Says: Pinot Noir, Syrah, Tempranillo, and Sangiovese
"Thanksgiving is a tough meal to pair wines with because of the wide variety of flavors and foods on offer, and the fact that they are all consumed together,” says Alder Yarrow, creator of the wine blog Vinography. “You've got turkey which can be more suited to white wines, but then you've got dark meat and gravy, potatoes, and stuffing which are rich and heavily spiced and more suited to red wines. Not to mention the sweet flavors of cranberry relish which is a really tough pairing.”
“In general, because a lot of this food is rich and buttery I tend to lean towards wines that have high acidity, and because turkey is a more rich poultry I think red wines are better than whites, which will fall flat with certain elements of the dinner. So what does this mean? I generally favor Pinot Noir, Syrah, Tempranillo, and Sangiovese based wines, most of which are not from the U.S. (which tends to make these varietals in a heavier style). All of these varietals tend to be made into wines with a good modicum of acid, a nice tart, light flavor, and often subtler fruit flavors mixed with earthier elements that complement the flavors of Thanksgiving."
Best Bet: Kermit Lynch's Domaine Pallieres Gigondas.
Professor Bainbridge Says: Zinfandel
"Assuming a gathering of friends but not of wine snobs, you want good wines that will complement the food but not be the star attraction," writes Southern California-based wine blogger Stephen Bainbridge, also known as Professor Bainbridge on Wine.
"Star attraction wines -- well aged clarets, cabernets, or burgundies -- don't mesh well with Thanksgiving Day. Granted, roast turkey would go well with most wines. Turkey is not as much of a blank canvas as roast chicken, as it has stronger flavors and firmer texture, but it still will work well with most wines. Instead, the problem children are all the other stuff we eat at Thanksgiving. A lot of strong flavors (both sweet and savory) -- herbed stuffing, yams with those little marshmallows, cranberry in some form, and (lord help us) jello molds. No fine claret or burgundy should have to compete with little marshmallows."
For such a typically American Holiday, Professor Bainbridge recommends pairing turkey with American wines. Specifically, domestic versions of vinifera varietals. “No vinifera wine is more quintessentially American than Zinfandel,” he writes. "Besides which, the berry and brambly flavors of good Zinfandel (by which I mean the red stuff, not the white stuff) will stand up quite nicely to the strong flavors of the Thanksgiving table."
Best Bet: Ridge Pagani Ranch Zinfandel (Sonoma) 1997. "This is a beautiful mature Zinfandel. A medium ruby shading to an attractive brick-red at the rim. A low intensity subtle nose of leather and dried currants on a backbone of cedar shavings. Any rough edges - and Pagani can be tough when young - have been smoothed away. Claret-like flavors of lead pencil and dried currants, with a fading memory of its jammy youth in flavors of nutmeg, cardamom, and vanilla. A rich and dense wine that still has the stuffing to go on aging."
Spittoon.biz Says: South African Chenin Blanc
"Even if I am in the U.K. and Thanksgiving is not one of our celebrations, Christmas and Turkey however are,” says Andrew Barrow from across the pond at Spittoon.biz. "Over the years I have heard all sorts of wines recommended -- from light Beaujolais through Chardonnay (from just about anywhere) down to Australian Sparkling Shiraz. And I have tried most of them too! However, this year I would like to recommend just one white -- a Chenin Blanc from South Africa. Why this one wine? Not only is it stunningly gorgeous, with great texture and oodles of flavour the touch of sweetness to it (call it dry and most wont notice) smoothes it out and assists in linking and matching the various trimmings normally served. (All the trimmings are Brussel sprouts, roast potato, bread sauce, cranberry sauce, giblets and the like)."
An Obsession With Food Says: German Reisling and Sparkling Wines
"I would always suggest having German Riesling and sparkling wine, and last year we had some Southern Rhone wines that worked well," says Derrick Schneider, resident food blogger at An Obsession with Food. I try and have a mix so people can help themselves to what they like best, and I try not too stress about the wine too much. I'm usually plenty stressed as it is!"
