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11.21.2008

Stop The Thanksgiving Wine Recommendations!

I read a lot of wine writing. And when I say a lot, I mean a lot. And when I say read, I mean, well, I scan all the headlines, and I read a good portion of it. Magazines, newspapers, hundreds of blogs. It's overwhelming at times, and damned hard work. But I enjoy it.

Except for two particular times of year. The first is mid-summer, when everyone seems to be writing the exact same article about "Summer Sippers," white and pink wines that are as refreshing as they are delicious.

But ever so much more evil and mind-numbing than mid-summer fluff, are the wine columns that rain down like so many large flightless birds in the weeks preceding Thanksgiving. Around this time of year, if I see one more "What wine to drink with your turkey and stuffing" article, I think I'm going to puke.

Yes, I'm being dramatic. I certainly can't find fault with these wine writers all across the nation who churn out their well meaning lists year after year. Those who might not be inclined to write such boring articles are most certainly forced to do so by their editors, and if they are not, they are as likely to be entreated to do so by their readers.

The problem with crappy wine recommendation articles for Thanksgiving is not the wine writers, it's the wine drinkers who actually read them.

So listen up America. I'm proud of you -- those of you who have decided you want to drink wine with your Thanksgiving dinner. There's nothing better than enjoying wine amidst a celebration of food, family, and friends -- or whatever you choose to celebrate during this holiday. But you need to chill out about finding the right wine.

Why? Because there is no such thing.

Don't fall for all these wine writers who tell you that there is an art to pairing wine with Thanksgiving dinner. Don't believe all this talk about how difficult a meal it is to match with wine. It's all bullshit. Especially at Thanksgiving.

Most people's Thanksgiving meals, even the most modest of them, are a vast cornucopia of flavors so diverse, contrary, and strong, and people eat them in such different combinations at different times that the idea of finding "a" wine to match with the meal is a ridiculous proposition.

Yet it's amazing how people seem to believe that they need help picking a wine. Or at least that's what the tsunami of Thanksgiving wine recommendations would have you believe.

So I'm here to tell you that there are two simple choices when it comes to drinking wine at Thanksgiving. You can take one, or both approaches, and I guarantee that you will be just as happy as if you spent the time, energy, and money searching for "the perfect wines to pair with America's most diverse meal" or whatever all those articles suggest you need.

ONE: If you're having a bunch of people over, buy a few different whites, and a few different reds. It doesn't matter what kind. Yes, you read that right. Pick whatever. Whatever is in your price range, whatever looks good, stuff you haven't tried before, hell, whatever is closest to the cash register. Open them all, and let people choose which ones they want. Make sure one of the wines is something that YOU like to drink.

TWO: If you're going to be celebrating with people that you know and love, use the occasion to drink a really nice bottle of something that you've been saving for a "special occasion." The best pairing for wine is good company, and who cares if no one notices, or if Aunt Bertha insists on putting ice cubes in it? So what if cousin Andy takes a bite of candied yams, then a bite of collard greens, and polishes it off with a swig of Cabernet? And if the folks you're eating with have the knowledge or the palates to appreciate it, then so much the better.

That's it. Open a bunch of stuff, or drink something special or both. Life is too short to stress about drinking the right wine with the right food. There are no rules when it comes to food and wine pairing, no matter what anyone tells you. There are no perfect pairings for everyone, only perfect pairings for you.

So relax, experiment, but above all, enjoy your Thanksgiving and make sure it includes lots of wine.

Comments (31)

11.21.08 at 11:25 PM

I couldn't possibly agree more. Happy Thanksgiving!

Bill wrote:
11.22.08 at 5:30 AM

Good points here, Alder. I must confess I put together a Thanksgiving/holiday wine guide that people can download as a PDF, but my audience is a bit different.

You're absolutely right that people ought to drink what they enjoy with Thanksgiving or any other dinner. For a lot of novices, though, they need some direction and ideas.

As for me, I'm not sure what wines I'll be taking over to dinner next Thursday, but it will definitely be ones that I like. :-)

mike wrote:
11.22.08 at 6:54 AM

I love it. What we usually do is open a whole bunch of stuff and see what happens. I especially love the game where we open some stuff that isn't well known and then throw a bottle of Silver Oak on the table next to some Rombauer Chardonnay. Nothing wrong with either of them at all, and I do enjoy them, but when the bottle of funky CDP or steely chablis is an option I usually go for those. Everyone ends up happy. The people who know the Silver Oak are thrilled and people who want to explore are thrilled too. We all are happy and buzzed in the end!

