The Wine List: Thanksgiving Edition

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I’m a list-maker.  Phew, I said it.  It’s out there.  I feel so much better now.  Yes, I make lists.  I come from a long line of list-makers.  My mother makes lists, my grandmother makes lists, my aunts make them…you get it.  Lists are in our blood.  Before I knew it, I was addicted to the satisfaction I got from crossing a big, fat line through each item on the list.  Each line meant a tiny victory for me.  Some lists are simple and fun, like what is needed at the grocery store.  Other lists, however, might as well be Mount Everest: the endless list of books I want to read, places I want to travel, home improvement projects, general life goals.  You know, lists that remind me of what little progress I’ve made.  Lists that mock me and, in turn, get moved from the top of the stack to the back of a drawer.

If you’re at all like me, you have several lists going at once.  At the moment I have a list of all the projects and papers (and their due dates) I’m working on for this semester.  Because we’re closing in on the end, the majority of that list is crossed off, and I’d be lying if I don’t stare at it and think to myself, “You’re awesome, Sara.  Look at all those big, fat lines.  You’re the LIST MASTER!”  Okay, that last part might be an exaggeration, but nonetheless, seeing the completed list makes me feel great.  Until I look at the list sitting next to it…staring at me…frightening me…intimidating me with one simple word: THANKSGIVING.

Yes, we are hosting Thanksgiving at our home this year.  Last year I cooked for just Scott and myself (and the dogs – I mean, who are we kidding, right?).  But this year, we’re having our dear friends, Pat and Holly, over to eat with us.  The four of us try to get together at least once a week for dinner, cards, or to watch a television show, but we’re always invading their home.  This time, I wanted to have them over to our house.  But here’s where my lists are getting the better of me…

“Finish the dining room”

For whatever reason, I decided to work on the dining room this weekend.  By “work on” I mean I used an electric sander for the first time, created an unreasonable amount of dust, and then (also for the first time) skim-coated the lower third of our dining room walls in preparation for painting.  “But why, Sara?  Why would you do that when Thanksgiving is less than four days away?”

I did it because it was on the list, that’s why.

“It’s okay,” I tell myself.  “Our friends won’t mind that they have to sit in a partially-finished dining room.  As long as it’s dust-free and there is a table set with food and wine, they’re good.”

The wine.  I hadn’t even thought about the wine.  That is where my friend Alex Adkins comes in.  Alex knows his wine.  He’s been in the hospitality business for quite some time and his cheeky, laid back attitude makes wine seem approachable.  He knows what he’s talking about, and also knows that many others are lost in the woods when it comes to picking a good bottle of wine.  I sent him a list of the menu items my friends and I are preparing and he was kind enough to give me some tips and suggestions when it comes to pairing styles of wine with the foods of Thanksgiving.  Oh, and this year, we’re doing apple pie rather than pumpkin.  The horror!!

Alex replied:

“Thanksgiving is almost always a challenge to match.  Most people are happy to drink what they like because the diversity of styles and sweetness of the food on the plate at any one time wreak havoc of the best laid plans.

To start: a light, refreshing sparkler is nice.  Prosecco (from Italy) and Cava (from Spain) are mood lifters.  Who isn’t brightened by the effervescence?  Unless one isn’t ticklish I guess.  Make sure that they are dry and save any sweeter sparklers for dessert.  Too much sugar too soon on the palette can cause fatigue.  As for reds, a lower alcohol wine such as Beaujolais, Villages or a young Cru, is a great choice.  The French drink these a lunch as a matter of national pride.  Light ales/lagers would work too, especially if the snacks are toward the salty side.

For the main event: Whites – Chardonnay (yes, I said it!), Riesling, and Gewürztraminer.  In each case, wines with a little age help to match the texture of the food.  Chards with oak-aging will stand up to the richness and butteriness of the spuds and gravy.  Who doesn’t douse their plate with a boatload of gravy?  A drier Riesling Spatlese should also match the texture of most of the food, especially the turkey itself.  Look for examples from North America or Australia.  As for the Gewürztraminer , find an Alsatian.  Period.

Beaujolais could certainly continue into dinner, especially if food is served earlier in the afternoon.  Too much alcohol leads to afternoon napping, great at your parent’s house, but who wants to be the guy in the corner not holding up his end at Pictionary?  Used to be me, until I discovered Beaujolais!

Pinot Noir is a player here, especially from California or Oregon.  As long as the food isn’t overly spiced. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Zinfandel, red that is.  California Zins that are fruity, with hints of spice are often recommended because they match so many different notes in a traditional Thanksgiving meal.  Sonoma Zins probably match better than Lodi Zins.  I would serve this with an evening meal due to the much higher alcohol content.  Some Zinfandels can approach 16% alcohol. 

For dessert:  A sweet sparkling wine, such as Moscato, could work well with the apple pie, as might a tawny port or madeira.  Remember that coffee and wine don’t match, though.  So any guests who request both should be asked to stand outside for a few minutes to rethink her/his position on that.”

Many thanks to Alex and his thorough breakdown of Thanksgiving wine styles!  Now that I know what to pair, I can happily cross that off my list.  I hope all of you have a wonderful Thanksgiving spent with those you love.  Eat, drink, and be thankful for all the things that make life so great.  And don’t worry so much about your lists…they’ll still be there when the dust settles.

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3 Comments on “The Wine List: Thanksgiving Edition”

  1. Alex Adkins says:

    Thank you, Sara. I appreciate the opportunity to help. I would like to make an amendment. I do not prefer coffee with my dessert wine. Me. There are a bunch who will disagree. Many dessert/fortified wines would pair with coffee and coffee-flavored desserts. Many would not. I’d rather have my coffee with a whisk(e)y or brandy after dessert. Thanks again!!! Happy Thanksgiving!!


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