"Riesling is a versatile wine that can handle the diversity of dishes on the table, and a good German Riesling Kabinett or Spatlese can stand up to sugary items like cranberry sauce and sweet potatoes with marshmallows (as long as they're not _too_ sugary). A sparkling wine is not only food-friendly but sets a celebratory mood, and a nice Gigondas would be appropriate for the cold (even here!) fall weather and it's relatively flexible with the food."
Best Bet: Rene Geoffroy's Rose Champagne. "Rene Geoffroy grows the grapes for this Champagne himself, which makes him an oddity in the region, where most houses buy from vineyards all around. This is just a fantastic wine, and it seems appropriate to serve something from this small producer with our heritage turkey. I'll probably also be trying the Beaujolais (Cru Beaujolais, not Beaujolais Nouveau) combo this year. Issue 67 of The Art of Eating has a big article on Beaujolais, so I'll probably use some of those recommendations."
Lenndevours Says: Pinot Noir, Shiraz, German Riesling, and Viognier
"First, drink wines you like,” observes Lenn Thompson at Lenndevours. "Don't listen to the so-called 'experts.' If you don't like Pinot Noir, don't drink it just because someone said you should. Personally, for reds I do love Pinot Noir and well-made Shiraz (meaning no Yellow Tail). For whites, I always avoid Chardonnay . . . it usually lacks the acidity I like with food. Instead, I LOVE German Riesling (or any other not super sweet one). Viognier is another good choice. You want fruit with nice acidity . . . but not overwhelming acidity (a.k.a. I don't like Sauvignon Blanc)."
"You want relatively light, fruity wines that aren't oaky or tannic. Thanksgiving can be tough because of the variety of foods involved . . . from mild white meat to sausage-infused stuffings to sweet potatoes . . . but fruity, well-balanced wines are great. I like to have a few options on hand so people can try different things. Also, lighter wines are good because you're already stuffing yourself . . . you don't need big, heavy wines to weigh you down."
Turn the Screw Says: Dry Champagne, Tempranillo, Rosé, and Riesling
"Here in Savannah, many people don't do the traditional Turkey and stuffing bit that everybody gets all misty-eyed for," cautions Christian Depken of the Georgia-based wine blog Turn the Screw, who offers a range of pairing options. "Cranberry sauce is persona non grata in my house. Given that, here's what I would recommend. Deep fried turkey is very popular around here (if you've ever had one, you'll never eat Turkey any other way), and a combination that I highly recommend is a dry Champagne. My particular favorite (for the money) is Lanson 'Black Label' Brut NV. The tight, clean finish of this wine counters the 'greasy' aspects of the Turkey, similar to that of Cabernet Sauvignon and a good steak. Plus this wine is far more delicate than many of the more popular Champagne houses (Moët, Roederer)."
"For the more traditional style dinner, I am recommending Spain, particularly the 2002 Telmo Rodriguez 'Dehesa Gago' Toro. Spain is producing some spectacular wines at incredible values, many of them from the less 'popular' regions. Many of these have garnered high ratings from the press but most of them will fall victim to infanticide if consumed now. This Dehesa Gago is 100% Tempranillo from an 'off year' (according to the press) but as such it doesn't require as much time in bottle. The tannins are present but not overbearing. The aromatics show all the usual Spanish traits (leather, earth, dried beef) that would go perfectly with the 'turkey and stuffing' styled meal. Another upshot is the price. I find people are entertaining larger numbers nowadays and this is an ideal wine for such cases without having to take a second mortgage."
"And for the vegetarian/vegan one of two wines. The 2003 Routas 'Rouvière' Rosé Coteaux Varois or the 2002 Dr. Pauly-Bergweiler Graacher Himmelreich Riesling Kabinett. The rosé is bone dry, exactly what a proper French rosé should be, but not what most people think of when they think pink. Admittedly this is the quintessential summer wine but for lighter fare or as an entry wine (reception, drink while cooking) it is ideal. For something a little heavier spiced, the Riesling is my choice. The wine has amazing acidity which is balanced with just the right amount of residual sugar, resulting in a wine that finishes very clean. Tower or Blue Nun this is not. And furthermore, people should drink more German Riesling, regardless of any holidays. It would make the world a better place."
Stay tuned next week for Part II, a round up of links to recent articles in the food media on Thanksgiving wine recommendations.