When it comes to Thanksgiving wines, my vino-guzzling relatives aren't exactly picky. As long as there's plenty of something red and something white, everyone's happy.
My first Thanksgiving dinner away from home was a different story. I wanted everything to be "gourmet," including the wine. Would Martha Stewart serve any old schlock with her perfect Thanksgiving bird? Not likely. With this twisted idea in mind, I set out in search of the ultimate Thanksgiving wine: one that would pair perfectly with herb-y turkey, tangy cranberry sauce, buttery mashed potatoes and sweet pumpkin pie.
After much sampling and sweating, I reached a startling conclusion: There is no perfect Thanksgiving wine. Sweet, herby, buttery and salty flavors commingling on the same plate? I tell you, it just ain't natural.
The good news is that, while one single wine may not withstand all those crazy food-swings, plenty of wines out there will taste great with 95 percent of the stuff facing you on the plate. Even the cranberry sauce.
Just follow these wine guidelines for a Thanksgiving dinner even Martha would approve of.
... Don't rely on a single wine. Even if the one you choose matches every dish perfectly, chances are, your uncle George would rather have red/white/rose instead. Have two or three different wines on hand so there's something for everyone.
... When it comes to reds, go for lighter-style, fruity wines like Pinot Noir/Burgundy, Zinfandel or Beaujolais. Ultra-dry tannic reds like Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot tend to overpower blander dishes like turkey or mashed potatoes, and clash with the sweet stuff.
... Sweet dishes like cranberry sauce and candied yams call for a white (or pink) wine with a touch of sweetness. (Don't worry, the sugar in the wine will be balanced out by the sweetness of the food.) Think Gewurztraminer, off-dry rose, Chenin Blanc or Riesling. You might also go for a rich aromatic white like Viognier.
... Don't overlook the bubblies. Sparkling wines are extremely versatile and food friendly, especially the fruity roses. Try Roederer Estate Brut Rose or Korbel Rouge.
... Sweet, spicy desserts like pumpkin pie taste best with sweet, spicy wines like late-harvest Gewurztraminer, late-harvest Riesling ("late-harvest" means the grapes were left on the vines long enough to develop an intense sweetness) or Orange Muscat.
... Don't believe everything you read. Experiment with different wines and see what works for you.
Gobble Gobble Gulp Gulp
With that last tip in mind, I grabbed a few bottles of wine and sought out Thanksgiving vittles at local restaurants. Armed with a plate of turkey, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce and sweet potatoes, I tasted my way through the bottles to present the following results:
Cline 2000 Oakley Vin Gris Smells and tastes like a combo of strawberries and watermelon. Fruity and dry-ish, this pink wine tasted great with all the Thanksgiving goodies on my plate. Easily the most versatile wine of the bunch ($12).
Trimbach 1998 Gewurztraminer This wine from France's Alsace region has flowery, honeysuckle aromas and a golden color. It's full-bodied, rich and nicely sweet. This would be great with turkey and sweet potatoes ($16.99).
Ravenswood 1999 Vintners Blend Zinfandel With a rich, cranberry color, this Zin is smooth, simple and easy to drink. A decent match for everything but the cranberry sauce ($12).
Gundlach Bundschu 1999 Sonoma Valley Pinot Noir Starts out with nice raspberry aromas and follows through in the mouth with oodles of fruit and spice. This yummy, light-to-medium red was a bit dry for the cranberry sauce, but it tasted great with everything else ($28).
Comments? Questions? Great wine experience to share? Talk to us! We'll feature your comments in our Mailbag. E-mail [email protected], mail to Corkscrew, 1310 E. Ninth Ave., Tampa, FL 33605 or call 1-800-341-LOAF.