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This upcoming Thursday is Thanksgiving, the beginning of the holiday season, although we just did celebrate Veterans Day, those that served to protect our freedoms and our holidays! As I have written in the past, this feast, for the most part, turkey and a whole lot of other stuff and stuffing pose challenges to pairing wines with the meal as there truly is a cornucopia of flavors, all to be enjoyed. To me, the feast is in three parts: appetizers, main meal and dessert. Each segment presents its own set of issues, but where there is a will there is a way!
White wines for Thanksgiving
I want to focus on appetizers and desserts but I will offer a few choices for the inevitable feast before I get to them. Simply stated, there are a few reds and whites to pair up with the main course. Of course, chardonnay will likely be on the table as it is one of the most popular white wines consumed in America. I do think that the oaky styles would be too much but rather seek an unoaked or lightly oaked version of this wine, think Chablis. A dry riesling with its’ acidity is another fit, think Alsatian or Washington State for a choice. Another go-to white is gewürztraminer with its abundant aromas of brown spices and fruits go so well with the meal. Again, think Alsace!
Red wines for Thanksgiving
As for reds, pinot noir will always be my first choice as it just works with so many flavors, think Burgundy or Oregon for a choice. Next would be a Cru Beaujolais, made with the Gamay grape a close cousin to pinot noir, another wine that goes so well with an array of foods.
Wines to pair with Thanksgiving appetizers
On to appetizers. Many of us always have something to get the party rolling prior to sitting at the table. My first choice always would be a sparkling wine, not necessarily from Champagne as so many wineries around the world have truly upped their game. I would suggest trying one from Spain if you haven’t done so yet, they are making remarkable wines with their commitment to gaining notoriety. There are tried and true wines from the Cava region of Spain, those being Cordonui and Freixnet. I recently tried one that has been around for a while, Blanchard Perez. The beauty of these wines is the quality-to-price ratio, truly amazing, they all have tiers but they will start at around$12. That is terrific.
Another starter that has been around a long time and is enjoying a renaissance thanks to millennials is Lillet Blanc, which is used to make many craft cocktails. Made from white wine and macerated with citrus, zest and aromatic bark hence it is fruity, not sweet and an easy way to start the day.
Wines to pair with Thanksgiving dessert
Now for desserts. A rule of thumb for dessert is that the wine should be sweeter than the dessert. I am not a believer in “rules” per se, but this one does apply for the most part.
Milk chocolate and cabernet clash, but, if you like it, that is your rule. A few things about true dessert wines without getting too geeky. There are several styles here: late-harvest wines, fortified wines, i.e. Port, and sparkling wines, look for demi-sec on the label, as these tend to be sweet. Well, to me Thanksgiving wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without pumpkin pie. It is spicy, with a creamy texture and with this a late-harvest gewürztraminer or a tawny Port would go well. Nowadays, we see pumpkin cheesecake on many restaurant menus and in bakeries, this pairs with a New Zealand sauvignon blanc or a muscat. With the bounty of the harvest, we can’t forget apples. Apple pie is another favorite of mine and certainly deserves some consideration, which it probably already has! Once again, a late-harvest wine, a sauterne or a Tawny Port will work well. Don’t forget apple tartes; pair with sweet sparkling wine or even a hard cider. By the way, in the June issue of Yankee Magazine, an article entitled “The Best Place to Get Pie in Every New England State” chose our own Sweet Berry Farm to showcase Rhode Island!!! In addition to Sweet Berry Farm’s pies, Newport Vineyards offers many of the styles of wines I have mentioned here today.
So, wrapping up, if you take the time to prepare the traditional Thanksgiving dinner, and it takes a lot of time, I encourage all to take the time to complement the three segments of the day properly. It will take the whole experience to another level, one your family and friends will notice and enjoy. Remember from a few months ago I wrote about which comes first to meal planning-the wine or the food. In this case, the food, so talk to your favorite retailer for suggestions. If by chance you are going to a local restaurant or hotel to dine, choose your wines carefully, as many may not offer all of the styles of wine I have noted, nevertheless, they almost assuredly will have some.
Perfect segue for this month’s PSA: Not to belabor the point, but our hospitality industry is still having labor shortages, out-of-stock issues and rising costs. I am beginning to see menu prices rise, what choice do the businesses have? This Thanksgiving weekend coming up is usually a busy one for restaurants, hotels, event venues and retail shops. So, I encourage all to support as best you can and certainly the purchasing of gift cards is a great way to do so. We are so fortunate on the island to have so many wonderful options. I already made my reservation for Thanksgiving!
I want to wish everyone a wonderful Thanksgiving. And please drink responsibly!
Len Panaggio is a wine consultant and former corporate beverage director for Newport Harbor Corp. Send feedback and suggestions to [email protected]. The Wine Press runs each month in The Daily News and online at newportri.com.