Once there was a well-known wine columnist who thought it amusing to write about which wines went with every American holiday or celebratory moment — a tactic that reached absurd depths the day Jimmy Carter was sworn in as president.
His column was all about which wines worked best with roasted peanuts. I did not make this up.
That was the day I stopped writing about which wines to serve on such exalted occasions as St. Swithin’s Day, Ruby Tuesday or National Toasted Marshmallow Day (for which I apologize; it was this past Aug. 30 and I said nothing about which wines go best.)
If you are a real wine lover, you know that regardless of which day of the year you choose, on any day any wine is better than the alternative — which is no wine.
And so it is with great trepidation that I approach Thanksgiving annually, knowing that editors everywhere are asking their wine columnists to conjure up which wines go best with this most traditional of family gatherings.
It has been nearly 30 years since an editor, cringing and wincing, asked me to tackle this absurd topic since she knew that the only thing traditional about Thanksgiving dinner is that turkey is de rigueur, and everything else on the groaning board is there for only one purpose: To conspire to make virtually any wine you choose taste weird.
Cranberry sauce, candied yams, raisin-flecked dressing? Too sweet for anything but a German Auslese.
German Auslese? Too sweet for roast turkey with savory gravy, mashed potatoes and Brussels sprouts.
I once had a standing order to attend a family bird-day by a woman who loved preparing onion relish with enough vinegar to make sauerkraut taste like dessert. It was treated like a family heirloom. And it ruined every wine I tried.
So what to serve on Thanksgiving? Anything you like as long as others in the room will tolerate it. Here are some additional random thoughts:
— If there are sweet and savory dishes, a bottle of slightly off-dry rosé works wonders. It’s compatible with both kinds of foods. (It’s especially good with ham.)
— If the meal is served in stages (appetizers/salad followed by a break, rest of the meal later), vary the initial offerings so lighter wines go first. Italian white wines, chenin blanc, pinot gris, dry Riesling, and Gewürztraminer are all nice accompaniments to first courses.
— If the turkey dressing is made with nuts, have a bottle of dry or medium sherry on the table because a teaspoon of the sherry drizzled on the dressing will make it better. And it can be a lovely aperitif as well.
— If there are red wine lovers afoot, there are many proper choices, so it’s hard to pick just three or four. However, if the turkey is prepared with sage, a classic accompaniment is an older cabernet sauvignon since sage is frequently used as a descriptor in such wines. If the cabernet is young, decant the wine for an hour before serving.
Otherwise, zinfandel or pinot noir are good bets — young, fresh, fruity and with a slight chilling they’ll work perfectly to marry the flavors that are so divergent on the “traditional” T-day table.
Finally a suggestion I make every year for a reliable wine that always works at Thanksgiving:
Wine of the Week: 2017 Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais Nouveau ($17): I have not yet reviewed this wine. So, you may ask, how can I recommend it? Well, for one thing, Duboeuf is the king of this under-rated French Burgundy district where gamay moir is the dominant grape.
Beaujolais Nouveau technically can’t be released to market until midnight on the third Thursday of November, so none of it is here yet. (It arrives Nov. 16; Thanksgiving is a week hence).
But I have tasted every vintage of this wine dating back to 1971, and it’s always about the same — fresh, fruity, simple and when chilled it is perfect for the Thanksgiving table, regardless of what’s being served. Also, the $17 price is fictitious. It’s always discounted to $12 or even less.
Sonoma County resident Dan Berger publishes “Vintage Experiences,” a weekly wine newsletter. Write to him at email@example.com. He is also co-host of California Wine Country with Steve Jaxon on KSRO Radio, 1350 am.