Come Thanksgiving, in addition to brining the turkey, ironing the tablecloth and laying in special supplies for impossible guests' special diets, you have the task of picking the wines. You certainly don't have to, but coming up with a plan will mean you are likely to enjoy the dinner better than if you leave it to chance — and the sad fate of having to serve the box wine your well-meaning great-uncle will surely bring.
Not an option.
Still, making a plan is easier said than done. The Thanksgiving meal is one heck of a challenge with all those sweet, salty, tart, fatty flavors swirled onto one groaning plate. Truth be told, not even a champion sommelier could come up with the one perfect wine that will match both your grandmother's Waldorf salad and Aunt Matilda's oyster stuffing.
Forget the crowd-pleasing oaky Chardonnays: They won't play well with this meal. Nix too the bold California Cabernet Sauvignons that are guaranteed to overwhelm the day's honorary bird. You need wines that can hold their own and yet are somehow changelings, embracing rather than obliterating each dish on the overladen table.
A German Riesling could do it, but not everybody appreciates its zingy acidity and/or thrilling sweetness. And in keeping with the spirit of the day, I wanted to pick mostly American wines.
For whites, I'm leaning toward Rhone-style whites from the Central Coast, which has become somewhat of a specialist in these kinds of wines. Tablas Creek makes some admirable examples, but I'm going with the J.L. Bonaccorsi white blend, which is mostly Viognier with a small percentage of Chardonnay. Or McPrice Myers' "Terre Blanche," which is Roussanne and Viognier, roughly two to one. This one has enough spunk that you could pour it throughout the meal, even with the turkey.
As for reds, Pinot Noir is, hands down, the most versatile food wine and fits seamlessly with the extended meal. You don't want a big bruiser, though, or an excessively tannic wine. An Oregon Pinot Noir from Tony Soter has just the right balance. Something haunting and woodsy slips in with its ripe juicy fruit and soft tannins. This Pinot is tailored for turkey and all the fixings.
The other grape that always has a place on my Thanksgiving table is Gamay as expressed in Beaujolais, specifically cru Beaujolais. Granted, this one is from France, but the French did help us out a little in the Revolutionary War. And you can't beat Gamay for its amiability. Watch your guests. Even the folks who know or care nothing about wine will stop and pay attention after the first mouthful. I'm happy to have found a great little Morgon from Dominique Piron for around $20.
If you need something for after the pie and coffee, something to enable lingering at the table or in the living room, I've got a couple of choices. One is an American rum from the artisan distiller St. George Spirits called Agua Libre, made from fresh sugarcane, or maybe their lovely poire eau de vie, served in small stemmed glasses.
I could also go for one of the spirited brandies from Mendocino County's Germain-Romain. If you've got some greedy drinkers in the crowd, go for their Craft Method Brandy. But for those who can appreciate one of finest expressions of American brandy, maybe a bottle of Select Barrel XO, a blend of 12 brandies, most 17 years old and nearly 80% distilled from Pinot Noir.
In the end, as long as you don't get a wine that fights with the meal, I say, don't fret over it, a very merry time will be had by all, regardless. I'd be more worried about the seating plan and somehow forgetting to never ever seat "tea party" contrarian Uncle Tyrone next to ultra left-leaning Cousin Louise.
With Thanksgiving so close on the heels of the election, let's all give thanks for the diversity and sheer improbability of this great nation of ours. Let carnivores, omnivores, locavores, pescatarians, vegans and raw food devotees all give thanks. Let's eat. Let's drink. And let's hope for the best.