I realized last year that Thanksgiving is really just about my favorite holiday; I even prefer it over my own birthday (though my birthday isn't a national holiday either). Underneath it all, Thanksgiving is about a big, involved meal with friends and family; basically it's a great excuse for a dinner party. And I love dinner parties!
So I've been devoting a lot of thought to what I want to drink for Thanksgiving. And not just what I want to drink with Thanksgiving but what I want to drink with every possible contingency that could arise on Thanksgiving! Turducken? Friuli red blend from Comelli! Turkey burnt beyond recognition? Magnum of Dierberg Pinot to drown your sorrows! Turkey lasagna? I Balzini Red Label Super Tuscan! Brussel sprouts with garlic, salt, and pepper? Hatzidakis Nykteri Assyrtiko!
I could go on and on, but really, that wouldn't be in keeping with Devenish's focus on education and empowering you to be better wine consumers. Instead of just dictating to you a list of wines that I approve of, I feel it would be more progressive to explain what kinds of wines I think suite Thanksgiving food and why. So here goes nothin'!
Excess is an integral part of the American Thanksgiving dinner, but adding high alcohol reds (like 15% Zins) to the tryptophan in turkey can knock you out harder than a roofied Pinot Grigio. So in the interest of going the distance I'm focusing on wines that aren't too heavy handed. Turkey, while flavorful, isn't a really rich meat and is often kind of dry and lean; therefore I look to brighter vibrant reds that will complement the slightly gamy qualities of the bird with out overwhelming the flavor. I really like Pinot Noirs for this purpose. There are a couple different primary regions that are known for Pinot Noir which each have there own characteristics, but all the good examples will have a deft balance and soft texture that will work towards the goal of complementing turkey's flavor with out overwhelming it. Broadly speaking, French Pinot will be a bit lighter and silky; Oregon will be a bit earthier and brawnier (more rugged Pacific northwest if you will) and Santa Barbara Pinot is often more fruit driven and hedonistic. All these styles have their strengths. I think the French is the most mouth watering, but Oregon has that rustic honesty, and Santa Barbara is just, well, gorgeous.
DISCLAIMER: this is a personal recommendation. I may not follow it my self. There are certainly always exceptions to the rule, especially in wine, and the unexpected prodigal son is often the most rewarding for it's unexpectedness.
But when was the last time you had a Thanksgiving meal that was simply turkey and nothing else? Right! There's mashed potatoes, roasted squash, root vegetables, stuffing, probably some cheeses. And then desert! The point is that there's a lot more to take into account than just turkey. As Marylin Munroe said, and I'm so fond of quoting, Champagne goes with everything! And it looks cool. The effervescence helps to remove food flavors from your mouth, allowing you to taste the wine and making it seem more refreshing. I'd recommend some kind of sparkling wine made in the Champagne style, but not necessarily Chapmagne because of the cost. You can get sparkling wine that's just as good for half the price from Cava or the Loire if you go to a good shop and ask around.
If Champagne for Thanksgiving doesn't really do it for you I'd recommend some kind of white that's full bodied but also still has some good acidity to it, and maybe a bit of sweetness. A dry German or Alsatian Riesling or not quite dry Loire Vouvray would be perfect; full enough that it won't get pushed around by sweet potatoes and stuffing, but still bright and with some mineral and earth tones that will help it against roasted vegetables. Argentine Torrontes has always been another favorite of mine for this.
Here's a picture of someone trying to enjoy all those wines at once. On a train.
And let's not forget Cabernet Franc! A nice medium bodied Loire Cabernet Franc will have a silky texture, but a bit more fruit and pepper than a Pinot Noir. They're less common, but I think they're some of the best food friendly wines around. Bourgueil and Chinon are the two best appellations. Any good wine shop will have a couple. Check out this post on Bourgueil form
These are just guidelines and a glimpse at how I approach wines at Thanksgiving. Probably the best way to find a wine that will please you is to come to one of my many wine tastings over this week and see what strikes your fancy. Check out my Coming Events here!