Food & Drink

5 things to know about Thanksgiving wine, plus five bottles to pour

Wine. MUST CREDIT: Photo for The Washington post by Stacy Zarin Goldberg
Wine. MUST CREDIT: Photo for The Washington post by Stacy Zarin Goldberg

You’re about to host your biggest dinner party of the year. You’ve ordered the turkey and purchased several cans of pumpkin pie filling, plus the cream of mushroom soup and those crispy fried onions for Nana’s green bean casserole recipe. You helped the overflow relatives with hotel reservations. But what about the wine?

Here are five things to know - or at least keep in mind - about wine with your Thanksgiving feast.

It really doesn’t matter

Hello! You have more important things to worry about! Will the turkey defrost in time? Stuff it or dress it? Has your adolescent nephew outgrown the corner of the dinner table where he banged his knees against the leg last year? Will Uncle Leroy talk politics?

As far as the wine goes, stay within your comfort zone and choose appropriately. Do your guests appreciate wine or just guzzle it? Do you need to impress or merely satiate them? Purchase accordingly. (Maybe have a special bottle for Uncle Leroy.)

Conventional wisdom frets about pairing wines with the traditional Thanksgiving dinner because of the wide variety of flavors, from savory (turkey) to spicy (sausage stuffing) to sweet (squash, cranberry sauce, etc.). So the conundrum is: Which wines, and how many? A good maxim is have one bottle for every two people. But which bottles?

Open one of everything

Don’t limit yourself to a single wine. Open a variety. Maybe no wine will go with everything on your table, but almost any will pair well with something. There are certain grape varieties that have a reputation for versatility with various cuisines and dishes - pinot noir, riesling, barbera, for example. Rosé is also an excellent partner to foods from garlicky to spicy hot. Just keep in mind that the wine is not the star for this meal: Save your cult cabernets and other trophy bottles for another occasion.

Have fun with this

Pick a theme. The original Thanksgiving was a celebration of the harvest, so try beaujolais nouveau, released each year a week before Turkey Day, or other wines of the current vintage. Young wines from this year in the southern hemisphere would also do.

You could feature local wines, from Virginia, Maryland, New York, Michigan, Missouri, Texas or Colorado. Celebrate your local bounty on your table, and in your glass.

And because this is also a celebration of family, think of your heritage. Whether your grandparents came from Campania or Croatia, Lebanon or Georgia, you can find wines from those regions. And odds are you can find an American wine made by someone with a similar lineage, or even your surname. (Hello, Steve McIntyre, in Monterey County, Calif.!)

If you’re still nervous about pairing wines with your turkey feast, remember this:

Bubbles go with everything

Sparkling wine is refreshing and palate cleansing. A sip of bubbly will prime you for the next bite, the next plateful, the next dessert. Whether a prosecco, a cava, a New World sparkler or a true champagne is up to you, your taste and your budget. But don’t necessarily limit bubbles to your welcoming aperitif. They are often serious food wines. The red-fruit flavors of a blanc de blancs champagne can sing with a tart cranberry relish and cut like a dagger through the richness of turkey and gravy. And every bite and sip will be a celebration.

You got this

Don’t sweat it. Wine is another seasoning to your Thanksgiving feast. It’s not the entree or the main act. With a little forethought and not a lot of stress, it can help make your feast a success.

Just be sure to have enough for yourself when you’re cleaning up.

Here are five wines to get you started - and to see you beyond Thanksgiving.


• Milbrandt Evergreen Vineyard Riesling 2018, Two and a half stars. Columbia Valley, Wash., $15

The Columbia Valley wine region, which lies mostly in Washington state (with a dip into Oregon), produces some darn fine riesling. Two clues on this beauty’s label show how the region is maturing: It’s a single-vineyard wine from a relatively new sub-area called Ancient Lakes of the Columbia Valley, indicating how winemakers are defining specific areas that produce exceptional quality. This wine from Milbrandt, a farming family that turned to grape growing in 1997, combines ripe fruit with a lean acidity for structure and refreshment. It can grace your dinner table any day of the year, and would be ideal for a feast like Thanksgiving. Alcohol by volume: 11.5 percent.

• Cesarini Sforza Brut, Three stars, Trento DOC, Italy, $28. Trento is a popular “denominazione di origine controllata,” the main tier of the Italian appellation system, devoted to sparkling wines made in the classic method of champagne. The Cesarini Sforza Brut is all chardonnay, and it is delicious, with racy red currant flavors and a steely mineral character that keeps the wine beautifully focused. It is a great value for a sparkler of this caliber. ABV: 12.5 percent.

• Powell & Son Riverside 2016, Three stars, Barossa, Australia, $23. The Barossa region in South Australia is known for powerful and spicy wines, mainly shiraz (syrah). This one is a “GSM” blend of grenache, shiraz and mataro (mourvedre). It captures the lush, spicy character of Aussie reds without going over the top. This wine has a lovely balance - it looks over the cliff without jumping. ABV: 14.5 percent.

• Elk Cove Vineyards Estate Riesling 2017, Two and a half stars. Willamette Valley, Ore., $22

Here’s a lovely dry riesling from Oregon, with bright flavors of apricot and peach, refreshing as spring water on a warm day. ABV: 13 percent.

• Chateau Laribotte Sauternes 2016, Two and a half stars, Bordeaux, France, $22 (375 ml).

We should pay more attention to dessert wines, such as sauternes. This delightful wine offers flavors of roasted hazelnuts, dried mango, wildflower honey and apricots just beyond the peak of ripeness but before they fall into decay. Decadent, in other words. ABV: 13 percent.

Notes: Three stars: Exceptional; Two stars: Excellent; One star: Very good. Prices are approximate. Check to verify availability, or ask a favorite wine store to order through a distributor.

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