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thanksgiving whine
choosing wines for a varied group of flavors

By: Thomas M. Ciesla
Originally published online at TexasWineTrails.com; November, 2002.


Three words that capture the essence of Thanksgiving in our household. Of all the traditions we wrap around this holiday, the Thanksgiving dinner takes center stage.   We love Thanksgiving down to the last calorie; the phrase, 'less is more' certainly does not apply.   Our dinning table overfills with a varied selection of food around noon, and stays that way till around nine in the evening when the last of the desserts vanish.

Around four in the afternoon we all sit down for the main meal.   Here's where the trouble begins -- what wine to serve?   As a host or hostess you have two issues to deal with: (1) the personal wine preferences (or lack thereof) of each guest and (2) the complex array of foods to deal with.


Be open minded!   There is no hard and fast rule regarding wine and Thanksgiving.   Some experts say no to Chardonnay, some say yes.   Some wouldn't be caught dead with a bottle of blush wine, some think it marvelous. Some experts match acids and sugars, some match flavors.   Some try to pair the wine with the turkey and gravy, some with the stuffing and side dishes.   The reality of course, is that all these conditions are present at the dinner.   Trying to carefully consider each aspect will drive you crazy.

Here's an approach that we've used with good success

Start the event off with a nice pre-dinner Texas Sparkling wine, perhaps with a splash of Chambord for color.   These wines work well with light appetizers and stand well on their own.   When looking for Texas Sparklers, try Messina Hof Wine Cellars, Piney Woods Country Wines, or Cap*Rock Winery.   For those guests who don't like sparkling wines, we keep a few bottles of Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc chilled.


For the main meal we have adopted a philosophy of using lighter, fruitier wines.   Because this is such a big meal we look for wines that will refresh the palate, thereby encouraging you to take another bite of food.   The heaviness of a typical Chardonnay seems defeating with our Thanksgiving meal.   With big, fatty, buttery flavors, it is anything but refreshing. Yet, we know that many enjoy Chardonnay, so we do have bottles standing by.

The table is set with three wine glasses for each dinner guest.   A few cards are scattered around the table listing the wines available with dinner (the joys of personal computers).   We've found that these informal wine lists allow our guests to first choose the wine they like and then experiment with a few others.   Of course if a guest prefers something not on the list, and we have it, we graciously open a bottle for them.


Try our '2 x 2' approach: four wines are usually offered, two whites and two reds.   This combination has proven very workable in the past, offering something for everyone.   Some years we expand the list to three of each, when we feel like experimenting ourselves. For the white wines we typically offer a Sauvignon Blanc and a Riesling. (Sometimes a Viognier is added.)   For the reds we offer a Pinot Noir and a Zinfandel. (Sometimes Sangiovese is added.)

Sauvignon Blanc is slightly acidic, a little woody with full balance and a good body.   Some view this as the ultimate poultry wine. Look to Messina Hof Wine Cellars, Spicewood Vineyards and Dry Comal Creek Vineyards.   Riesling is a personal favorite of ours for Thanksgiving dinner, especially the dry Rieslings.   Clean and crisp it refreshes the palate and compliments the sugars in the main and side dishes.   Look to Messina Hof Wine Cellars, Llano Estacado Winery and Bell Mountain Vineyards.

As a rich, lighter red wine, Pinot Noir is absolutely wonderful with turkey.   Look to Pheasant Ridge Winery and Ste. Genevieve (Escondidio label).   Red Zinfandel offers fresh fruit flavors and a light oak that doesn't overpower the nuances of your lighter dishes.   Look to Messina Hof Wine Cellars or Ste. Genevieve Wines.


For our Thanksgiving dessert course, normally served buffet style, our approach may be unexpected by some of you in that we downplay wines. We prefer to offer coffee or tea with dessert, or if a guest prefers a nice brandy or single malt scotch. After the onslaught of food throughout the day, serving a sweet dish with a sweet wine seems a bit much.

What about the day after?

Just before falling asleep Thanksgiving night many of us think about how delicious the leftovers willl be the next day. And rightly so, who doesn't like turkey sandwiches (especially with gravy), soups, and leftover side dishes? But rather than simply making a cold turkey sandwich and plopping down in front of the television, try something new.

On Thanksgiving day, family commitments and schedule conflicts often restrict how many people we see that day. If that's the case, why not visit those folks during the holiday weekend? Fill a picnic basket with side-dishes, turkey and treats and visit your friends or family members. A picnic on the front porch or in the backyard may just be what you all need to relax after marathon cooking.

The wine? Pre-chill a Chenin Blanc, Riesling, Pinot Grigio, Pinot Noir or Zinfandel as a surprise.

Happy Thanksgiving!


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