Alder wrote:
11.22.08 at 9:07 AM

Bill,

I actually don't think novice wine drinkers need direction and ideas. They need encouragement and someone to take the pressure off. That's the whole point of this rant. The best thing we can do for novice wine drinkers is to encourage them to experiment, and to teach them that there are no right answers, and that anyone who tells them what they should drink needs to be looked on with suspicion.

Benito wrote:
11.22.08 at 10:23 AM

Yesterday I wrote a similar post based on the following frustration of wine buyers:

1) Writer A recommends Wines B-G.
2) Customer X runs all over town and can't find any of them, passing up lots of good wine in the process.

The funny thing is that two weeks ago I started to write a list of specific suggestions (just to have a pointer for the inevitable e-mails and questions), but I scrapped it for the anti-list instead. Yes, I go so far as to recommend particular countries but that's a pretty broad range.

The response was overwhelmingly positive...

Teri wrote:
11.22.08 at 12:17 PM

Totally agree! From the food or the drink, isn't deep slumber the inevitable goal? That said, don't wad your panties about what to serve; drink what you like. And for a family affair, unload the cheap stuff. Life really is too short to waste good wine on family. Happy T-Giving!!!

11.22.08 at 4:53 PM

This is a little too pat for me, I think. Way too much agreement, too. My experience has suggested that you're never going to please everyone, but it's also been true that when i've chosen a white, a red and a pink that did a nice job of complementing the food, I got compliments from everyone. Myabe I'm just weird.

Paige wrote:
11.22.08 at 9:26 PM

Alright that does it--I'm finally going to put up the Whirling Turkey Wheel. When asked what to pair T'Day meals with, we'll let 'em spin the wheel. Not much different than what we'll be doing anyhow, but at least it will provide entertainment value!

11.23.08 at 11:41 AM

The response was overwhelmingly positive...

Benito's post was classically well done.

11.23.08 at 11:54 AM

There are no perfect pairings for everyone, only perfect pairings for you.

Absolutely.

Somehow I missed the Wine Pairing is a Scam post, thanks for posting the link.

Dylan wrote:
11.23.08 at 5:41 PM

It's nice to see the holiday spirit alive and well. For a moment I thought we were going to skip Thanksgiving all together and head straight into Christmas. Drink what you love with who you love--that's my motto for the holidays.

Barb Tyree wrote:
11.23.08 at 6:33 PM

I agree 100% Drink what you want...Pinot Noir or Riesling or 1997 Bordeaux with hotdogs; in this economic climate, it doesn't matter. Pull from your cellar and have some fun!

Edwin wrote:
11.23.08 at 7:59 PM

And that's the way we've always done it...open a bunch of reds and whites and let each person pour their what they want.

Tish wrote:
11.24.08 at 8:52 AM

Aldre, your position will no doubt bring tons of huzzahs from the choir, but if we were all to analyze Tgiving wine articles circa 2008 vs. similar articles ten or 20 years ago, I suspect we would find that present-day articles are not nearly as dogmatic as they used to be. In fact, I think the message of "open a few different wines" has gained real traction in print, which is a good thing.

Rather than rail against the Thanksgiving-advice machine, perhaps we shoul take heart in the fact that wine has become an integrated part of the Tgiving table. ANd let's give some thanks for the fact that at least this is one holiday where the idea of wine + food together is turly celebrated.

Cindy J wrote:
11.24.08 at 11:37 AM

Hi-- I agree, but I also appreciate the fact that there are reccomendations out there, ones that might push you toward a different direction. As someone just getting into wine, I must admit I need help from time to time, and depending on where the suggestions are coming from, they can be quite good. I personally like NovusVinum- they do a good job at least by varying the prices and varieties.

