Picking Wine for Thanksgiving: The Reds

by Dennis Mayer | November 13th, 2012 | Wine

We’re going to take a break from our normal bottle-a-week review model to talk a bit about Thanksgiving. For a lot of us, it’s the most elaborate meal of the year (or, at least, one of them) served at our house. And with as much effort as you’ll put into preparing the perfect meal, you’ll want to make sure you’ve put a perfect wine (or two) on the table as well, right?

Pairing wine to food is a very subjective pursuit. There’s a reason restaurants use the term “suggested pairing” when listing wines to complement certain dishes on their menu. There’s no perfect wine to go with any meal. Now, I wouldn’t swing completely in the other direction and exhort you to drink whatever you’d like, regardless of the meal you’re preparing. I want to help you make an educated pick. So this week, we’re going to talk about how to pair red wines with your Thanksgiving meal; next week, we’ll talk about whites. Either way, I’m going to suggest that before you pick a wine, you take a look at the menu you’re planning.

Now, for many people,  talk about the Thanksgiving meal starts with the turkey. Conventional wisdom says that poultry pairs best with white wine, but that’s not necessarily true. Your average, savory turkey preparation would pair nicely with an average, medium-bodied fruit-forward wine. I’ve reviewed several montepulcianos that would fit the bill, as would your average merlot.

If you love Thanksgiving for the great seasonal flavors — mashed sweet potatoes covered in candied walnuts, maple-syrup squash, cranberry sauce, cinnamon-swirled applesauce, pumpkin pie, and the like — go with wines that help complement those flavors. Cotes du Rhone is often known for having a spicy bouquet (spice of the peppery variety and of the more exotic type). We reviewed a good one not too long ago. The malbec we looked at last week had some great spice notes that would pair well with the aforementioned Thanksgiving fare.

If your cooking style, overall, lends itself to slightly more rich preparations — heart-attack inducing macaroni and cheese, cream-laden mashed potatoes, buttery corn, all covered with fatty gravy — a more robust, tannic wine might be in order. Turkey might not pair well with something like a cabernet or a malbec, but turkey gravy? That’s another story entirely. Try one of the malbecs we’ve reviewed in the last month or so, or a tannic Bordeaux like this one from earlier in the year.

My best advice would be to take your menu (or even better, your chef — if it’s not you) to your favorite wine shop, and ask them to help you pick something that will highlight your favorite food on the Thanksgiving table. It’ll give you something great to talk about while you’re eating. And if you discover a particularly good combination, tell us about it in the comments.

Next week, we’ll talk about white wines.

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