Here’s the deal with Thanksgiving: It is really a hodge-podge of a bunch of different foods, and there is not any one wine that universally works well with sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, stuffing, cranberry relish, overcooked green beans and turkey. So, as is the case with most wine-and-food pairings, the protein takes center stage, with the bird being the dish that needs a most suitable mate.
Because turkey is often eaten in the same bite as cranberry relish, light, fruity reds such as pinot noir, Beaujolais and dolcetto are trotted out as if they are bachelors Nos. 1, 2 and 3 on the “Dating Game.” Because the stuffing might have raisins or mushrooms, we assume pinot noir will go even a little bit better than the others. Same thing with sweet potatoes, though Beaujolais might have an upper hand here because of its spice.
Over and over, I’ve heard people say that one of the few things buttery chardonnay pairs well with is turkey. Because it is a low-fat meat, you don’t need a superhigh-acid wine (which pinot noir, Beaujolais and dolcetto all are). And the flavors of the gravy and stuffing can work well enough, not to mention the sweet potatoes if you add canned pineapple (as opposed to marshmallows), which may complement tropical flavors in a new-world chard.
I’m also a fan of white Rhone varietals — grenache blanc, viognier, roussanne and marsanne — during this time of year because they have a breadth of qualities, fruit and savory, that match the smorgasbord of dishes that is Thanksgiving.
There are so many wines to choose from, but here’s my short list:
Domaine Maby Lirac, La Fermade, 2008 (Rhone Valley, France): Lirac takes a back seat to Gigondas and Chateauneuf-du-Pape, but some of the best values in the southern Rhone can be found in this appellation. A blend of Grenache blanc (40 percent), clairette (40 percent) and picpoul (20 percent), it is unusual bordering on intellectual — but even without giving it much thought, it can be enjoyed with its matrix of almonds, kiwi, star fruit, melon rind, glycerin and minerals. Suggested retail: $17.99
Julien Sunier Morgon, 2009 (Beaujolais, France): Julien Sunier released his first wine with the 2008 vintage. Committed to biodynamic methods, Sunier is a rising star in Beaujolais, making extraordinary wines from three crus. The Morgon is the most intense, yet is it is not overbearing — after all, this is Beaujolais. With cinnamon-tinged pomegranate and herbal overtones, it has more layers and depth than your average Beaujolais. Suggested retail: $24
Vylyan Pinot Noir, 2008 (Villany, Hungary): Founded shortly after the fall of the Soviet Union, Vylyan has evolved over the years and is now making some very impressive wines. Minerally but with a good dollop of cherry fruit, this is a great wine to bring to pinot noir fans who want a little adventure. Suggested retail: $25
Pamela S. Busch is the owner of Skrewcap.com, founder of CAV Wine Bar and a Bay Area wine consultant. Please submit questions to Pamela@Skrewcap.com.