Thanksgiving: Ohh, sweet, delectable Turkey Day. I'm obsessed with this ultimate feast and the ever-swelling gathering of family and friends crammed into a too-tiny, hectic and utterly delicious-smelling kitchen. I adore the sight of hands everywhere eager to help prepare, stories being shared and everyone sitting down together to a veritable smorgasbord. And while this uniquely American holiday's history has given us a fairly good idea of what to eat, the question of what to drink is perhaps not so easily answered.
To start, let's get one thing out of the way: There's not a "right" or a "wrong" wine to slug with your stuffing — but there are wines that just might be more likely send you to sensory elation. So, where to start?
One of the most relied-upon "rules" of wine and food pairing is "If it grows together, it goes together." The idea is that wines and foods naturally evolved together as a whole regional cuisine. For example, you'd be more likely to find lots of fresh, crisp whites in a warmer-climate area adjacent to the sea than you'd be to find huge, dark, spicy reds (the former wines pair better with seafood than the latter). The concept isn't as easy to apply in modern-day America, but you can still relish the uniquely American spirit of Thanksgiving by drinking American wines. And my, oh my, do we have some good ones to choose from!
If it's a red you're after, I'd bet most heavily on a Pinot Noir. Lighter in body and softer on the palate than something like a Cabernet or a Merlot, California Pinot Noir's plush, easy berry fruit is just the right match for poultry and all your T-Day fixins. Pinot Noir from Oregon is also stellar — I find it has a touch more earthiness and a little less forward, juicy fruit than its sisters further south.
For whites, a fuller-bodied wine will stand up nicely to the rich dishes on your dining room table. A great California Chardonnay with a bit of toasty oak in it definitely fits the bill with its round mouthfeel and slight creaminess, which just begs for some buttery mashed potatoes and gravy. If you’re not a die-hard fan and usually dislike Chardonnay, ask your wine merchant for one that's un-oaked, which will allow more bright, appley and citrusy fruit to shine through while the grape's full body will still satisfy.
Alternatively, a wonderfully aromatic, lighter-bodied white with pronounced notes of fruit and flowers can act as an excellent contrast to the many savory, substantial foods of Thanksgiving. Washington state produces some excellent Rieslings (both dry and sweet, though I'd vote for dry and save sweet for pairing with pie), and the grape's naturally high acidity cuts nicely through the richness of the food. Gewurztraminer is another favorite: Highly aromatic with a touch of warm spice, the best ones are coming out of cooler-weather areas like Washington and Oregon. On the East Coast, look for any of the aforementioned grapes coming out of the Finger Lakes region of New York.
In the end, Thanksgiving is about celebrating our blessings. So whatever beverage ends up on your table, raise your glass and toast to the good things!