Thanksgiving is often one of the hardest meals for pairing wine simply because of the vast array of flavors served across the buffet table. Christmas is a close second, though at least you’re not confined to turkey. But with a few pairing secrets under your belt, you can easily master the holiday wine dilemma.
When selecting white wine, it’s a good rule of thumb to pick something with good acidity and a dry finish. If you serve wine that has been aged in oak for a while or has too much residual sugar, it will appear flabby on the palate and nondescript alongside your meal.
In other words, avoid the buttery, over-oaked California Chardonnays. Butter is best left served with Grandma’s warm yeast rolls, not in a wine glass. Instead, go for a white that’s been aged in stainless steel or that has seen only a kiss of oak in its production process.
When selecting white wine, pick something with good acidity and a dry finish. For red wines, go with something that doesn’t overpower the meal.
Another good tip is to pick something with good aromatics. Holiday meals often feature a lot of competing aromas at the table. To help offset the sensory confusion, choose something that gives your nose a fresh “reset” every time you take a sip. Something with fresh florals, bright citrus or subtle fruit should do the trick.
For red wines, it’s always a bit more challenging to find something that pleases everyone but also bridges the many flavors served during the feast. Just as with white wines, it’s a good idea to go with something that doesn’t overpower the meal.
For Thanksgiving turkey, that often means opting for a lighter grape such as Pinot Noir. For Christmas hams and roasts, a bigger grape or blend will do, but try to find something with good acidity, complexity and not too much oak, which can erode the depth of flavor in the fruit and transform an otherwise sparkling holiday meal into a lackluster one.
To help guide you, here are a few wines that may fit the bill. Because Thanksgiving Day is just around the corner, this list is narrowed to American wines in honor of the nation’s most celebrated traditions.
Grace Lane Yakima Riesling (Washington), Whole Foods ($10)
Riesling often gets a bad rap for being too sweet and unapproachable. But this wine from Washington isn’t your average Blue Nun sugar bomb.
With notes of white tea, ripe white peaches, lemon zest and honeysuckle, this wine has nice, full body balanced with bright acidity and minerality. Its crisp, dry finish will change your mind about Riesling. Serve as an alternative to Chardonnay and win over friends and family as well.
Jordan Winery Chardonnay 2011 (California), Spec’s ($26)
Not all Chardonnays have been beaten over the head with oak. In fact, a lot of producers now respect the natural characteristics of the grape and give it the royal treatment. For those with a great affinity for Chardonnay, this is one that should please everyone.
It delivers on the broad, full body people love from a good Chard but with only a touch of oak; you find a restrained hint of creaminess to complement a nice, crisp finish. With notes of green apple, bright citrus and stone fruit, it’s a perfect accompaniment to a turkey dinner.
McPherson Cellars Roussanne 2012 (Texas), Spec’s ($14)
A shining star among white wine grapes in Texas, Roussanne originally hails from the Rhone Valley of France and is known for notes of lemon, white tea and jasmine. The McPherson Roussanne is an excellent example of these characteristics, offering a medium body with crisp minerality and zippy acidity — a perfect food wine that should bring smiles around the table.
Stoller Family Estate JV Pinot Noir 2010 (Oregon), Spec’s ($20)
An excellent Thanksgiving choice, Pinot Noir is the great equalizer when pairing things like poultry (or fish) with red wine. This Stoller Pinot Noir has a beautiful balance of delicacy and complexity, offering aromas of red raspberries, cherries and blueberries along with a warm earthiness and a hint of smoky graham crackers. An excellent example of balancing fruit with earthiness for new- and old-world character.
Columbia Crest H3 Merlot 2010 (Washington), Costco ($15)
It’s no secret Texans like their big red wines. If Pinot Noir just won’t do the trick, for your own red wine pleasure, try this Merlot on for size. It has a blend of raspberry, pepper and dusty road on the nose with hints of chocolate-covered cherry and plum preserves on the palate.
It won’t exactly overpower a traditional turkey dinner, but it may steal the show. Also try serving it with Christmas beef tenderloin or roasted lamb.
Pedernales Cellars GSM 2011 (Texas), Whole Foods ($26)
Another great one with a little more backbone, this Texas production brings together the three great grapes of the French Rhone Valley: Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre. Though Pedernales Cellars bank most of its red wine portfolio on Tempranillo, this GSM is an excellent match for food, particularly if you’re serving a smoked turkey for Thanksgiving or any other smoked meat throughout the holiday season.
With dark fruit, smoky tobacco and a touch of leather, this wine has great tannic structure but not too much to be overwhelming.