As Master Sommelier for Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants, I’m constantly sharing my love of wine. So asking me if I’ll serve wine on Thanksgiving is kind of like asking Richard Simmons if he exercises.
The real question: How am I serving wine on Thanksgiving?
Every family has their own traditions. In mine, the pours typically began around 1 p.m. This is when my grandmother, overwhelmed by all the activity, started to get anxious and cranky. My mom and aunt would slip her a glass of white and the mood in the kitchen would lift. At the same time, you’d find me sipping a light, crisp white while I cook. This made things doubly fun, because it got me in the festive mood and was great to have on hand for cooking. (A splash of it adds nice acidity to stuffing and brightens flavors in vegetables.)
Need help with your Turkey Day wine choices? Here are my favorites in chronological order, from cooking helpers to those that bring things to a delicious close.
It’s a splash in the cooking pot, a splash in the glass for these smooth options, which you should keep in easy reach on the kitchen counter.
Paco & Lola Albarino, Rias Baixas
This varietal comes from sun-kissed northwest Spain. It has bright tangerine and peach flavors and an aromatic intensity. Overall, light and clean, with a refreshing finish.
Gloria Ferrer Blanc de Noirs Brut
Sparkling wine adds a festive note to every occasion, including cooking! This selection from the Carneros district of California is lively and crisp. It is made from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, giving it a luminous copper color. Strawberry and cherry flavors converge with citrus in all the right ways.
Dr. Loosen “Dr. L” Riesling, Mosel
Riesling is a great cooking wine. Not only does it have great acidity to add to the dishes you are cooking, but it’s low-alcohol. (For those all-day cooking experiences, this is a good thing!) The wine is lightly fruity, delicate, and kissed with honey and flower flavors.
Early Evening: Feasting
Move to richer white wines. Chardonnay is a great start; the roasted apple flavors and spicy oak work nicely with harvest soups. A rich white can accompany the whole dinner. Turkey and gravy certainly cry out for this style of wine. Thanksgiving is a complex meal, however, and some of the components (think stuffing and cranberries) need red wine. I recommend staying with lighter reds, however. Cabernet, Syrah, and the like would dominate the flavors of this traditional meal. Think about those that have the lighter red fruit flavors … like cranberry!
Sokol Blosser Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley
These elegant, understated Pinot Noirs have a softness well suited for the range of flavors in a Thanksgiving meal. Oregon Pinots traditionally yield flavors of raspberry, black cherry, truffle, rose petal, and forest floor.
Au Bon Climat Chardonnay, Santa Barbara
These Chardonnays are “Burgundian” in style, meaning they are balanced with crisp acidity and clean fruit flavors. The oak and butter flavors are restrained, making for an irresistible glass of apple, brioche, and tropical fruit.
Stags’ Leap Viognier, Napa
Viognier is like the sexy little cousin of Chardonnay. It is ripe and rich and stands up to oak aging; the differences are the opulent flavors of peach and gardenia. These aromatic notes balance well with the caramel and spice flavors (the result of extended oak aging).
Charles Joguet Chinon
Hailing from France’s Loire Valley, Chinon is made from the Cabernet Franc grape. It is light and earthy, with bright red fruit flavors balanced with herbs and spice. Look for cranberry, sage, pomegranate, and bay leaf aromatics.
Beaujolais Nouveau (any producer)
These wines go hand-in-hand with Thanksgiving, one reason being that they are always released on the third Thursday of November. The wine is made from the Gamay grape in the Beaujolais region of France. It is a popular “vin de primeur,” fermented for just a few weeks and bottled. The wines are incredibly fresh and fruity. Bigger wine shops will have them available around Thanksgiving and certainly any French specialty store will have a big display heralding their arrival. They are not overly complex and are best served slightly chilled.
Late Evening: Winding Down
Dessert time! You’ll need a wine with lots of spice and dried fruit flavors to match pumpkin pie. Here are two of my favorites, which it must be said are great in lieu of dessert too.
Merryvale Antigua, Napa
This fortified Muscat from Napa Valley is made from a blend of vintages. The result is wonderfully floral and nutty, with dried orange peel and butterscotch aromas.
Warre’s Otima 20-Year Tawny Port
The translucent copper hue of the wine is accented by a soft nutty aroma gained from extended oak aging. Think sweet but not cloying, and with a long finish of pumpkin pie spices.
~ Emily Wines, Master Sommelier
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Photo of Emily Wines by Chris Guillen
Updated April 20, 2016