It’s a dilemma as old as the pilgrims: what wine to serve with the Thanksgiving turkey? It wasn’t much of a challenge for the pilgrims themselves, since wine didn’t exist in America at that time. The original settlers probably drank apple cider or beer—there’s even a theory that the Mayflower landed because the crew was running out of beer, and the water was too dangerous to drink.
Today’s American faces a different dilemma. The wines most popular with consumers—powerful, full-bodied Cabernets and blends—are a poor match with turkey due to their overload of tannin. There are much better choices available:
Sparkling wine: It’s a holiday, so begin with bubbles. If you don’t want to spring for Champagne, you can snag a bottle of Mionetto Prosecco for $12. Prosecco might be a better alternative to Champagne for many people, since the softer texture makes it easier to drink.
Off-dry whites: A Riesling with a good balance of fruit and acidity is an excellent match. Choose an entry-level German Riesling from a good producer such as Dr. Loosen, J.J. Prum or Johannishof-Eser ($15-20). An Alsatian version such as Trimbach ($18) would be even better, given its richness of texture. Other off-dry whites such as Gewurztraminer or Muscat would also work well. If you’re feeling patriotic, look for the Eroica Riesling from Washington State ($20), a joint venture between Dr. Loosen and chateau Ste. Michelle.
Light, soft reds: If you want to drink red wine, this is probably the best match of all—it’s no accident that most French recipes for game birds call for red Burgundy. The smooth, silky texture of Pinot Noir is a charm with turkey. Look for an entry-level Bourgogne Rouge or a middle-range Pinot Noir from Oregon such as Rex Hill, Elk Cove or Ponzi ($28-35). Beaujolais would also be a perfect choice, but not Beaujolais Nouveau: pick a Cru Beaujolais from a good producer such as the Fleurie, Brouily or Moulin-A-Vent from Chateau des Jacques, the Louis Jadot property in the region ($20-30).
When the meal is over, it’s time to bring out the Cabernet. Those sturdy tannins will be a perfect complement to chocolate, nuts or strong cheeses.
Mark Spivak is the author of Iconic Spirits: An Intoxicating History (Lyons Press, 2012) and Moonshine Nation (Lyons Press, 2014); his first novel, Friend of the Devil, is now available from Black Opal Books. For more information, go to amazon.com.