This article is for those of you who have reached a crisis point, and in a fit of Thanksgiving Wine Anxiety, you are desperately Googling for what to serve with you Thanksgiving feast.
Step One: Relax. There are far more important things to worry about at Thanksgiving, which can be stressful enough given the family dynamics involved, let alone the pressure of making massive quantities of delicious food. Figuring out which wine to serve is infinitely easier than cooking an 18-pound turkey to the point of golden perfection.
Step Two: There’s only one simple rule to remember. It’s taken me some years to be able to distill my thinking about Thanksgiving food and wine pairing to its essence, but I’ve finally found the best way to express my philosophy on the subject and it goes like this: the bounty of the table should be paired with a bounty of wine. In short: open up a bunch of bottles of many different kinds of wine and let people figure out what the heck they want to drink themselves. Just like some of us will have several servings of stuffing before we dive into turkey, while others will carefully progress from turkey to candied yams to green beans, and still others will never touch the mashed potatoes, so too will people take their own path with wine if many choices are laid out in front of them.
Following this advice is a little easier if you have wine sitting around somewhere in your house. It just means pulling a bunch of bottles off a rack (or out of the fridge) and opening them when people are ready to start drinking (or when you’re ready for them to start drinking, which may be different times entirely).
If you’re one of those folks that don’t have bottles lying around, and your anxiety partly stems from having to make a trip to the store to buy a bunch of stuff, I’m here to help. The first thing you’ll want to do is decide how much you want to spend on wine, which I recommend is about the same amount you’d spend per bottle if you were going to get something nice to have with dinner for yourself and a partner or close friend. With this number in mind, and remembering that there are about six substantial glasses of wine per bottle, you can do a little math and figure out how many bottles you’ll want to get for your meal.
Head on down to your closest independent wine merchant, or failing that, a grocery store like Whole Foods with a good wine selection, and buy a bit of everything. Some whites (try to expand beyond Chardonnay – life is too short to only drink Chardonnay); some rosé (go for the palest pink stuff, dark rosé can be a mixed bag); and some red wines that range from bigger heavier wines like Cabernet and Zinfandel (you know, for Aunt Jody who likes her wines “robust”) to lighter wines like Pinot Noir and Nebbiolo.
In the absence of advice from your local wine merchant or grocery store wine buyer on specific bottles (either because they’re not accessible, or you don’t feel up to the task of asking) shoot for diversity not only in grapes, but in origins (unless you feel obligated on this American holiday to serve only American wines, which can also be fun and celebratory).
Two additional considerations may weigh into your decision making on what to serve, whether you’re buying in a store or standing in front of your own wine racks at home. The first is whether you know anything of the wine tastes of those attending your dinner. If you don’t then please don’t give it another thought. But if you do, it’s always nice as the host to have a wine or two that matches the tastes of your guests (see note about Aunt Jody above). The second is the tricky question of just how much wine to buy, and in this you should remember that you can always drink the leftovers for the rest of the year, while running out of wine might be anything from a minor embarrassment to a major disaster, depending on who’s attending the meal.
For those whose wine choices will come from their own carefully selected cellars, the question always arises about whether serving precious bottles at this holiday smorgasbord is worth it. Should you offer good wine even if a) the guests might not fully appreciate it and b) the nature of the meal thwarts full and careful appreciation of a truly fine wine? My answer to this question attempts to keep it simple. You should make sure there is some wine open that you will enjoy, and unless you know that there are those attending who will sit in hushed reverence with you over that bottle of ’82 Cos d’Estournel, leave the gems in the cellar for an occasion more focused on wine.
So there you have it. I hope if you’ve found your way here in quiet desperation on the day of your big feast that you leave with slightly lower blood pressure and a plan to focus on more important things. And most importantly, no matter why you’re reading this, I hope you have a lovely Thanksgiving holiday with people that you love. We all have so much to be Thankful for, not the least of which is the glorious world of wine that we are lucky enough to have discovered as a source of pleasure that can be shared.