Brian wrote:
11.24.08 at 12:07 PM

My only real rule, because I am strangely enough considered the wine guy in my family and crowd, is to drink what I want to drink. Sometimes that doesn't work-peppery, "thin," acidic Pineau D'Aunise can be controversial to non wine geeks, but I still liked it! :)

Katie wrote:
11.25.08 at 6:41 AM

I actually refused to write about wine pairing recommendations, and wrote about that very refusal :)

Big Daub wrote:
11.25.08 at 3:31 PM

My only food/wine pairing idea for this holiday dinner (or for that matter any holiday dinner) doesn't really have anything to do with food. It is really more of a "safety tip".

Don't mix grape and grain people.

The manners-challenged children find that butt spankings will trump the Dr. Spockesque "you're going to get a time out dear", Aunt Rita gets an honest critique of her recent plastic surgery she got while "vacationing" in Mexico, the sister-in-law gets an earful of doubt whether Jesus really did a North American tour for the native indians as a rebut to her bragging about the oldest son going off to do Mormon missionary work (who was probably goddamn glad to get out of the house) and dad, well dad gets another installment about the injustice of crime v. punishment as handed out amongst the siblings growing up.

Oh did I mention the incredible hangover the next morning, followed by the "I said what?" reliving?

No grape and grain!

Gobble, gobble.

Jason Haas wrote:
11.25.08 at 3:41 PM

Hi Alder,

I'm not sure I totally agree with you. Certainly, anyone who is suggesting that there is one "right" wine for a Thanksgiving meal is delusional. And, variety is clearly a good thing (we took at survey approach for our Thanksgiving wine suggestions by asking all our key staff what they were planning to drink). But I do think that there are some bad pairings for the majority of the flavors on the table (a highly extracted, oaky red, for example) and that some guidelines (look for a fruity red or a rich white) may be welcome.

My own feeling about Thanksgiving pairings is that it's a great time to break out the biggest bottle you have. How many other meals are you likely to have with that many people at the table? Plus, opening a 3-liter bottle always makes it more of a celebration.

Thanks for the anti-establishment rant.
-Jason

Alder wrote:
11.25.08 at 9:22 PM

Jason,

You wouldn't be the first person I agreed to disagree with when it comes to food and wine pairings. (See the comments in the article linked in the post). I'm of the opinion that while I would personally not want to drink a 15.6% alcohol Napa Cabernet with my turkey, there may be people who would absolutely love it. The only person who can declare something a bad pairing is the person drinking the wine. Certainly guidelines are welcome -- more than welcome -- consumers plead for them. I'm doing my part to tell consumers that they need not get permission for what to drink from us so called experts. That they should experiment until they learn themselves what they like to drink. And nowhere is this more important than in the arena of food and wine pairing.

I'm totally with you on the big bottles! Break out the Jeraboams !!

Golly wrote:
12.01.08 at 2:59 AM

Sensible Thanksgiving advice. We don't celebrate Thanksgiving here (well, maybe a glass of Champagne on 6 September to celebrate the pilgrims leaving) so we get the annoying recommendations for Christmas. They tend to encourage people to buy wines well beyond their budget for a meal which won't allow them to enjoy the nuances brought by that extra spending. It's nice to trade up a bit for celebrations, and a fabulous opportunity to try a few different wines if you have guests and will need to open a few bottles, but not to insist that people who enjoy drinking Pinot Grigio with everything shouldn't be allowed to if it makes them happy

Jesse Porter wrote:
12.05.08 at 4:44 PM

Couldn't disagree more, Alder.

Any other day of the year, I'm right with you. The Young Winos have always been about experimentation and discovery. We constantly encourage our members to try grapes they've never heard of, explore obscure regions, check out the wine century club, buy local wine wherever you are, etc. We shy away from numerical ratings and encourage people to discover what works for them.

However, Thanksgiving isn't just any other day of the year. You wouldn't "experiment" with cooking the turkey or the mashed potatoes in some bizarre way heretofore untested by the culinary world. Same should apply to the wine: when you've put hours and hours into preparing a meal, the last thing you want to do is try and re-invent the wheel when it comes to the wine pairing. You might as well put ice cream on top of your stuffing.

Our members asked for wine recommendations before the holiday, and I provided them with gentle shoves in the right direction. I think I would've been doing them a disservice to tell them to figure it out for themselves. That's why we taste wine the rest of the year -- to figure out what we like, to discover what goes with what. But when it's the bottom of the ninth, you want your best hitter up there. And, in the case of anyone I've ever spoken to, your best hitter on the Thanksgiving table isn't a huge oaky fruit-bomb of a Cab.

