We sat down with Eric Crane, sommelier and director of training and business development for Empire Distributors, Melissa Davis, beverage director for One Midtown Kitchen and Caleb Hopkins, sommelier and wine director for Atlas to get their wine-pairing picks for Thanksgiving dinner.
When considering wines for your feast, it’s important to take inventory in the foods you’ll be serving--including dessert. Are they rich and heavy? Spicy and fatty? Or, even vegetarian? You’ll want wines high in acid or tannins to help break down those fats and proteins as well as to aid in digestion while you descend into a food coma.
“ Thanksgiving tends to be extremely rich with lots of butter. Components of wine that help with these types of dishes are acidic, natural sweetness and tannins,” Crane said. “Acid works with butter and fats, and tannins work with proteins. Wines that are higher in acid also work well with vegetables.”
He suggested purchasing naturally acidic white wines like Champagne, riesling, chenin blanc and sauvignon blanc or reds such as pinot noir, Sangiovese, tempranillo and zinfandel to help break down those buttery fats.
Crane said that wines with natural sweetness like Mosel Riesling, Vouvray, and Alsace pinot gris work to highlight the flavors of rich, heavily seasoned dishes. Reds rich in tannins like cabernet sauvignon, syrah (shiraz) and nebbiolo play a dual role in both preparing the palate for the protein-laden meal while keeping you from feeling full.
“But, whatever you do, make sure to have Champagne on hand. Nothing pairs as well as Champagne for the Thanksgiving meal,” Crane said.
Eric Crane's top five
- Pewsey Vale riesling, Australia - dry ($16)
- Saint Urbans-Hof riesling, Spätlese, Mosel, Germany - lightly sweet, acidic, food-friendly ($22)
- Marqués de Murrieta Reserva, tempranillo, Rioja, Spain - protein-friendly ($16-$45)
- Chappellet “Signature” cabernet sauvignon, Napa, California - Crane favorite, palate-pleaser ($55)
- Veuve Clicquot brut rosé, Champagne, France - Crane favorite ($65)
Davis echoed Crane’s call for bubbly at the feast. “Sparkling wine is not only great for celebrations but delicious with food. Juve Y Camps cava rosé from Penedes, Spain ($15-20) can bounce between everything on the table without losing an ounce of freshness and vivacity.”
If you’re looking for a light-bodied red to pair with the starchy heaviness of turkey, stuffing and the green bean casserole your aunt always makes, try a gamay. A cousin of pinot noir, gamays carry moderate acidity and tannins and lean toward bright, fresh aromas and flavors on the palate. Davis suggested her personal favorite, Damien Coquelet Morgon Côte du Py from Beaujolais, France ($30).
“Gamays from Morgon tend to be a touch stronger and warmer than their light and lively nouveau counterparts, making it the perfect pairing for roasted turkey and game birds.”
For lovers of pinot noir, Davis likes Hobo Wine Company's Folk Machine pinot noir from California ($20-25) due to its bright under-ripe cherry notes, medium body and moderate tannins. This wine has the ability to be an all-around palate-pleaser and easily bridges the gap between turkey and fresh vegetables.
Impress your vegetarian Thanksgiving guests with a Chenin blanc.
“ Champalou Vouvray from Loire Valley, France ($18-$20) has been one of my go-to wines for almost anything I eat. Chenin blanc is a chameleon grape, and the folks over at Champalou have found the perfect recipe for sec (dry) Chenin with a rich, coating mouthfeel, bright green apple acid and slight honeysuckle aroma. This wine is a knockout.”
Love amaro? Davis said that nothing pairs better with Thanksgiving dessert quite like Cardamaro . Retailing for around $25 , the Italian sipping bitter is flavored with thistle and cardoon (part of the sunflower family) with soft, nutty notes which pick up those warm spices like nutmeg and clove in your mama’s apple pie. A low-ABV digestif, Cardamaro will settle the stomach and get those digestive juices flowing after a big meal.
Hopkins advised choosing your Thanksgiving wine pairings carefully; especially when trying to please a large crowd. He suggested looking for uncomplicated wines with broad appeal yet are food-friendly.
Champagne may not be the first thing that comes to mind when pairing wine with the traditional turkey dinner but all three of our experts say there’s nothing better than bubbles at the Thanksgiving table. Hopkins suggested the budget-friendly brut rosé Bouvet-Ladubay--100% cabernet franc from Loire Valley, France ($16 ).
“Made in the same style as Champagne, this bright and mineral-driven bubbly with please all of your guests. It's perfect for clinking glasses before dinner and even matching with that cranberry sauce.”
If bubbly doesn’t strike your fancy, Hopkins offered the perennial Chenin blanc. The 2013 Domaine d'Orfeuilles, "Silex" from Vouvray, Loire Valley, France ($23) is full-bodied enough for red wine lovers yet refreshing and tart enough for white wine devotees. Hopkins says this food-friendly beauty also happens to pair particularly well with mom’s squash casserole.
We’re big fans of a luscious red barbera and, it turns out, so is Hopkins. Try the French 2014 Cascina delle Rose Barbera d'Alba ($30).
“Barbera is often referred to as the sommeliers’ grape. Fleshy, dark fruits that have a velvety finish. It is very light in tannin. It won't overpower the turkey and will keep up with the mash potatoes.”
So, before you grab a sixer of Two Buck Chuck from Trader Joe’s or a couple of bottles of fermented grape juice from Kroger, impress your Thanksgiving guests instead this year with your superior wine-pairing skills.
Cheers! And, Happy Thanksgiving.
Call your local wine shop for availability and pricing.