As you might imagine, there are as many recommendations for a wine to go with Thanksgiving dinner as there are wine snobs. Being a connoisseur of garage wines, I am fairly confident that my recommendations will satisfy at least 30 or 40% of those who don’t have anything better to do than read the blog of Papa Joe, “il capo vinaio.” I recently mentioned in a Facebook post that a few years ago my Italian professor equated the title “vinaio” (Italian for wine maker, certainly not sommelier) to “chimney sweep.” It didn’t take me long to come to the conclusion that a winemaker like me who wears about 3 or 4% of the wine he makes is indeed the winemaking equivalent of a chimney sweep, and I took the comparison as a compliment.
Getting back to the task at hand, there are many reasonable choices for a Thanksgiving wine. It would be logical to just choose a nice white wine and be done with it, since turkey is generally considered a white meat. If one is of that opinion, a Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, or Pinot Grigio would seem to be good choices. Even a sweet Riesling or Moscato would be a reasonable choice in one was so inclined (certainly not me, but about half of my family prefers sweet wines). Fruity whites with a fairly high acid content would be a good complement for Turkey, considering it is darker and richer than most white meats.
Personally, I would suggest a light to medium bodied red wine with fruity notes and robust, but not overpowering tannins. Reasonable choices would certainly include some of the Italian varietals like Sangiovese, Barbera, and Nebbiolo. Other options would include Pinot Noir, Beaujolais, and maybe even a rosé. Considering the addition of turkey gravy and savory side dishes like sweet potatoes, vegetable casseroles, cranberry sauce, and seasoned stuffing, one of the aforementioned reds would certainly pair with Thanksgiving dinner at least as well as a white wine. My own preference would be a big red like Petit Sirah, Shiraz, Montepulciano, Teroldego, or Tannat in a water glass, but that’s a different story altogether. As I mentioned earlier, there are as many or more potential recommendations than there are wine snobs, and in the end, the choice is purely personal. Pairings are recommendations and the rules are anything but cut and dry.
A good Italian Barolo, although a great wine in its own rite, may not be the best choice for Thanksgiving, since they are traditionally fermented for up to 21 days on the skins to maximize the tannins. Again, personally I would probably love that pairing (then again, I really enjoy Cabernet Sauvignon with walleye or tilapia) The fact that they generally sell for $40 and up would make the cost prohibitive for a large extended family. I would opt for a domestic Nebbiolo more in the $15-$30 range. Nebbiolo is the Barolo grape, and is fairly commonly grown in California. California growing conditions and contact with skins for only 4 days to a week during fermentation result in a fruitier wine with softer tannins that is ready to drink in 1-3 years. We will be bringing Papa Joe’s Rosso Alpino (Alpine Red), a Nebbiolo 80%/Barbera 20% blend to our family dinners (yes, we eat Thanksgiving dinner twice 3 hrs apart). It is light in color but full bodied and high in tannins and acidity, with leathery, floral, and raspberry notes. You may note that Rosso Alpino is not quite consistent with my earlier recommendation, but I am really partial to the big reds. Rosso Alpino is a nice option for those who, like me, are prone to tannin withdrawal. Our Rosso Alpino is grown in Lodi, CA in the Northern Central Valley. The alcohol content is 15%.
I will also bring a bottle or two of Moscato for those in the family who prefer a sweeter wine. I would consider a sweet red, but I haven’t tasted a sweet red I considered drinkable since I was about 16 and had a bottle of Boone’s Farm Strawberry Hill. I don’t consider myself a wine snob by any means, but everyone has limits. I have had an occasional sip of Riunite Lambrusco and some Lake Erie Concords, but I just can’t bring myself to put our name on a sweet red.
In the end, while there is some consensus that certain aspects of a given wine make it pair well with certain foods, personal taste really cannot be overlooked. Pairing, like wine making, is partially an art and partially a science.