David Honig wrote:
11.06.09 at 11:37 AM

From last year's "The Wooden Guys on Thanksgiving wine":

Here is their two-step process for picking out that perfect Thanksgiving wine. Ready? Make sure you have a pen and some paper to write all this down. Okay, here goes.

Step One- DRINK WHAT YOU LIKE AND STOP MAKING SUCH A BIG DEAL ABOUT IT!!! FOR PETE'S SAKE, IT'S SUPPOSED TO BE FUN!!!

Step Two- DON'T DRINK WHAT YOU DON'T LIKE. WHAT ARE YOU, A MORON?!

For those who didn't get it last year, they are working on this years version, JUST IN TIME FOR THANKSGIVING!

Matt wrote:
11.06.09 at 12:01 PM

Not the first time I've seen a post like this, nor the first time I challenged it. It's well written, and for many, I would say I agree.

You seem to miss that there are tremendous amounts of people who haven't a clue what to do when it comes to selecting wines, serving wines, or pairing wines. And while encouraging them to be adventurous and try different things is wise, there's no harm in saying "with this type of food, try X, Y, and Z." Whether it's because we find it enjoyable ourselves, or because it's a wine we expect many WOULDN'T try on their own, so we're offering some advice. I can't tell you how many times I've heard "I HATE CHARDONNAY" Really? Have you tried every Chardonnay? No, you tried one, maybe two, bit into a piece of buttered wood, and swore it off for Pinot Grigio for the rest of your life. The point I make is some of us "wine writers" want to help guide people towards wine they'd enjoy, whether it's at Thanksgiving or some idle Tuesday.

The things I love in wine are far from the things most people who read my blog or see my shows would like. Katie and I both moan with delight when we try a funky, old world wine when others cringe. That being said, it's ok to try and help guide people down the road towards wine nirvana by making suggestions for things you believe they may like.

Cheers!
Matt

11.06.09 at 12:29 PM

Oh I wrote about holiday food and wine pairings you better believe it ;-) And defiitely tried to push my readers towards some "non traditional" options - my breaking point is having to hear one more person recommend Pinot Noir with turkey. It's great - but to your point, there's so much more. My solution - which I've also been dispensing to people who ask me - is similar to your Opt. 1 - just have 5-7 bottles and be done with it. Nice little rant. Thank you. Cheers!

Alder wrote:
11.06.09 at 1:20 PM

Matt,

There's a difference between making wine recommendations, and making recommendations for pairing. Making recommendations for what "goes with Thanksgiving" is stupid. Recommending a bottle of wine to someone that is good is what I do all day long.

TWG wrote:
11.06.09 at 4:04 PM

Funny coming across this post b/c I was in my local wine shop today and I overheard a shopper fussing over which wine would be good for Thanksgiving--she actually decided to but a couple as samples before the big day and would plan on coming back to buy more of their favorites. A lot of worrying about something so small. That said, personally I do have wines that I like/dislike for drinking with poultry, but others will disagree.

Clark Smith wrote:
11.06.09 at 5:03 PM

Great post, Alder. Two comments.

I think it is fair to discuss what wine works best with turkey meat itself. My finding, which is surprising and worth warning novices about, is that whites generally taste very metallic in combination with breast meat, which is very different from other poultry. Among reds, a mature balanced red such as a chianti, Rioja or Bordeaux is a defensible choice, and of course none of these work very well with marshmellow caramel yams.

Secondly, when making wine recommendations generally, specific wines are hopeless to find and varietal classes or countries are way too general. The best level of granularity is the appellation + varietal. This works very well for European wines, but is increasingly apt for the New World as well as customary styles become more and more standardized so that natural proclivities dominate. Talking about varietal pairings without origin is just silly.

Grumpy wrote:
11.16.09 at 11:07 AM

AMEN!!!

Laurel wrote:
11.18.09 at 6:12 PM

Nicely said!

Erwin Dink wrote:
11.26.10 at 5:27 AM

If I see one more article telling me you shouldn't pair wine and food I'm going to scream.

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