By Rick VanSickle
Want to do Thanksgiving dinner wine right? Then think not of what you are about to put on your plate and more about the people around your table.
There are 32,600,000 results on Google when you search for “Thanksgiving wine.” Every ink-stained (or otherwise) wine writer who ever walked on this planet has waded into the raging debate of what pairs with turkey, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower casserole, mashed potatoes and gravy, that jelly stuff (whatever that is), stuffing and on and on. And, if you took the time to read all 32 million results on Google, you would be no further ahead on what wine to serve.
Oh, sure, Pinot Noir gets a lot of love, same with Riesling, Gewurztraminer and sparkling wines. But so does virtually every other grape, style and region you can think of.
There is no sure-fire advice out there, because there isn’t any. Thanksgiving is that most glorious of meals where it isn’t about the pairing of food and wine — it’s about whom you are with and what they like to drink.
I know, I know, I’ve said this before: If the advice you are following says: “Pinot Noir is the perfect wine to serve with turkey and all the fixings” then you have to consider who’s going to be drinking that Pinot. If no one at the table likes Pinot Noir, the turkey’s not about to change that. So why serve it?
Wine writers hate writing the obligatory Thanksgiving dinner column their editors insist on each and every year, because it’s useless information. It’s boring.
I’m as guilty as hell on that count. Wrote them diligently each and every Thanksgiving for years, dispensing essentially the same advice annually in columns for the Sun family of newspapers (and then again at Christmas!).
It was the same thing over and over: Pinot, Riesling and Gewurztraminer. I never believed what I wrote or necessarily followed my own advice. I happen to love all three of those grapes, so putting those bottles on the table was fine (and easy) for me. Trouble was, it long ago occurred to me, not everyone shares my idea of what tastes good.
My wife does not love Pinot, Riesling or Gew. She loves oaky Chardonnay, California style Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc and Spanish Riojas. When I wasn’t looking, she’d swap that delicate Pinot for something she really liked and was a lot happier because of it.
Over the years, it has evolved from not what should pair perfectly with the Thanksgiving meal to what we love to drink at that moment.
Once that epiphany occurred, the meal has become so much better. Anything goes: old Bordeaux, aged Cab/Merlots from Niagara, super oaked Chards, big Shirazes from the land of Oz (don’t knock it until you try it), funked up Ontario ciders, Châteauneuf-du-Papes, Cabernet Francs and, damn it!, everything and anything that pleases you (or even better, your guests) at that moment.
There is no right. There is no wrong.
Wine does not always have to be intrinsically linked to the food. No, not always. The star of the Thanksgiving meal is the people around the table. And, if your family (and friends) are anything like mine, it’s a complicated dichotomy — and advice of what should go with the food is simply useless information.
I’ve been thinking about the wine to serve for our family Thanksgiving meal this weekend. Here is my list:
Four people, four wines:
For my wife: There will be a delicious Chardonnay on the table from Niagara (maybe not as big and oaky as she likes, but oaked).
For my daughter: She’s discerning even at the tender age of 20. But her palate is not quite in tune with nuanced wines like Pinot Noir, so going the oaked Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon from Niagarar for her.
For my son (if he shows up!): He works at Chateau des Charmes and used to bring home a lot of Rosé wines so going with a Rosé sparkling. Staying local here, even something he’s quite familiar with (but will have a still Rosé on reserve).
For me: Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande 1989. Yes, totally wrong if you listen to the critics, but I could care less. It’s a chance to open one these treasures and it’s going to happen.
If you take the sum of these wine pairings with Thanksgiving dinner, you might be appalled. But I can guarantee you this: No matter how the meal turns out or what’s on the plate, everyone will be happy with their wine.
I have broached this topic in the past and have shown this video every year around this time. The production value sucks (as does my hair), but the message remains the same. Have a look … and Happy Thanksgiving, to all! For more perspective on this topic, read this post from New York Cork Report publisher and writer Lenn Thompson here … it’s brilliant.