Candied sweet potatoes. Wineinfused basting sauce. Zesty, slightly sour cranberries. Spicy stuffing. Help! Where does one find a wine that marries well with the cornucopia of flavors that punctuate traditional Thanksgiving feasts? It can be quite a challenge, certainly, one that some harried hosts may hesitate to take on. One option: Serve a variety of reds and whites, allowing friends and family to discover pleasing food and wine pairings for themselves.
For a classic start, try Champagne or a sparkling wine, both of which go well with a range of appetizers and rarely fail to liven up the atmosphere. The sheer abundance of elegant Champagnes and sparklers on the market will set your head spinning, though. Try the Gloria Ferrer Champagne Caves 1989 Royal Cuvee ($19), a creamy sparkler, rich with flavors of passion fruit and dried pineapple. This bubbly was named in honor of King Juan Carlos of Spain and his wife, Queen Sophia, to mark their 1987 visit to California (the first ever by a reigning Spanish monarch to the Americas). Another good bet for a refreshing aperitif is the Bellavista Brut ($23), a sparkling wine produced near northern Italy’s Lake Iseo, in the Franciacorta wine region.
The Main Event
Recently, after sampling several wines from Napa’s St. Supery Winery, I asked the winery’s chef, Sunny Cristadoro, to reveal which wine she planned to pair with her own Thanksgiving turkey. The chef explained that she usually tends toward “fusion cuisine,” which incorporates spices and ingredients borrowed from recipes from around the world. In this approach, the addition of ginger to the julienned carrots or fennel to the stuffing expands the possibilities of wine varieties on the table. For the roast turkey, Chef Cristadoro is particularly fond of chardonnay. Indeed, the St. Supery 1995 Chardonnay ($12.50) – with a creamy texture and subtle citrus flavor – complements the bird’s succulence. Among the multitude of other flavorful chardonnays on the market that pair well with the mildflavored poultry are the lush, subtly oaked Don Miguel Vineyard 1995 Chardonnay ($22) from Sonoma’s Marimar Torres Estate Winery, the Central Coast’s vanilla-and-melon flavored Wente Vineyards 1995 Herman Wente Reserve Chardonnay ($22), and the Napa Valley’s velvet smooth Trefethen Vineyards 1994 Estate Chardonnay ($20).
Crisp white wines, on the other hand, present a satisfying contrast to the rich vegetable dishes – like candied sweet potatoes and caramelized onions – that often accompany Thanksgiving turkey.
Ask for a gem of a wine that is quickly disappearing from the shelves – New Zealand’s Cloudy Bay Vineyards 1996 Sauvignon Blanc ($17), a supple white that reveals subtle tropical fruit flavors. The Wente Vineyards Estate-Grown 1995 Sauvignon Blanc ($9) highlights peach and citrus flavors. Sonoma’s Dry Creek Vineyard 1996 Fume Blanc ($11.50) is redolent of lemons, while its 1996 Chenin Blanc features refreshing hints of tropical fruit ($8). Sterling Vineyards produces an aromatic Sauvignon Blanc ($8) that has a touch of semillon for texture and malvasia bianca to accent its melonlike aromas. Italy’s Casa Girelli offers its thoroughly refreshing and zesty I Mesi Trentino 1994 Pinot Grigio ($9); Oregon’s King Estate 1995 Pinot Gris ($12) fills the mouth with lively grapefruit and kiwi flavors. A crisp Tuscan white made with an equal blend of malvasia and trebbiano grapes, the Caparzo Le Crete 1994 ($7.50) offers hints of fresh apple and citrus.
Should you or your guests prefer to sip red wine with your turkey, how about a wine from the volcanic soils of Vesuvius? Made from the piedirosso grape, the spicy Mastroberardino Lacryma Christi Rosso 1994 ($16) makes a memorable companion to the bird and a particularly good partner for one stuffed with sausage and chestnuts. (The “Tears of Christ” wine was first made by monks in the Middle Ages in southern Italy’s Campania region.) Closer to home, merlot is a faithful companion that coaxes out both the succulence and subtle game flavors of the bird. It also stands up wonderfully to the more assertive smoked turkey. Sonoma’s Alderbrook 1995 Merlot ($18) shows off vibrant cherry, cedar, and chocolate flavors. From northern Italy’s Friuli region, the ruby-red Livio Felluga Esperto 1995 Merlot ($14) has a fruity bouquet, zest, and moderate tannins, all of which make this wine a memorable companion to turkey – and a particularly good partner for one stuffed with sausage and chestnuts. Also from northern Italy, Casa Girelli offers a full-flavored 1994 Canaletto Merlot del Veneto at a delightful price ($6).
And don’t neglect the cabernet devotees at the dinner table. The King Estate 1992 Cabernet Sauvignon ($30) is nothing short of a winner. This earthy creation from Oregon tastes of plump blackberries and would do your bird and its stuffing justice. As a good choice at a midrange price, the Madrona Vineyards 1994 Cabernet Sauvignon ($12) gives forth spices and plum flavors. And for a little less, the Napa Ridge 1994 North Coast Cabernet Sauvignon ($7.50) makes a wise choice when you’ll be pouring for a crowd.
Just in case your guests have saved space for a grand finale or you want to lounge and take a well-deserved break before confronting the kitchen, a port or brandy will help ease the feast to a warm and memorable close. Central California’s Ficklin Vineyards NonVintage Tinta Port, produced in the classic Portuguese tradition, highlights rich chocolate and spice flavors, all for $12 per 750-milliliter bottle. Brandy aficionados will enjoy Mendocino’s smoky, intense Jepson Vineyards Rare Brandy, distilled from estate-grown colombard ($30).