My first Thanksgiving dinner away from home was a different story. I wanted everything to be "gourmet," including the wine. Would Martha Stewart serve any old schlock with her perfect Thanksgiving bird? Not likely. With this twisted idea in mind, I set out in search of the ultimate Thanksgiving wine: one that would pair perfectly with herb-y turkey, tangy cranberry sauce, buttery mashed potatoes and sweet pumpkin pie.
After much sampling and sweating, I reached a startling conclusion: there is no perfect Thanksgiving wine. Sweet, herby, buttery and salty flavors co-mingling on the same plate? I tell you, it just ain't natural.
The good news is that, while one single wine may not withstand all those crazy food-swings, plenty of wines out there will taste great with 95 percent of the stuff facing you on the plate. Even the cranberry sauce.
Just follow these wine guidelines for a Thanksgiving dinner even Martha would approve of.
* Don't rely on a single wine. Even if the one you choose matches every dish perfectly, chances are, your Uncle George would rather have red/white/rose instead. Have two or three different wines on hand so there's something for everyone.
* When it comes to reds, go for lighter-style, fruity wines like Pinot Noir/Burgundy, Zinfandel or Beaujolais. Ultra-dry tannic reds like Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot tend to overpower blander dishes like turkey or mashed potatoes, and clash with the sweet stuff.
* Sweet dishes like cranberry sauce and candied yams call for a white (or pink) wine with a touch of sweetness. (Don't worry, the sugar in the wine will be balanced out by the sweetness of the food.) Think Gewurztraminer, off-dry rose, Chenin Blanc or Riesling. You might also go for a rich aromatic white like Viognier.
* Don't overlook the bubblies. Sparkling wines are extremely versatile and food friendly, especially the fruity roses. Try Roederer Estate Brut Rose or Korbel Rouge.
* Sweet, spicy desserts like pumpkin pie taste best with sweet, spicy wines like late-harvest Gewurztraminer, late-harvest Riesling ("late-harvest" means the grapes were left on the vines long enough to develop an intense sweetness) or Orange Muscat.
* Don't believe everything you read. Experiment with different wines and see what works for you.
GOBBLE GOBBLE, GULP GULP
With that last tip in mind, I grabbed a few bottles of wine and sought out Thanksgiving vittles at local restaurants. Armed with a plate of turkey, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce and sweet potatoes, I tasted my way through the bottles to present the following results:
Cline 2000 Oakley Vin Gris
Smells and tastes like a combo of strawberries and watermelon. Fruity and dry-ish, this pink wine tasted great with all the Thanksgiving goodies on my plate. Easily the most versatile wine of the bunch. ($12) 1/2
Ravenswood 1999 Vintners Blend Zinfandel
With a rich, cranberry color, this Zin is smooth, simple and easy to drink. A decent match for everything but the cranberry sauce. ($12)
Gundlach Bundschu 1999 Sonoma Valley Pinot Noir
Starts out with nice raspberry aromas and follows through in the mouth with oodles of fruit and spice. This yummy, light-to-medium red was a bit dry for the cranberry sauce, but it tasted great with everything else. ($28)
Trimbach 1998 Gewurztraminer
This wine from France's Alsace region has flowery, honeysuckle aromas and a golden color. It's full bodied, rich and nicely sweet. This would be great with turkey and sweet potatoes. ($16.99) 1/2
Paul Cheneau Blanc de Blancs Cava
Despite the Frenchy name, this bubbly comes from Spain. It's pale yellow in color, with lively bubbles and a nice toasty aroma. A tiny hint of sweetness sneaks in after the initial sip, but the wine finishes dry. Quite a bargain at less than 10 bucks. ($9)