Quick ... name one wine you imbibed at Thanksgiving last year. Can't? Didn't think so -- I can't either. Why? Did the food coma overtake your brain or did you get engrossed in the perennial Detroit Lions game versus whomever? Or maybe it's because no one wine makes a memorable partner with the Thanksgiving feast.
In a recent column, I revealed, much to the consternation of a dismayed readership, that old-school food-and-wine-pairing guidelines are garbage. Our traditional Thanksgiving meal just has too many variations on a theme – like the infinite coffee permutations at Starbucks – to be arranged into a neat little pairing package. Sure, there are general guidelines to a vaguely symbiotic union of juice and food, but the perfect pairing is only achieved after tweaking a recipe or the wine choice until the union makes your toes curl (and the right pairing will, indeed, achieve this level of bliss). Otherwise, like an awkward one-night stand with a co-worker, you're left with the hazy sensation of the two just tolerating each other.
Across the nation every fourth Thursday of November, American dining-room tables are decked out with dishes influenced by the cultural makeup of the host. And Thanksgiving, in our wonderfully diverse land, is not just turkey anymore. My friend John from Brazil serves bacalao (baked codfish) to celebrate the holiday, and Adam's family from Puerto Rico has roast pork at their table. Side dishes also vary widely, from a Scandinavian mashed-turnip dish called rutmus to roasted sweet potatoes to bacon-seasoned butter peas at my family's Southern table. So basically, recommending one type of wine to pair with our melting-pot menus would be as pointless as trying to stop immigration with miles of fences.
So, barring hiring a wine professional to create the ultimate harmonized Thanksgiving menu, what to do? Simple: Drink what you like and don't try to overthink it. A good bottle is all you need. Bring your tried-and-true favorite to the meal, or that treasured pinot noir you've been saving. Go ahead – enjoy the wine's flavor, along with good, warm conversation – these are the best pairings of all.
Recommended Thanksgiving wines
Castello di Volpaia 2004 Chianti Classico Riserva (Italy) For something special and delicious, find this lovely Chianti worth the extra shekels. Bright-red cherry, tart acidity and a mushroomy leather earthiness make this high-end Italian wine perfect for your celebratory table. Sw = 1. $34. 4 1/2 stars
Beringer 2006 Pinot Noir Napa Valley (California) An exceptional effort on the part of Beringer, which frankly hasn't bowled me over in years. This affordable pinot has classic flavors of musty earth and candied cherry, as well as strong coffee and tart raspberry. Quite inexpensive for the quality. Sw = 2. $20. 4 stars
Spice Route 2006 Chenin Blanc Swartland (South Africa) Organically grown grapes make up this rich, well-balanced, peach-and-dried-pear wine. Slightly sweet but only like a touch of honey. Great with a salty ham. Sw = 3. $15. 4 stars
Bonny Doon 2005 Le Cigare Blanc California Clean, fresh and lively with lime, baked pear, earthy chamomile and a steely minerality that makes this superdry Roussanne and Grenache Blanc blend fantastic for before, during and after dinner. Sw = 1. $20. 3 1/2 stars
Previously reviewed (and inexpensive) wines ideal for Thanksgiving:
A to Z Wineworks 2005 Rosé (Oregon) Sw = 3. $12. 3 stars
Chateau Guiot 2005 Rosé Costiere de Nîmes (France) Sw = 1. $9. 3 1/2 stars
Feudo Arancio 2006 Grillo Sicily (Italy) Sw = 1. $10. 3 stars
Borsao 2006 Campo de Borja (Spain) Sw = 2. $8. 3 1/2 stars
Four Vines 2005 Naked Chardonnay Santa Barbara (California) Sw = 2. $14. 4 stars
Chateau Ste. Michelle 2006 Riesling Cold Creek Vineyard (Washington) Sw = 4. $14. 3 1/2 stars
Kim Crawford 2006 Chardonnay Unoaked Marlborough (New Zealand) Sw = 3. $17. 4 stars