For the past couple of years, I haven't cooked Thanksgiving dinner at home. This year, though, I'll be in the kitchen on Thanksgiving Eve and Thanksgiving Day. As I enjoy all the food and flavors of a Thanksgiving meal, I also think that it's a great opportunity to incorporate a wine tasting into the mix. Not necessarily a formal wine tasting, but with so many complimentary and contrasting food flavors—cranberries, dark turkey meat, salty stuffing, buttery mashed spuds, etc.—the Thanksgiving meal is a good place to try out an array of different wines with different foods and courses. Here are some pairing ideas to test drive that might be a little out of the ordinary.
First, I like to treat my guests to gougeres—the cheesy little French-style choux pastry puffs—to munch on when they arrive. Or, sometimes I'll make manchego breadsticks. Either way, I'd serve up some bubbly alongside for starters. I think Anna de Codorniu Brut ($13.99) makes a great aperitif—clean, well-balanced and refreshing. For a richer, fancier taste, try Domaine Chandon étoile Rosé ($29.99). I'd also serve this wine with pre-dinner paté. And slip special guests a flute of Moët & Chandon 2006 Grand Vintage Brut ($59.99), the Official Champagne of New Year's Eve in Times Square. It's sharply crisp, but with floral notes and tasty tangerine flavors.
Prior to the big feast, I also usually like to have some chilled crab or shrimp to nosh on, or sometimes oysters on the half-shell. In that case, I'd turn to a crisp, dry New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc to sip alongside. Specifically, Nobilo Regional Sauvignon Blanc ($13.99). Or, step up to Nobilo Icon Sauvignon Blanc ($19.99). Both are terrific with shellfish and goat cheese, with the Icon being a tad richer and bigger-bodied.
I'll probably serve either a salad course before carving the turkey, or perhaps something along the lines of artichokes or asparagus. For those, I'm thinking out-of-the-box with something like Martínsancho Verdejo 2012 ($17.99), from Spain's Rueda region. It's highly extracted, herbaceous and has good minerality.
For the main event, this year I'm going to try a wine from Italy: Nipozzano Vecchie Viti Chianti Rufina ($29.99). Chianti with turkey? Sure, why not. I think its walnut notes on the nose and spicy Sangiovese flavors would be a good wine to bridge dark-meat turkey and Prime rib or grilled lamb on Thanksgiving. And, for a domestic wine, I can't help but think of Zinfandel—the all-American wine for an all-American holiday. Ravenswood's "Godfather of Zin" Joel Peterson makes something for every budget. At the lower end of the spectrum, but very tasty indeed, is Ravenswood Lodi Old Vine Zinfandel ($14.99). It's quite versatile and a good overall choice for the Thanksgiving table. For a more luxurious Zinfandel that will bowl you and your guests over, opt for Ravenswood Old Hill Zinfandel 2011 ($57.99), a heady-but-refined Zin made from some of Sonoma's oldest vines.
Of course, Pinot Noir is often considered to be the go-to varietal for Thanksgiving meals. If you're leaning toward Pinot Noir on Turkey Day, I urge you to track down a bottle or two of Loveblock Pinot Noir 2011 ($31.99) from New Zealand. It's smooth and elegant—a wine that will pair well with everything from turkey & gravy to cornbread stuffing or salmon.
Oh, and for that piece of pumpkin pie? Try a sip of Lustau East India Solera Sherry ($14.29), with its prune, spice and caramel notes.