By Mark Christenson, President, International / CTO
Despite a significant increase in wine drinkers, and newer producers and younger sommeliers trying to demystify wine to make it accessible to everybody, wine can still intimidate, especially when there is already stress from the overhead of needing to provide a huge meal for relatives, many of whom haven’t been seen since last year. One additional element of how mobile communications is helpful at Thanksgiving is through the many apps that exist to help people choose the right wine to serve at Thanksgiving. It is a question that is fraught with complexity (much like the wines you think you need to serve to your guests). Some apps that might help you choose a wine include Vivino, Hello Vino, Delectable, and Plonk. All of these can help answer the question. White because of the turkey? But what about the traditional sides like stuffing, mashed potatoes, green beans, cranberries, yams, etc? What if you just prefer red wine? Amongst wine aficionados (better known as “wine geeks” or “cork dorks”, people who spend more time debating wine online and in person than actually drinking the stuff), the perfect Thanksgiving wine is an ongoing, much-debated, yet never-resolved topic. Traditionally there was a simple formula—red wine with red meat, white wine with poultry or fish. However, sticking to that basic formula would eliminate classic matches such as Pinot Noir with salmon, or Beaujolais with roast chicken, or even Sherry with olives. Thankfully, even hard-core oenophiles have loosened the dogma in the last two decades. The first and foremost consideration is whether or not you want to drink a particular wine. For example, a friend’s wife cannot drink Syrah without suffering severe heartburn (yet she can drink big, bold Cabernet Sauvignons with no problem), so a Northern Rhône or California Syrah is never going to be on their table, regardless of the food. Second, it is worth remembering that Thanksgiving should be about the getting together of friends and family. Third, with the variety of foods that typically show up on Thanksgiving menus, it is worthwhile considering “safe” bets that cover a lot of food-pairing territory. And fourth, are you willing to open more than one wine (e.g., a red and a white, or perhaps even more?).
For that reason, I like to suggest the following.
If you only want to open one wine, I’d go with Zinfandel. It’s a variety with an American heritage, fitting on this most-American of holidays. Although styles can vary, they tend to be rich, fruit-forward reds with a bit of spice. I think they pair well with turkey, ham, chicken, meatballs, or even a roast. In other words, just about any protein you throw at it will work.
If you have a desire to offer some variety (no grape pun intended), a California Chardonnay, vinified with oak, is a good option. Most people still tend to love Chardonnay even despite the “Anything But Chardonnay” movement of a few years ago. And for those who are averse to red wines, this offers a friendly option. A big Chardonnay will go with the aforementioned main dishes, either pairing well or at least not getting clobbered the way a more delicate, crisp Chardonnay or other grape such as Sauvignon Blanc. Plus it will work with the sides.
If you really want to offer variety, open something with bubbles. The obvious choice would be Champagne, but depending on your tastes (and your budget) a sparkling wine from California, a prosecco spumante from Italy, or a cava from Spain would all suffice. The addition of bubbles along with the wide range of styles (super dry white to off-dry pink) result in a wine that is both festive and surprisingly versatile with food. In fact, this could be your one-and-only if you wanted to live on the edge but be confident in your selection because I can’t think of virtually anybody who does not enjoy a glass of sparkling wine, especially on one of the 364 days that is not New Year’s Eve.