Every year I have to chuckle because every year someone does a piece on what wine to serve with Thanksgiving dinner. Whether it’s a food or beverage magazine, mainstream newspaper, or a TV segment on the morning show the topic always pops up. To me it’s a bit like doing a piece on the best way to dress your cat up like a turkey on Thanksgiving. In both cases its going to be painful and the results will be questionable. That’s not just me the beer–geek talking either. Most wine experts will all but admit that wine just isn’t the best choice for Thanksgiving dinner. I’ll let them speak for themselves; (the list is lengthy, feel free to scroll past but they’re all pretty entertaining)
“Thanksgiving is a tough holiday when it comes to wines. Figuring out which wines to pair with such a wide assortment of foods is a challenge for even the most experienced sommelier”
“Sweet potatoes, butternut squash, cornbread stuffing and cranberry sauce can make wines taste sour because of their sweetness. Vegetables can also be challenging to pair with wines, especially cruciferous ones like Brussel sprouts. Their sulfury aroma and taste can make wine taste sharp and angular”
-Christine Hanna, hannawinery.com
“Thanksgiving dinner can be a wine connoisseur’s hardest wine-pairing day of the year”
“The medley of flavors at the dinner table, not to mention the myriad of palates that will be sitting at it, can make pairing wines on Thanksgiving Day a brutal task”
-Jacob Harkins, huffingtonpost.com
“I love Autumn (Fall colors & Football), but I hate at least three things whose approaches are heralded by the falling leaves;
1 Raking those falling leaves
2 Thanksgiving / Holiday food & wine pairings
3 The Dallas Cowboys”
So I’ve got to ask why do it? A “brutal task” on a holiday? Why struggle to fit a square peg in a round hole? Why not just serve a beverage that slips right into place?
And one of my favorite parts is how many of these articles end. With big fat cop outs.
“I understand it is a special occasion, but stop being so uptight about having that perfect wine with your turkey and sides – It’s a freaking celebration dude! So celebrate and have fun!”
“Enjoy your Thanksgiving, wherever you are, and don’t stress too much about the wine. People love to be welcomed into other’s homes, and no one will excuse themselves from the table because they don’t think the wine you’re serving is the perfect match for the food?”
-Christine Hanna, wine maker and author, food52.com
“When it is all said and done, choosing a Thanksgiving Day wine is truly about what you prefer and what your guests will enjoy. There are no hard and fast turkey pairing rules, just plenty of pairing options to experiment with.”
“Relax, ignore the traditional wine-pairing rules of the other 364 days of the year. Forget about every food that’s on the Thanksgiving table, actually. Have fun with it, don’t be intimidated by it”
-Eric Arnold, Forbes.com
“My number one piece of advice for Thanksgiving is the same as for any other day: Drink what you like. Matching wine with your own palate is easier than matching it with any food.”
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think beer, wine or food should be over thought either. It should be enjoyed. I often take an epicurean approach. But when statements like these come at the end of an article about pairing wine with Thanksgiving dinner they make me just a bit suspicious. I mean, how often do you hear a sommelier say “just relax and enjoy man”?
I’m not a wine hater. I love a glass of wine now and then, and any brewer that says they don’ t is just being pig-headed. I even like wine with food sometimes. (Malbec and ribeye, mmmmm) But why challenge yourself with a task that even oenephiles shy away from? Putting on Thanksgiving dinner is stressful enough. Here are my picks, with no excuse-laden preambles, caveats or cop outs.
Saison- One of the biggest challenges wine lovers face at Thanksgiving is the breadth of bodies, flavors and textures on the table. Unlike food or wine dinners that pair specific dishes with specific libations, the turkey table is a free-for-all. Everything on the menu is on your plate at the same time. A wine or beer that may go great with turkey could get squashed by the richness and sweetness of sweet potato pie. Saisons are known for going with everything. They’re complex enough to stand up to anything, but dry enough that they won’t trample anything but the most delicate of dishes. They’re peppery and spicy, fruity, and bitter all at the same time.
Vienna Lager or Octoberfest- The caramel malts work well with the caramelization of roasted meats and sweetness of many Thanksgiving accompaniments. But they’re balanced, so they won’t be out of place with the green beans and they’ve got just enough spicy continental hop character to match the herbs in the stuffing.
Porter for dessert- It’s got caramel and chocolate malts that will act as flavor hooks with the sweetness of those pies, but its got roast and bitterness to keep the experience from getting cloying. And those coffee notes, who doesn’t like coffee with dessert?
Avoid the IPAs. I love my hops too, and I can’t think of a better accompaniment for spicy Thai or Mexican foods. But thanksgiving is about sweet, not heat. All that bitterness and those tropical and citrusy hop aromas won’t feel at home this Thursday. See that? I can admit when a beer won’t work!
Happy Thanksgiving everyone!