|Turkey day wine styles Thanksgiving|
The first Thanksgiving celebration was held in 1621 when the settlers of Plymouth Colony celebrated their first harvest after a harsh winter of privations. By November 1621 half of the Mayflower’s 102 original passengers had died. Help from local Natives in cultivating corn, fishing and hunting meant the chances of surviving the coming winter were much better, so there was much to celebrate. Written accounts of the first Thanksgiving mention the serving of venison and fowl but we don’t know what fowl was served. As a native species of the North America, it’s a good bet that wild turkeys were on the menu. Also on the menu that first Thanksgiving was venison, lobster and even seals.
In modern America turkey has become the star attraction in the biggest feast of the year. No other American holiday is so focused on food. In addition to stuffed turkey, traditional foods include sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, creamed onions, cranberry sauce and of course pumpkin pie. There may be regional variations in dishes but all Thanksgiving feasts are about abundance and variety. What’s a wine lover to do? There’s no simple answer to which wine best graces a Thanksgiving feast, as the variety of dishes as well as the different preferences of the usually multi-generation family and friend attendees presents challenges. The time of day the feast is enjoyed will also influence the selection of wines as an earlier lunch is more appropriate for bubbles and lighter wines while an evening meal may deserve something more substantial. Finally, the star of the meal the turkey features different types of meat that pair best with different wines while the style of stuffing and weight of the sauce will also determine what wine is the best choice. My solution is a trio of wine styles from light and bubbly, to refined and stylish to substantial and weighty, in other words a little something for everyone.
Light & Bubbly
As Thanksgiving is an American holiday I will keep my wine suggestions to the U.S., specifically California and the Pacific Northwest. The perfect way to start any feast is with bubbles. Two lovely American sparklers are the Roederer Estate Brut and Chateau Ste Michelle Brut. The former is one of California’s most classy sparkling wines and the latter is building a reputation for Washington State wines. Both provide delicate flavors and a freshness that will stimulate your appetite. While any good dry sparkler is great as an aperitif and with the appetizers, when you start feasting on turkey a more substantial predominantly Pinot Noir sparkling wine is best. The Pinot Noir grape provides body and substance to stand up to the tasty turkey meat and gravy. One perfect companion is the Chateau Ste Michelle Blanc de Noirs, a 100 percent Pinot Noir rose sparkling wine replete with strawberry and other red fruit flavors with persistent bubbles that stimulate the palate and facilitate digestion. This wine has the versatility to be enjoyed from the beginning to the end of your meal but for those who wish to progress to red wine I suggest sticking with the same grape.
Refined & Stylish
Red wines made from Pinot Noir are delicate enough to not overpower the white meat of the turkey and go beautifully with many of the side dishes. Two red wines that fulfill this mission beautifully are the Erath Pinot Noir with bright cherry and blueberry flavors and hints of spices and vanilla bean and the Mirimar Pinot Noir featuring ripe red fruit flavors and a velvety texture. In both cases, the freshness or acidity of the wines accentuates the best qualities of the turkey, stuffing and side dishes without being overly filling. If you wish to walk from the table in relatively good shape it may make sense to continue with the Pinot Noir red wine throughout the meal. However, some of my best Thanksgiving memories are those of being just as stuffed as the turkey.
Substantial & Weighty
For those of us who love to revel in excess on Thanksgiving, a wine that typifies this spirit is a big old vine Zinfandel. Two of my favorites are the Seghesio, Old Vine Zinfandel that features powerful flavors of blackberry, black cherry, anise and sage with a strong tannic finish and the St. Francis Old Vines Zinfandel that offers multi-layers of black cherry, raspberry and subtle black pepper notes. As you dig into the dark turkey meat with skin and stuffing all topped with loads of gravy, the high alcohol and powerful tannins of these Zinfandel wines will cut through the richness of your meal. So no matter how light or heavy you wish to eat this Thanksgiving, there’s a perfect wine to suit your mood and appetite.