What goes with Turkey? (I can hear it now!)
“Zinfandel. The all-American wine with the all-American dinner.”
“Gewürztraminer, the natural match for turkey.”
“Why not try Beaujolais Nouveau? ‘Tis the season, and it goes with everything!”
The “What Wine to Pair with the Thanksgiving Meal” newspaper column is about as dried-up as grandma’s turkey. I’m not going to write it. Have whatever you want, because everything works at that meal (except Gewürztraminer). I think that what you have before and what you have after the meal is more important than what you drink with the meal itself.
Any good Thanksgiving should involve a lot of drinking. It’s the American way. But contrary to popular assumption, the drink doesn’t have to be American. After all, the Pilgrims we’re collectively honoring were more British than American. And if we wanted a real American drink, we’d be consuming hard cider on Thanksgiving, which was by far our country’s most popular and widespread alcoholic beverage until the industrial revolution.
In fact, because it’s such a big meal and we all end up eating too much, I propose a more European approach the whole affair. Thanksgiving should begin with aperitifs and end with digestifs. With dessert there should be dessert wine, and it should be consumed before coffee, not with.
Before dinner, just a bit to get the stomach juices flowing is always appropriate. Even though there’s football on, beer will fill you up. I suggest honoring our country’s French heritage with champagne or another sparkling wine. It doesn’t have to be fancy or expensive, but something with bubbles always stimulates the taste buds and reminds us that we should be happy and celebrating. It says, “Sister, stop arguing with mom about how much cream should go in the mashed potatoes and be thankful for being together.” Try a nice non-vintage Brut, a lighter one like Perrier-Jouët, so you don’t fill up.
If you are not having champagne, try a Campari and soda while watching the game. First of all, love the red color of the drink – very festive. Second, it’s completely refreshing and the bitterness stimulates the appetite, getting diners ready for the meal. In Italy, Campari is served with only minimal soda water, a few ice cubes and a slice of orange in the drink. I tend to like mine more dilute, with more ice and a squeeze of lime. But it’s one of those things where you have to find your own balance.
After the meal, most people don’t go into dessert wines. But pumpkin pie, especially, is very wine friendly that pairs nicely with Moscato d’Asti, a light and lightly sweet sparkling wine from northern Italy. But other drinks work as well. A Sauternes can be wonderfully earthy and autumnal, in a way that seems to say “November,” the month when a lot of those grapes would be harvested. If you’re having pecan pie, try something nutty like a tawny port; maybe a Dow 20 Yr. old.
If you don’t like port, an off-dry oloroso sherry can serve much the same purpose with a nutty dessert.
Finally, after the meal, it’s time to kick back and watch the last game. This is where an after-dinner drink can be just the right speed as you loosen that belt and recline into the couch. Here’s where I like to go all American. While it’s not a classic digestif, it feels good to close a hard-day’s eating with a great bourbon. We could make a joke about the appropriateness of Wild Turkey, but I prefer something a little more handcrafted. Knob Creek is delicious with notes of vanilla strongly perfuming the aroma. And Booker’s (my personal favorite) has a nice spicy flavor.
Of course, don’t drink too much and too fast. These beverages are meant, like the lazy day and the opulent meal themselves, to be savored and contemplated. In fact, I like to savor and contemplate so much that I’m usually asleep by the fourth quarter.