We are heading into our Thanksgiving Day long weekend up here in Canada, and every year I get questions about what wine to have with the big celebration dinner.
So here are some ideas!
First off, it always depends on what you are having to eat, particularly if the food – or significant components of the meal – is going to be sweet. That sugar can play havoc with both red and white wines, so it is important to plan accordingly.
If you are having a sweeter meal – ham with a sugar glaze, sweet yams or mashed potatoes, lots of cranberry sauce – then I would recommend two kinds of wines.
For whites, go with a Riesling. They are naturally on the sweet side (even the dry ones), so can stand up to just about any level of sweetness in your food. Also, they come in a wide range of price categories! You can get really nice ones from BC, Washington State and California for under $20, for example. Europe is the home to great Rieslings, of course – from France, in the Alsace region, and Germany – so you can also go there if you want a potentially great wine. One caveat, though – some of the best of those wines can get quite sweet, so if you or your guests don’t like sweet wines, that could be a problem.
For reds, that is tougher. Any kind of oak in the wine will not mix well with the sweetness in the food, potentially ruining the taste of both the wine and the food.
My “go to” red wine for sweeter or hotter foods is Zinfandel. It is chock full of sweet (ripe) fruit itself, doesn’t have oak or jamminess to it, and the alcohol level can help combat the sweetness in the food. California is the place, of course, to find it, and you can find options from $10 to $50++++.
It is easier to pair wines with more savoury dishes – turkey/lamb/chicken/beef with herbs, meat stuffing, that kind of thing.
My favourite red wine choice for these kind of meals is actually Grenache-based wines! Cotes du Rhone, Chateauneuf du Pape, Gigondas, Vacqueyras – all of these wines, even when young, have great herbal (called garrigue) component to them that pairs really well with herbal, meaty food. And they don’t have to be expensive! Basic Cotes du Rhone – solid wines – can be had for under $15.
As for whites, you do need to watch the oak. If you – or your guests – like it, then go for the big Chardonnay or Semillon/Sauvignon-based wines. They will be rich enough to stand up to the herbal meaty flavours. If oaked wines don’t work, you can try Pinot Gris or even Chenin Blanc – the best ones are full-bodied enough to handle the food without the oak.
That should give you enough to make Thanksgiving Dinner – here or in the US – enjoyable. But one last piece of advice.
If you really love wine and/or a certain type of wine, then have it! There are too few excuses to treat yourself, and not matter what the food is, you can still enjoy a fabulous bottle of wine.
Life is too short…so go for it!