It seems that every wine writer is called upon at this time of the year to make recommendations for wine and food pairings for those special holiday dishes. With changing tastes and evolving wine styles, it’s good to revisit this issue annually.
Wines Recommended for Turkey
Roast turkey, of course, is found on most American Thanksgiving tables and always presents difficult wine pairing issues, thanks to its wide spectrum of flavors: white meat, dark meat, gravy, cranberry or other sauce.
The rule of thumb has always been to match the wine with the sauce, whatever the meat course may be. So if your guests are going to pour a rich gravy on top of their delicate slices of white breast meat, go for a wine that pairs well with the gravy.
Our choice here would be a light, dry red such as a Cru Beaujolais. Beaujolais Nouveau is often recommended as an all-round winner for the Thanksgiving table.
For those who prefer their white turkey meat unsauced, no red wine is recommended. Instead try an Oregon Pinot Gris or California Pinot Grigio. These are soft, dry, delicately complex wines with typical flavors of almond, peach and nectarine.
Chateau Ste. Michelle’s splendid Eroica Riesling would also be a winner. Dark meat with gravy or other sauce calls for a medium-bodied red, such as Pinot Noir, Grenache, or Sangiovese. A Barolo or Cru Beaujolais would be an excellent choice.
As for full-bodied reds such as Cabernet Sauvignon or red Bordeaux, maybe pass, unless you happen to have a well-aged bottle in your cellar.
Older red wines offer entirely different characteristics than their younger counterparts. An old Cabernet can be soft, delicate, and redolent of those flavors that come only with age (dried fruits, truffles, etc.).
Zinfandel is often recommended for American Thanksgiving due to its identification as a uniquely American wine. It might be just too big and fruity to pair well with anything on the Thanksgiving table except for cranberry sauce.
All-in-One Wines for Thanksgiving Dinner
Want to serve a single wine for your holiday dinner? Champagne is always appropriate throughout the Thanksgiving dinner, but won’t marry with any particular dish.
If you choose this option, try a rose’ sparkling wine such as Chateau Ste.-Michelle’s Blanc de Noirs from Washington State ($7) or a rose’ Cre’mant de Bourgogne ($10).
We’ve already mentioned Beaujolais Nouveau. But another excellent choice is Pietra Santa’s very delicious dry Rosato.
Wine for Prime Rib or Other Beef Roasts
Beef roasts are easy. Whether rare or well-roasted, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot pairs beautifully whether young or old.
The 2005 Ferrari-Carano Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is an affordable beauty with rich flavors of ripe blackberry, caramel, plum and chocolate. It’s also a bargain at $38 for a classy California Cabernet. A rich Aussie or Spanish Grenache would be lovely also.
Wine for Ham
Many people think ham provides a difficult wine pairing due to its saltiness. True, there’s no shoo-in pairing as there is with beef roasts.
And it seems odd to suggest color-oriented pairings (white with white, red with red, pink with pink?), but that’s what I’m going to do.
By all means, try a pink wine, even one with a touch of residual sweetness to complement the saltiness of the ham.
White Zin? Why not, if you are a fan of that wine. The best ones widely available are probably from Berenger and Sutter Home.
If you are a more disciplined wine drinker, then opt for the Pietra Santa Rosato mentioned above or a sparkling wine.
Wine for Duck and Goose
Roast goose is a traditional Christmas dinner, particularly for the English. Like duck, geese are all dark meat and richly flavored.
Sauced or not, they call for a complex medium-bodied red. An Oregon or Santa Rita Hills Pinot Noir will provide the perfect complement.
A Cru Beaujolais would also work very well, as would a good Chianti or Spanish Rioja. These wines do not possess the overwhelming power of a fine Cabernet, Merlot, or Zinfandel and may be the best all-round red food wines in the world.