Food and wine pairing can be an extremely precise endeavor, or it can be as simple as, “Drink what you like!”
For those who enjoy opening the “right bottle” of wine with a specific dish, the Thanksgiving meal can present a daunting challenge. The conundrum: What wine matches with turkey, honey-glazed ham, stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, candied yams, cranberry sauce and corn bread?
The answer: Such a wine probably does not exist.
Chardonnay could pair nicely with the turkey and stuffing, but not so much with the cranberry sauce. Pinot Noir could make a nice companion to the cranberry sauce and ham, but not the candied yams. Sparkling wine is always a go-to choice when food presents a pairing challenge, but many people prefer traditional table wines over bubbly.
It’s enough to make a Thanksgiving host throw up their arms in frustration and skip the wine altogether in favor of beer or cider.
But I firmly believe that wine not only has… but deserves… a place on the Thanksgiving table. After all, many people consider wine to be a beverage of celebrations, and most of us celebrate Thanksgiving with the most important people in our lives: our family.
That said, everyone is different. Each of us has a unique palate. Add multiple palates to the multitude of dishes, and wine pairing truly does present a dilemma on Thanksgiving Day.
That’s why I embrace the “anything goes” approach on this one day each year. Perhaps Uncle Ralph actually likes Chardonnay with cranberry sauce. Maybe Aunt Mildred prefers Pinot Noir with her pumpkin pie. Since there are no absolute rights and wrongs when it comes to food and wine pairing — only preferences — why not accompany the Thanksgiving smorgasbord of dishes with an eclectic collection of wines?
I suggest setting up a separate card table to create a self-serve wine station. Open up several different types of wine, place glassware and napkins nearby, and let your guests figure it out for themselves. Be sure to include the aforementioned Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, but also open other varieties such as Gewurztraminer, Riesling, Zinfandel and Rhone-style red blends based on Syrah and Grenache. And, of course, keep a bottle or two of bubbly on ice.
Plan on one bottle for each two guests, and send home the “leftovers” — re-sealed with either the cork or screw cap — with those who show an interest. Whatever’s left when everyone has gone home can be used for your own drinking pleasure or for cooking over the next several days.
It also can be used to toast a highly successful Thanksgiving get-together.
Monday: How to add spice to traditional Thanksgiving dishes and other meals throughout the year.