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Thanksgiving … a wine dilemma?

Thanksgiving … a wine dilemma?

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Thanksgiving dinners can pose the greatest challenge to wine and food pairing, so why not just relax, don’t worry and make it fun?  

First, to avoid making yourself crazy the concept of the ideal pairing (whatever that means) of a wine to a particular dish must be thrown out the window for Thanksgiving. Ideally, as we’ve explored in the past, a wine would be paired with a specific course and preferably to the preparation (sauces, spices, etc.) and not necessarily its main element (fish, fowl, meat, etc.).  But with Thanksgiving most of the diverse courses find themselves on the same plate, and since a buffet service is also common you have no way of knowing what your guests will choose.

For many years, my wife, Barbara, has considered Thanksgiving as the “holy grail” in bringing friends and family together for a holiday celebration. She cooks a plethora of different dishes for weeks in advance, includes family and friends from far and wide and sets a magnificent table for all to enjoy.  

The gathering is festive and usually starts on Wednesday, continues on (with non-stop football) all through Thursday and Friday and then is capped off, with what we’ve come to enjoy with even more friends — our traditional “leftover night” on Friday.

So that’s all good, and Barbara does a sensational job, but it has always been my job (actually, pleasure) to select the wines. Years ago, I would carefully choose a group of wines to enjoy as the guests gathered for the feast and a specific wine for the dinner itself.  

Then long ago, I realized this is not the time to find the perfect pairing, but rather to offer a selection of great and versatile wines for our friends to experiment with and enjoy. Over the years, it’s become casual and, indeed, a lot of fun for all. I just set a bunch of wines on the bar and let everyone make their choices throughout the late afternoon and evening.

However, the selection is anything but random. I am conscious of the vast variety of flavors, textures and aromas emanating from the many culinary treasures being savored. I shy away from the more extracted and higher alcohol overly tannic wines — especially those with overpowering oak — that will fight the flavors of the dishes. I look for wines of character with higher acidity possessing intriguing bouquets and flavors that are more compatible with the traditional Thanksgiving fare.

A great idea, and keeping with the season, is Beaujolais Nouveau for the hors d’oeuvres service as the guests gather. The history of this wine dates to the 1950s, and it took off internationally in the 1970s. Since that time, it has been ceremoniously released with great fanfare on the third Thursday in November from the current vintage shortly after fermentation is complete. It’s packed with fruit, low in alcohol, and has an intriguing story.  Best served lightly chilled.

Aromatic whites also fill the bill as guests gather and at the dinner table as well. Some examples such as muscato, gewürztraminer (a natural pairing with turkey), torrontés, dry riesling, roussanne and arneis are but a few.  For something a bit less aromatic, you can try a bone-dry and steely sauvignon blanc (perhaps New Zealand style), albariño, chenin blanc or an un-oaked chardonnay. And don’t forget a dry rosé — one of the wine world’s most versatile wines.  

Because of their higher tannins and alcohol, reds are often a bit less forgiving. I suggest looking for a young Cru Beaujolais (lightly chilled), sangiovese (or Chianti), pinot noir, or a lighter styled zinfandel. A few other interesting choices are grenache, carignane, mourvèdre (mataro), tempranillo and malbec.

The Thanksgiving preparation is well under way and inviting aromas are wafting throughout our house, I’m gathering the wines and excited with my choices. Why not do the same and enjoy a wonderful Thanksgiving as we kick-off the holiday season?


Questions and comments

The Nov. 4  “Putting the bubble in the bottle?”  by all comments, seemed to be the natural follow-up to “Champagne, anyone” from Oct. 21 and here are a couple to share. Again, thanks to all who took the time to send me their thoughts.

Burt — Does champagne age in the bottle and how long should you wait before opening a premium bottle?

Absolutely, fine Champagne and premium sparkling wine from other areas of the world will age in the bottle, developing complexity in the nose and palate along with a creamy texture. But as the aging progresses the mousse (sparkle) may begin to fade. I have had well aged (25 years plus) vintage Champagne from select producers over the years and it is a delightful — albeit different — taste sensation.


Wine Dummy — I often preserve left-over still wine by re-corking the bottle and leaving it in the refrigerator overnight. This usually works, but will my sparklers still have “sparkle” if I do the same? 

I would have to say ‘no’ to that one. The cork in a Champagne bottle is under great pressure and expands to a bell shape when removed. It is impossible to get it back under any circumstance and inserting another cork won’t do the trick. There are sparkling wine closures on the market that have a simple “clamp-down” feature that holds the stopper in place. I’ve used them many times over the years and find them to be the perfect way to preserve the “sparkle” over several days in the fridge.

Share your experiences with other readers by commenting on this article at or email 

Allen Balik, a Napa resident, has been a wine collector, consultant, author, fundraiser and enthusiast for more than 30 years.

Pop the cork on Napa Valley wine!

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