Turkey Talk about Wine

Originally published in Lake & Sumter Style, November 2011


White or red, sweet or dry? Are we talking turkey or wine?

Thanksgiving dinner for most people includes not only an array of flavors but also a variety of taste buds. Some family members prefer a traditional oven-roasted bird, while others want smoked or fried turkey. Adults love real cranberries; children prefer the canned concoction. Northerners want pumpkin pie; Southerners think sweet potato is tastier. All these decisions to make and you’ve still not had the red versus white discussion — and I’m not talking about turkey breasts or thighs.

Every year, my husband and I make the same Thanksgiving Day menu; without fail, however, the same question arises a few days beforehand: “What wine should we serve?”

Our guest list can be quite eclectic, especially when it comes to wine preferences. Some want sweet, some prefer dry. So how do you select wines for this sociable holiday that is all about enjoying and appreciating friends and family?

Author and popular host of “Wine Library TV,” Gary Vaynerchuk recommends wines served at Thanksgiving should be lower in alcohol and lighter in weight, because it is going to be a long day and the food will be filling. The secret, says the author of Gary Vaynerchuk’s 101 Wines: Guaranteed to Inspire, Delight and Bring Thunder to Your World, is to serve wines that won’t overpower your head, your palate or your wallet.

Finding a wine that is not overwhelmed by the combinations of salty, sweet, savory foods can be a challenge as well. Another piece of Vaynerchuk’s advice: get creative!

Forget the adage to serve white wines with white meat because that is old-style thinking, not to mention boring. In fact, turkey makes some white wines seem bitter. Wine should enhance or bring out the flavor of foods, not leave an odd aftertaste in your mouth.

Vaynerchuk says you won’t go wrong if you find wines you like, no matter what the critics and ratings say. I agree, but it helps to have suggestions from the folks who know wines. Visit local wine merchants (we are blessed to have several in this area) and describe your preferences to them, such as sweet, dry, fruity, or earthy. They will have recommendations to fit your budget.

The following are a few of my favorite Thanksgiving wines:

PROSECCO
The sparkling Italian wines are a nice welcoming beverage for guests, especially in Florida where afternoon temps can still be warm. Light and refreshing, Prosecco works as a pre-dinner cocktail that can move into the dining room where its nutty-fruity interplay works with traditional Thanksgiving foods. I prefer the extra-dry, but Proseccos and other sparklers come in all levels of sweetness.

VOUVRAY
The first time I tasted Vouvray, a white wine produced from the Chenin Blanc grape, I was at someone else’s holiday celebration. Vouvrays can range from bone-dry to extremely sweet. It’s not a wine that I serve often, but the faint sweetness of the Tendre style helps make it a perfect match with Thanksgiving dishes. If you prefer really sweet wines, try the demi-sec or even a demi-sec sparkler.

PINOT GRIS
Pinot Gris tends to be a rich wine with a spicy character and enough residual sugar to be round and fruity. Wineries in the Pacific Northwest produce Pinot Gris in the traditional French style, although they are generally fruitier than the Alsatian counterparts. This white wine works well with the sweeter dishes served at Thanksgiving.

PINOT NOIR
Pinot Noir is one of my staples at Thanksgiving. The fourth Thursday in November is a uniquely American holiday, so I like the idea of choosing a domestic Pinot. The rich fruit flavors, especially in the California varieties, are good matches with whatever you are serving. Lighter Pinot Noirs could get lost in all the different flavors competing at your table, but a rich, full-of-fruit-in your-mouth Pinot Noir holds its own without overwhelming the lighter dishes.

ZINFANDEL
Zinfandel, an almost uniquely American wine, is another great choice. The lighter-styled Zins combine the fruitiness of Pinot Noir with the elegance of Beaujolais. Zins are typically dry, but the fruity character adds a hint of sweetness and spice which works well with food.

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