Stop Trying to Pair Wine With Your Thanksgiving Turkey
(Bloomberg) -- In 2015, a Survey Monkey poll carved the U.S. into regional Thanksgiving food factions. Call it the terroir of Thanksgiving: The Southeast is the home of canned cranberry sauce and mac and cheese, while New England embraces squash.
I delved deeper, calling friends. Who knew that diners in Baltimore consider sauerkraut as essential as the turkey itself? In the Southwest, everything from turkey rubs to cranberry sauce is an opportunity to add, alas, wine-killing chiles. Western states embrace frog eye salad, a sweet, fruit-filled pasta salad with an off-putting name.
Turkey may be the star, but sides provide the most distinctive flavors on your Thanksgiving table. So here’s my wine advice for 2018: Pick bottles based on the sweet, tart, salty, savory, earthy, spicy, or creamy accompaniments you’re serving. I once attended a potluck Thanksgiving where guests who hailed from different parts of the country (and abroad) brought a total of 22 dishes they insisted defined the day. That included an Italian-American from New Jersey whose offering was manicotti—the best I’ve ever eaten.
No matter what you’re serving, here are my handy principles for holiday wine selection:
- First, make sure you don’t overpower the food. Pick easygoing, fruity wines with little tannin or oak.
- Second, wines should perk up the palate throughout the meal (and even while watching the game). For that, you’ll need lighter wines with plenty of refreshing acidity.
- Third, there must be enough wine, at least one bottle per adult—which is why I always aim to serve wines that cost $30 or less a bottle.
- And last, nothing should be stressful. What you pour is not going to make or break the day—as long as you don’t run out.
Here are some of Thanksgiving’s most popular regional sides and wines to match.
In New England, Maryland, and California, raw oysters are a top starter; the South loves deviled eggs, and Louisiana, shrimp and gumbo.
Wine: NV Gruet Brut ($15), a refreshing, citrusy sparkling wine from New Mexico that will go with all of these and won’t break the bank if people just glug it down.
For me, this is even more important than gravy. The big divide is between the North and South, where, by the way, it’s referred to as “dressing.”
In New England, oyster stuffing and sausage stuffing are traditional, and many people, like me, embrace both. Their rich textures and complex savory flavors are the keys to a match. I’ve found lively whites work best with the oyster, but bright, fruity, light Beaujolais is ideal with the sausage.
Wines: 2017 Moulin de Gassac Guilhem Blanc ($11) is a mix of sauvignon blanc, grenache blanc, and clairette; 2014 Chateau de la Chaize Brouilly ($17).
In Texas and the South, cornbread stuffing is the essential. Since it has a slightly sweet taste, it goes really well with an Alsace white blend.
Wine: 2016 Hugel Gentil ($15)
Though a taste gulf separates New England’s fresh tart cranberry relish and the sweet, smooth canned stuff in the Midwest and Southeast, both go well with a fresh, really fruity pinot noir.
Wine: 2016 Cloudline Cellars Pinot Noir ($19)
Mac and cheese, a Thanksgiving favorite in the Southeast, has never been a staple on my table, but given that the holiday is all about family and comfort foods, it definitely fits in. Like most New Englanders, when it comes to carbs I opt instead for fluffy, creamy mashed potatoes served with salty gravy, along with creamed onions with cheese on top.
In Pennsylvania and Kentucky, apparently, corn pudding wins the day.
Cream, melted cheese, and sweet corn go best with a round unoaked chardonnay.
Wine: 2017 Louis Jadot Macon-Villages ($15)
The Midwest is noted for its iconic green bean casserole of cream of mushroom soup and cooked green beans, with crispy, French fried onion rings on top. I still love its salty, creamy, crispy comfort.
Health-conscious Californians put fresh, seasonal salads on the table, ideal with sauvignon blanc.
The South is the territory of collard greens, whose slightly bitter character is often made richer by bacon, while here in New England, I must make Brussels sprouts braised with walnuts. A Côtes du Rhône has the softness yet richness to match.
Wines: for salads and beans, 2017 Elizabeth Spencer sauvignon blanc ($15); for collard greens and Brussels sprouts, 2015 Ferraton Pere et Fils Samorens Côtes du Rhône ($20)
The trickiest Thanksgiving wine challenge is earthy sweet potato casserole, glazed with maple syrup or topped with marshmallows. Though it emerged from the South, sweet-toothed Americans all over have made it a Thanksgiving classic.
Wine: 2016 Pacific Rim Riesling ($11)
Pie is the dessert choice in every region, and rich, creamy pumpkin, filled with warm seasonal spices, appears to be the ubiquitous favorite.
Wine: Graham’s 10-Year-Old Tawny Port ($30). Its dried fig, toffee, and spice flavors and tangy edge blend with the lusciousness of the pie.
In the South, diners demand sticky, nutty, ultrasweet pecan pie.
Wine: Blandy’s 15-year-old Malmsey Madeira ($45). Madeira was once super popular in the South; its high acidity cuts the sugar in the pie like a knife.
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