Thanksgiving is all about the joy of gathering with family and friends over a magnificent feast, but it can also be highly stressful with so much to do and so little time. With a sigh of relief, we accepted an invitation to celebrate Thanksgiving this year with good friends who asked us only to bring a vegetable, a couple of pies and, of course, the wines.
But which wines? The question is probably as old as the holiday itself, though I suspect at early Thanksgivings they were drinking hard ciders made from apples and pears, which have regained popularity in recent years. These days, the wine choices are almost endless, but a few basic guidelines will be helpful.
Whether red or white, the wines should have vibrant acidity and lower alcohol levels (ideally in the 12 to 13 percent range), to combine well with all the food choices; people tend to drink a lot of wine at Thanksgiving — figure at least a half a bottle or so per guest — so you don’t want to tire them out with big-alcohol bottles that take real effort to drink. I also look for wines with modest or no oak since wood, if not subtle, can put wines on a collision course with some of the foods. Lastly, I look for good “everyday” wines that won’t break the bank.
I like to serve several wines, depending on the course, and TODAY.com's make-ahead Thanksgiving menu provides the chance to try a variety of them. The green salad with fennel, grapes, Gorgonzola and walnuts, for example, offers an explosion of tastes, and that’s before adding the dressing (which contains yogurt, maple syrup and balsamic vinegar). You’ll want a wine that can withstand it all, such as Nobilo’s 2013 Regional Collection Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand’s Marlborough. It combines racy acidity with tropical fruit, grapefruit and herb notes and a long, slightly creamy finish. It’s also a bargain at about $11.
For me, the make-ahead menu’s apple-parsnip soup has riesling written all over it, especially with its curry and coriander accents. A great choice is from France’s Alsace region, Hugel’s 2012 Riesling, available in many stores for under $20. This lovely wine is fresh and aromatic with apple, white peach and apricot flavors, a touch of orange and stony minerality. It’s a classic Alsatian dry riesling that I could easily drink throughout the meal.
A good choice from this country is Pine Ridge’s 2013 California Chenin Blanc-Viognier blend, which bursts with luscious tropical fruit and pear notes and a touch of honey. With an average price of about $13, you’ll find it for even less at many stores.
For the turkey and trimmings, I prefer red wines, and I match them not so much to the turkey itself, which is fairly neutral in taste, but to the stuffing and other sides. The stuffing on the make-ahead menu is classic, with its pork or turkey sausage and sage and thyme seasonings. Again, I look for lean elegance and freshness in the reds, and a variety of wines will work well. Another Nobilo wine, the 2013 Icon Marlborough Pinot Noir, about $19, is one of the best under-$20 pinots I’ve tasted this year. It’s bright and refreshing with black and red cherry, plum and blueberry notes with just a touch of oak. Try serving it slightly chilled. A bargain alternative is Undurraga’s 2012 “U” Pinot Noir from Chile’s Maipo Valley, which I found for just $8 at PJ Wine in New York (the shop will ship wine to some states). Nothing profound here, but a delicious non-oaked lighter wine that actually tastes like pinot noir, isn’t cloyingly sweet as some inexpensive California pinots can be, and shows spicy cherry, cranberry and blueberry notes.
On the slightly fuller side, try Susana Balbo’s 2013 “Crios” Malbec from Mendoza in Argentina. This excellent $11 malbec from one of my favorite producers shows concentrated dark-berry fruit with hints of milk chocolate and cinnamon. Another possibility is Sean Minor’s 2011 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. This $17 medium-bodied wine with blackberry, plum and black cherry notes is softly tannic with enough structure to make it among the better under-$20 California cabs.
As for dessert, the make-ahead menu includes a mouth-watering sweet potato pie with candied pecans. To lighten things up, have it with a glass of bubbly, such as Cavicchioli’s 1928 Extra Dry Prosecco from Italy, which has a suggested price of $14. The 1928 refers to the year the Cavicchioli family started to bottle the wine under its own name. This refreshing sparkler has just a touch of sweetness (“extra dry” in the sometimes odd parlance of wine) with apple, lemon and herb notes that will easily invite you to pour yourself another glass. Consider it as an aperitif before dinner as well.