Every year during Thanksgiving, the 1-800-TURKEYS hotline from Jennie-O receives questions from folks getting ready to host Thanksgiving festivities and wanting recommendations on wine pairings and festive aperitifs.
We have a delightful answer this year.
Christina Machamer, an accomplished chef and a Level 2 certified sommelier who resides in Napa, Calif., is joining our lineup of culinarians standing ready to make your holiday meal extraordinary. In addition to being available by phone, Christina has jotted down a wonderful Thanksgiving wine list, even sharing some of her grandma’s favorites.
While you’re Grazing on Appetizers
Sparkling wine is a favorite Thanksgiving pairing, and in my opinion, sparkling rosé goes with every course. You can serve it throughout the day and with the main meal as well.
If you don’t want something overpoweringly sweet, look for a brut rosé. The term “brut” tells you it’s a dryer style, without a lot of residual sugar.
For those who believe the best sparkling wine comes from France but don’t want to spend upward of $50 on Champagne, ask around for a good bottle of crémant. This is the designate for French sparkling wines not made in the Champagne region. Crémant is becoming easier to find in grocery stores, although you’ll probably have to ask for directions. At a price range typically between $20-25 for a bottle, it’s a better buy than Champagne, especially if you’re purchasing multiple bottles for a big party. Plus, it feels appropriate for a special occasion.
If you’re looking for a bubbly with a little more sugar and fruit, but not cloyingly sweet, ask someone at your local wine store to point you to the brachetto. This is a beautiful, effervescent, low-alcohol Italian sparkler with a distinctive deep ruby color. It’s an all-day drinker in the Piedmont region where it’s produced, but it used to be a rarity in the States. Thankfully, it’s gained a following here in the past 10 years and is thus becoming much easier to find.
Say you have a couple of guests who favor sweet sparkling, but you don’t want the wine selection to be so sweet that only they can drink it. Another thing you can do – and this is exactly how Grandma likes her Thanksgiving Day bubbly – is to purchase the garnish of hibiscus flower in syrup that is available in many liquor stores. Put a sweet hibiscus flower in sparkling wine, and it sweetens up the beverage as the flower unfurls in the glass. For extra flair, toss in a few cranberries to dance in the bubbles.
GIFTING TIP: If you’re going to someone else’s house for Thanksgiving and you can find a crémant in a magnum, splurge on it.
“Bring a bottle of wine, that’s nice. Bring a magnum, and you’re a rock star.”
The Main Meal
If you want something for the first course (salad and bisque), consider a crisp white, perhaps a New Zealand sauvignon blanc. Very citrus-driven with stone fruit notes, it’s lovely with a cream-based soup or crisp salad. You’re not going to get the grass note you get in this grape from other regions. Also, it’s such a good value. Oyster Bay and Kim Crawford are widely available and priced under $15 a bottle.
When the turkey arrives…
I always think when you’re talking about Thanksgiving, you can go with wines that are a little more robust, because you’re no doubt using a lot of butter and rich soup stock in the food. For example, a classic buttery Napa chardonnay works well. On the high end pricewise, Frank Family never disappoints, but Louis Jadot is Grandma’s go-to and is available almost everywhere.
Pinot noir is my personal pick of red wines for the occasion, and there are some really great value pinot noirs to choose from. Rather than searching for specific producers, look by region. Santa Lucia Highlands is a Central California coastal subappellation that makes high-quality, bright, fruit-driven pinot noir. Oregon’s Willamette Valley is also very famous for pinot noir, although it tends to be a bit more forest floor than bright fruit.
For the diners who insist on a big red for a big occasion, with syrah you’re still going to get that big bold flavor, but the tannin structure is going to be a little lighter. When you’re pairing with turkey, it’ll be more forgiving than a cabernet.
I’m super geeky about syrah, and I’m liking a lot of what’s coming out of Washington state. Many good syrahs and, for that matter, some yummy red blends are coming out of Paso Robles, Calif.
Drinking with Dessert
Finger Lakes riesling is a really special white, particularly if you love something sweet and want elevated quality. However, it’s not always easy to find, and in some cases you may need to opt for a German producer. (That’s not a bad thing – the Germans perfected this varietal first!) Riesling is a famous product of the New York state area, so the closer you get to the source, the easier it is to find it.
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About the red blend you’ve never heard of before, but has such a fun label…
I think you’re going to buy it no matter what I say, but remember, the labeling isn’t indicative of quality. It’s a marketing technique. If you want quality, pay attention to wine-growing regions, not states. For example, I want grapes grown in Paso Robles, not simply California. Look for a quality bottle and packaging. Also, opt for blends produced by a winery you already know and like. After you’ve done all that, you might still have to take a bit of a chance, but isn’t that part of the fun?