Wine pairings for Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is a time to count one’s blessings and be happy for what life has provided. This holiday is usually celebrated with a big feast. Next to Christmas dinner, it’s the meal that folks tend to go all out on and a glass of wine or two is the perfect accompaniment.

The noble turkey is the entrée of choice for most people. Not only is it yummy, but economical (especially for large gatherings), provides leftovers for wonderful sandwiches and makes fabulous stock from the bones. Any great chef knows the magic of a great stock for countless recipes. Turkey can be done up in so many ways that matching wine to it is a cinch. Although the dark meat possesses a little more flavour than the white, generally speaking, its fairly bland in character. It’s how you prepare it that gives it pizzazz. Seasonings, sauces, stuffing and cooking procedures really dictate the final magic and inherently govern which wine will work best.

For simply seasoned, roasted and unstuffed turkey, I find Chardonnay for the white meat and Cabernet Sauvignon for the dark do an admirable job. Lots of folks prefer Pinot Grigio, Merlot or Pinot Noir when the bird is prepared this way. However, most people like to stuff their turkey, which becomes a key ingredient in the wine choice. If you like traditional herb or sage stuffing, check out Sauvignon Blanc or Cabernet Franc for great compatibility. For chestnut stuffing, try medium-dry Riesling or Viognier. Wild rice works wonders with rosé or unoaked Chardonnay. Italian sausage stuffing is divine with Pinot Grigio, Zinfandel or Chianti. Apple nut stuffing is to-die-for with a medium Riesling. Barbera delivers big time with mushroom and Muscadet loves oyster stuffing.

The next most popular entrée for this holiday is ham. As ham’s primary flavour is somewhat salty, fruit driven, crisp wines need to make the scene. If simply baked, reds like a softer Zinfandel or Gamay Beaujolais will do nicely. For whites, give Gruner Veltliner or Riesling a go. Smoked ham is another story. Its smokiness requires a sweet note from the wine and an oaky Chardonnay, especially from California or Australia will provide it. You might go totally in another direction with this version and vie for a Gewurztraminer that will provide gobs of fruit and a smoky nuance.

Not a turkey or ham person? Maybe you’ll be serving roast beef, roast pork or lamb. Don’t fret. If roast beef is on the menu, then a big, full red like Cabernet Sauvginon or a red Bordeaux-style blend will suffice. Spicier versions will need a Syrah/Shiraz or Rhone red. Roast pork lovers will reach nirvana with a Chenin Blanc or Barbera, while lamb aficionados will declare victory utilizing a red Rioja, Zinfandel or Cabernet Sauvignon.

Vying for fish or seafood instead? No worries! Oilier entrees like oysters, clams, calamari or mussels will need a wine with lots of acidity like bubbly, dry Riesling, Muscadet or Sauvignon Blanc. Richer selections such as salmon, lobster, scallops or shrimp, especially in a butter or cream sauce, will cry out for an equally rich wine. Choose Pinot Gris, Viognier or an oaky Chardonnay.

Vegetarians, I haven’t forgotten about you. There are lots of wine matches for your entrées. For simple, unadorned dishes, Sauvignon Blanc or Muscadet for whites and fruity, low tannic, unoaked reds like Gamay or Beaujolais work best. If spicing it up a bit, introduce medium-dry Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Muscat or Torrontes to the mix. Richer fare will lend itself best to fuller, oakier reds like Cabernet Sauviginon, Malbec or a red Bordeaux-style blend.

Whatever your choice of entrée this Thanksgiving, don’t sweat it. There’s a wine to go with every possible meal and if you add some of the wine that you are going to sip with the dish to its preparation, the harmony will be that much better. Have fun with it, enjoy the company of loved ones and friends and sip responsibly. Cheers!


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