Hosting Thanksgiving is challenging for many reasons, and that’s before you get to the first course. Turkey or ham (or lasagna)? Who sits where? Who doesn’t eat what? Is there enough wine?! And, let’s face it, that last one is sometimes the most important. While we can’t help with the seating arrangements, we can find the right wine pairings for your holiday table.
But, wait a minute. Thanksgiving Day is about the food, right? Why are wine pairings important? From turkey to ham, Brussels sprouts to stuffing, there is a cacophony of flavors on the average Thanksgiving table. The right wine can tie courses together and elevate them; much like a conductor can help an orchestra come together into a thing greater than its parts.
A few guidelines are in order (we know, this is Jersey, nobody tells us what to do). These are not hard and fast rules as much as much as guideposts, between which you can feel free to run your own Thanksgiving Day dinner touchdown. Here are a few ideas to get your menu pairing off to a running start.
Where to Start
Match Power and Weight: In other words, pair heavy dishes with fuller wines, and vice versa. This will help make sure you can taste both the wine and the food, rather than just the wine or just the food.
Mirror, Mirror on the Plate: The key to this technique is exactly as it sounds. Mirroring a given characteristic of a dish – let’s say, the herbaceous, peppery notes of Grandma’s arugula salad — with a wine that has the same characteristic—let’s say, the herbaceous, white pepper and mineral notes of a Gruner Veltliner — will elevate both items. Nana’s salad will slay.
Use T & A Thoughtfully: Tannins and acid add lift and contrast to those rich or fatty dishes like mashed potatoes, mac and cheese, and fried turkey.
Think Local: This is more than a buzzword. Back in the old days, people lived where their food and the grapes of their wine were grown, and so regional foods have a strong affinity for wine grown in those regions. Making French-style roasted quail with herbs? A zippy Chardonnay or Chenin Blanc may be the way to go.
Menu #1: Roast turkey with mashed potatoes and green bean casserole
Red: 2013 Cabernet Franc Reserve from White Horse Winery. This food-friendly gem from one of the state’s newest wineries features ripe dark berries with dried herbs that complement the green beans, a touch of vanilla and enough tannin to handle the turkey and potatoes.
White: 2015 Estate Reserve Chardonnay from Alba Vineyard. This excellent French-style Chardonnay is crisp and slightly tart; the acidity will add brightness to the rich dishes on the menu.
Menu #2: Roasted Cornish hen with Brussels sprouts roasted with sausage and candied sweet potatoes with walnuts.
Red: Solavita from Bellview Winery: This is a gutsy menu that requires a gutsy wine pairing. This unique blend offers wild berries and savory herbs on both the nose and palate, both of which will complement the roasted Cornish hen and sausage. The wine has easy tannins that make it great for extending flavors from bite to bite, and even a bit of sweetness to balance the sweet potatoes, which can be heavy on their own.
White: 2014 Gruner Veltliner from Bellview Winery: Gruner is known for its ripe, almost sweet aromas of tree fruit and salad greens, which makes it a good partner for the Brussels sprouts, as well as the delicately flavored roasted game.
Menu #3: Vegetable lasagna with cauliflower soup and toasted pepitas, and creamy Swiss chard casserole with cranberries and breadcrumbs.
Red: 2014 Turis Barbera from Turdo Vineyards & Winery: The smooth tannins and balanced acidity in this wine make it a brilliant match for the concentration of natural sugars in this vegetarian menu. Ripe raspberry and cherry notes will act as complementary high notes to the earthiness of the cauliflower, pepitas, and Swiss chard.
White: 2015 Chardonnay from Beneduce Vineyards: This wine was fermented in barrel and allowed to rest on its lees (deposits of spent yeast), which imparts a creaminess and a toasty flavor to the finished wine. These factors, plus the wine’s natural acidity, make it an ideal match for cream-based sauces and the Swiss chard. Meanwhile, the pepitas and breadcrumbs will be highlighted by the natural toastiness of the wine.
Dessert: Caramel-apple streusel pie with ice cream
NV Sparkling Rkatsiteli from Tomasello Winery: This award-winning sparkling wine is a stunner on its own. Pair it with a delectable pie and prepare for a mind-blowing experience. The bright acidity and bubbles of the wine help lift both the rich caramel-apple pie filling and ice cream; while the flavors and aromas of pear and spice help carry the wine along from sip to sip.
Hero (Top) Feature Image: © Iryna Wilson / Adobe Stock
Additional Images (in Order) Courtesy:
Dasha Petrenko / Adobe Stock
White Horse Winery via GSGWA
Turdo Vineyards & Winery
Bacchus Wine Shop