The following is a guest post from Mike Madaio, co-founder of Pennsylvania Vine Company.
As leaf piles build and the air turns brisk, it’s difficult for wine drinkers to avoid advice on Thanksgiving libations. Whether this is due to actual consumer anxiety, or just that it’s one day when we wine writers know what everyone is eating, well, that’s up for debate. Regardless, here we aim to offer you something unique: turkey-friendly wines stocked by Pennsylvania’s Fine Wine & Good Spirits stores, with special focus on the Chairman’s Selection program.
The toughest part of pairing Thanksgiving dinner is matching the varied and often divergent flavors on the table. For even the most seasoned wino, it can be challenging to find something that matches every dish. And then there are the cranberries, which pair with … nothing.
All that said, here are three simple rules that should help you navigate the day without ruffling any feathers:
1: Keep It Simple
Although we at PA Vine Co. are quite familiar with meals built around prized wine, on a holiday nicknamed Turkey Day, it’s obvious food is the centerpiece. Unless you’re having an intimate gathering, save your dusty, cellared beauties or envy-inducing, cult-ish bottles for another time. Your palate will be too exhausted to appreciate their nuance anyway. Today is about squeezing a bunch of loved-but-dysfunctional family members around a table and eating a bunch of tasty-but-dysfunctional dishes, so the wine need only be fresh and straightforward.
2: Embrace the Acid, Lose the Tannin
Because Thanksgiving food can be heavy and rich, it’s important to look for wine with bright acidity to cleanse the palate and enliven the taste buds. Tannic wines, on the other hand – such as the ubiquitous Cabernet Sauvignon – feature bitterness and can cause a drying sensation in the mouth. Wines with little or no oak treatment are best bets – especially high-acid white varieties like Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc or red grapes such as Pinot Noir, Sangiovese and Gamay (Beaujolais).
3: Don’t Fret
In the end, Uncle Leo probably doesn’t know his Shiraz from his Petite Sirah, and Aunt Ida’ll be too busy holding a grudge about something Aunt Lucy said three Thanksgivings ago to pay much attention to the wine. The oven will malfunction at least twice, and a few bottles’ll be drunk before the meal hits the table anyway. As long as you don’t run out, whatever wine is open will likely be fine!
Without further ado, here are some suggestions based on what’s currently featured in state stores:
With typically clean flavors and fruit-driven acidity, this is a great example of what the French region of Alsace can offer. Though spicy notes and lush tropical fruit may lean towards adventurous, off-dry sweetness (balanced by a tingly finish) should make it accessible for everyone.
Vigilance Chardonnay 2012 ($10.99)
Though I personally don’t love Chards that have been aged in oak or have a buttery flavor, California Chardonnay is a big favorite around many Thanksgiving tables. Out of three new Chairman’s I tried (including the MacMurray and the Chateau St. Jean), this one was the most balanced (and least expensive!), not overdoing the oak or butter, featuring bright stone fruit and a crisp finish.
Clarendelle Rose Bordeaux 2011 ($16.99)
Summer may be over, but don’t put away the Rose just yet. In fact, pink wine’s characteristic robust fruit, lively acid and hint of tannin may be just the thing to tame this goofy meal. Make sure you pick a dry Rose such as this vivacious, firm version from the house that also brings us Chateau Haut-Brion. (Not a Chairman’s Selection, but available at the Lemoyne store.)
Pinot’s high acidity and low tannin make it a popular foil to Turkey. This organic bottling, my favorite of the newly-released Chairman’s Pinots, features a nice mix of both American and Burgundian charm: it’s juicy and fresh, but displays some rustic and spicy notes as it opens with air.
Carpineto Rosso di Montepulciano 2011 ($12.99)
Italian wines, especially those made with Sangiovese, are known for food-friendliness and versatility. Lack of oak aging here keeps the fruit fresh and easy-drinking. This’ll pair great with pasta & pork, but it’ll also hold its own with turkey, especially if there’s sage, sausage or chestnuts in the stuffing. (Scheduled to hit stores this week.)
For even more Thanksgiving picks, check out our article at PA Vine Co.
Mike Madaio is co-founder of Pennsylvania Vine Company, an independent website focused on wine from the PA consumer perspective. PAVC writers regularly review Chairman’s Selections and other PLCB wines, explore a broad range of topics related to local and international wine & food, and consider nearby wine-related excursions.