10 Things Your Mother Didn't Teach You About Thanksgiving Wines

Your mother probably never told you that sparkling rosé from the Loire Valley, France, like this crémant by Langlois Cheateau, delivers excellent value and food-friendliness at the Thanksgiving table.
Your mother probably never told you that sparkling rosé from the Loire Valley, France, like this crémant by Langlois Cheateau, delivers excellent value and food-friendliness at the Thanksgiving table.
Photo by Jeremy Parzen.

10. Don't believe the "perfect pairing" hype.

The Thanksgiving feast is one of the most challenging culinary events of the year when it comes to wine pairing. Between cranberry sauce, sweet potato pie, and the roast turkey, you have intensely tart, radically sweet, and richly savory flavors on the table. No wine is going to pair "perfectly" with every dish on the table. Anyone who claims to have discovered the "ideal" Thanksgiving wine has had too much 7-layer salad (try finding a pairing for that dish!).

9. Know your audience.

For most Americans, Thanksgiving is the holiday when the whole mishpucha gets together. Unless you're planning a romantic Thanksgiving for two or a "couples" Thanksgiving feast, you need to appeal to a broad range of preferences. Aunt Gladys likes sweet wines. Uncle Tim likes them dry. Your selection should be based on the common denominators among the guests.

8. Don't pay retail.

In the light of numbers 10 and 9, it's important not to go crazy on what you pay for Thanksgiving wines. As a rule of thumb, you should calculate one bottle per person in attendance. Many retailers in Houston will give you a discount for a purchase of twelve bottles or more. Pick three or four wines to fill out a "mixed case" and you can use the leftover wine for gifts or for entertaining later in the year. $10-20 is a good average "price point" that will deliver high-quality, food-friendly wines.

7. Avoid Beaujolais Nouveau at all costs.

Celebrated on the third Thursday of November, "Beaujolais Nouveau Day" is one of the biggest marketing scams in the history of the wine trade. "Nouveau" or "new" wine is the newly fermented wine from the current year's harvest (usually just three or four weeks old). Although it does give tasters an indication of the quality of the vintage, it is not ready to drink. The last thing you want at your Thanksgiving table is an imbalanced wine that has hardly had to time to stabilize and properly come into focus.

6. Remember that not every wine that sparkles is gold.

Sparkling wine is great with the foods of Thanksgiving and in many cases, it offers greater versatility in pairing thanks to higher acidity of some sparkling wines. But unless you live in River Oaks, prohibitively expensive Champagne probably falls beyond your Thanksgiving wine budget. Look to crémant from the Loire Valley of France, sekt from German-speaking countries, Prosecco from Italy, and Cava from Spain. All of these categories deliver great value. And don't forget sweet Moscato d'Asti for Aunt Gladys.

5. Just like great bbq, go "low and slow."

Low alcohol content is one of the best ways to gauge the food-friendliness of wine. When the alcohol is restrained, you'll generally find that the acidity is on the higher side. And vibrant acidity is the key to making wine go well with food. Low alcohol is also an indication that the winemaker prefers the "old world" or "traditional" style, with more balance and less oakiness. For whites, 11-12 percent alcohol is a sweet spot. For reds, 12.5-13.5. This also means you can drink more wine without feeling the ill effects of inebriation. Just don't forget a bottle of 17 percent Zinfandel for Uncle Tim.

4. America: Get over your fear of rosé already!

It's time for Americans to get over their fear of rosé. Yes, it's true: In the 1970s, cheap and overly sulfured "misery market" sweet blush wines were aggressively marketed to our parents. Today, there are more classic-style rosé wines available to us than ever before. And they often represent a near-perfect balance of freshness, acidity, low alcohol, and gentle tannin. Look for rosé from Mourvèdre from Bandol in southern France, rosé from Syrah and Grenache from central and northern California, rosé from Negroamaro from Puglia, Italy. You can always throw in a bottle of "White Zin" for the troglodytes.

3. Sprechen Sie deutsch? Speak German for Thanksgiving.

Whether you go dry or sweet, Austrian and German Riesling will appeal to a wide range of Thanksgiving revelers. Especially when vinified in a traditional style, Riesling's lip-splitting acidity can work well with the diversity of Thanksgiving dishes. And when it comes to the sweet wines from Mosel, Germany, the alcohol can weigh in as low as 7 and 8 percent. Fresh, aromatic, and acidity-driven Gewürztraminer from Austria is another value wine that will show well on Thanksgiving day.

2. Trust your salesperson.

No one ever got rich working in a wine shop. People who work in wine shops are generally passionate about wine, food, and conviviality. And they're generally nice people who care more about eating and drinking well than making money. Yes, it's true that some will try to "upsell" you. But, for the most part, wine salespeople just want you to go home with a bottle of wine that you'll like. Treat your salesperson politely and respectfully and you will be rewarded in kind.

1. When you can't be with the wine you love, love the wine you're with.

Especially for those of you who will be traveling for the holiday, you may not have a lot of options in wine shopping for the holiday. Here in Houston, there are a number of excellent fine wine retailers. But no matter which direction you head out of town, you'll be hard-pressed to find solid retail options. Be careful not to buy "stale" wine that's been sitting around on the shelf too long. And remember that there's nothing wrong with fresh, clean Pinot Grigio. It's just wine, for crying out loud! Have fun it with it and enjoy...


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