T he holidays are here, and many people are worried about what wines to serve with their holiday meals. With so many good wines available in the market there is no need to fret.
I will offer many suggestions, and you can always check with your favorite wine shop. They will have many great wines to choose from in your price range and in your favorite flavors.
Thanksgiving usually is the most difficult holiday for wine pairing, because between the turkey and the sides, or the ham and the sides, you have so many options. When I was a kid, it was easier. Our family would have some kind of bubbly and Mogen David. My parents let me sip about a thimble full of each and I thought I was hot stuff.
Today, there are many more choices, and you can pick a different wine for each course, or for the varied tastes of your relatives. After all, it’s the holidays, and what better time to splurge?
Some people try to pick one wine for the whole meal, but I prefer to have several different wines to go with various courses and varied tastes.
My advice would be don’t try to impress the family with some odd choice. Go with familiar, tried and true wines that you’ve had before or that you know someone in the family loves. Or you could just trust my recommendations.
We will discuss Christmas and New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day in a few weeks. For today, let’s concentrate on Thanksgiving. If you get through this holiday, the rest will be a breeze.
I think you have three basic choices, with some bonus options. When you tell me “either/or,” I like to think “and.” You don’t have to be limited. You can pick one from each column, and leave everyone happy.
My basic must-haves are a sparkling wine, a white wine that is not a Chardonnay and a light red wine. I also would toss in a Rosé and a dessert wine. If you have the right wine, even if you overcook the turkey, no one will mind.
Whether you do a traditional turkey in the oven, brine the turkey and then roast it, grill a turkey or even fry a turkey, good wines will make the meal more memorable. So, here’s what you might think about:
Sparkling wine has been a must for me at holidays ever since I could legally buy wine. There is nothing more festive than a sparkling wine. And if you decide to limit yourself to one wine, it almost has to be a sparkler.
Sparkling wines go with all kinds of foods, from sweet to hot to hearty. So you can open a sparkling wine with the appetizer and keep serving it through dessert. The top of the line is Champagne (which can only come from the Champagne region of France), but it will be pricey. It will be good, and there are several I love, but they will set you back a few dollars.
If it has to be Champagne, bravo to you. Here are some of my favorites: Charles Heidsieck Rose Reserve NV ($80), Champagne Taittinger ($200), Moet & Chandon Imperial ($50), Billecart-Salmon Brut ($55) and Rosé ($80).
There also are many other wonderful sparkling wines, most of which cost less than fine Champagne. My recommendations: Biltmore Estate Blanc de Blancs Reserve 2011 ($30), Biltmore Estate Blanc de Noir 2911 ($25), Gruet Brut Champenoise NV ($18), Côté Mas Crémant De Limoux MV ($13), Crémant De Alsace (many producers, including Helfrich and Baron de Hoen $15-20).
There are any number of Crémant wines from various regions of France. Most of them are pretty good. The important thing to look for on all sparkling wine labels are the words “Methode Traditionnelle” or Methode Champenoise.” That means the wine is made the same way as Champagne, with the second fermentation producing bubbles in the bottle.
Don’t forget Prosecco, the fun sparkling wine from Italy that usually is low in alcohol. Most people think about it in warm weather, but it is great all year long, especially during the holidays. Some of the best come from Bisol, including Crede Prosecco Superiore DOCG 2014 ($25), Bisol Cartizze Prosecco Superiore DOCG 2013 ($50) and Jeio ($15). Mionetto also makes a range of nice Prosecco from the fun Il brand to $10-15 everyday sparklers to their Luxury Collection ($20).
I can also recommend NV “Garbel” Brut Prosecco DOC Treviso ($15), NV “Bosco di Gica” Brut Prosecco di Valdobbiadene Superiore DOCG ($18) and the 2014 “Col Credas” Brut Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG ($22), a single-vineyard bottling from the Farra di Soligo area of Valdobbiadene.
You can serve Chardonnay with an appetizer, such as shrimp cocktail, but don’t serve it with turkey. The dryness and oak in the Chardonnay will fight with the turkey flavors, and neither will be at their best. In general, super dry wines can be overwhelmed by all the sugar and savory flavors in Thanksgiving dinner, so something off dry might be better.
You are safer to go with a fruitier or spicier wine, such as Riesling, Gewürtztraminer, Viognier or even a Sauvignon Blanc. These wines are perfect with turkey and also go well with sweeter sides such as sweet potatoes.
Here are some good possibilities: Charles Smith Kung Fu Girl Riesling ($13), Pine Ridge Chenin Blanc/Viognier ($14), Benziger Family Winery Sonoma County Sauvignon Blanc 2013 (14), Casillero del Diablo Sauvignon Blanc 2014 ($12), Wild Horse Viognier ($17). I also like nearly every Alsace Riesling I have ever had. They tend to have a sharp, flinty mineral taste.
Gewürtztraminer tends to have strong aromatics and a spicy taste that make it ideal with turkey and gravy. Sauvignon Blanc is a crisp wine, usually with citrus-based flavors with some herb or mineral notes, so it also is good with turkey and mashed potatoes.
Pinot Grigio is fresh and light, but able to handle garlic, onions, herbs and flavorful dishes. Albarino and Viognier offer more fruit flavors and offer a different option for the Thanksgiving table.
One white blend I’m particularly fond of is Treana White, a 50-50 blend of Marsanne and Viognier ($24).
The best red wines for Thanksgiving are Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, Syrah, Carmenere and red blends like GSM (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre). You want muted tannins and mellow wines.
Here are some possibilities: Benziger 2013 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir ($29), Anderra Carmenere 2013 ($11) or almost any Carmenere from Chile, Vale do Bomfim Douro DOC 2012 ($12), Mark West Pinot Noir 2013 ($11), Francis Ford Coppola Director’s Cut Pinot Noir 2013 ($21), Francis Ford Coppola Director’s Cut Zinfandel ($21), Frank Family Pinot Noir ($35) and Anaba Sonoma Coast pinot noir ($34).
Pinot Noir, especially from the United States, is a traditional favorite for Thanksgiving. The wine usually is fruity, mellow and with subtle flavors. Zinfandel usually has more body, but it is an American original and its intensity pairs up with many side dishes. Syrah or Shiraz spices things up a little. It’s complexity and peppery notes are good matches for herbs found in stuffing and gravy.
Don’t forget Beaujolais Nouveau, sent from France on the third Thursday of November. It’s light, fresh and fun. It will go with most food on the table, and sells for less than $20.
Rosé and Sherry wines can bridge the gap for people who aren’t firmly in the red or white camp. They can be lighter than reds, but have body you won’t find in whites. You also can find sparkling Rosé, a delightful wine.
I like many Rosés, but I am partial to these: Charles & Charles Rosé ($13), Sofia Rosé ($19) and Matchbook Rosé of Tempranillo ($12).
To cap off the meal I’d go with something sweet. Choices include Port, icewine and late harvest wines. You really need to check your wine merchant for what’s available, but there are some outstanding dessert wines.
A few of my favorites include Graham’s Six Grapes Port ($22), Dow’s Late Bottled Vintage Port ($24), Warre’s Otima 10 ($26), Cockburn’s Special Reserve Port ($14), Blandy’s Alvada 5-Year-Old Madeira ($18).

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