Thanksgiving at my house is a futile exercise in restraint. Which calorie-laden delight should I gorge on first? At my house, we load up on the traditional bread stuffing spiked with country sausage, roast turkey and tart homemade cranberry sauce, but also the less traditional: Dad's famous spicy pork barbecue and salty, soft butter peas. Yes, we're a gluttonous bunch, and then we add wine on top of all that. I imagine the excess and I feel fat just thinking about it. But excited, too — I love Thanksgiving.
The holiday is the pinnacle of gluttony, a food bacchanal, an excuse to eat 20 pounds of bird. And a fabulous excuse to open a bottle after bottle of wine.
First, there's the walking-around wine while cooking. You don't want to saddle one person with all the stove-and-oven work, and since most people in my family know how to cook, we share the duties. This calls for something light and not high in alcohol, like a sauvignon blanc, which unfortunately won't go with the meal itself — it will overwhelm the flavor of the turkey. Or you could opt for a festive sparkling wine from California. Hell, wine spurs creativity; your buzzed brother might feel emboldened to sneak some fresh herbs into the gravy.
Another benefit of the walking-around wine: It promotes hunger and adds a party aspect to dinner, especially if you eat the big meal at noon. It's a holiday, you know … 10 a.m. drinking is allowed. It's even encouraged in some countries.
With the main meal, to match up with the turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy and the rest, my best recommendations are:
1) Drink what you like, no matter what food is in front of you.
2) If you don't like red wine, fuck it, drink white with everything. The holiday is about feeling good, right? Besides, a buttery but not too oaky chardonnay from California is wonderful with Thanksgiving dishes.
3) If you hate white wine, stick with lighter red wines, like French or domestic pinot noir, California syrah or Australian shiraz. The heavier wines, like cabernet sauvignon, tend to overwhelm the food, but that could be an advantage in some households. Your call.
So basically, Thanksgiving is an excuse to break open three or four different bottles of the juice, adding pleasure to an already decadent holiday. And after the decadence, you'll find my fat ass on the couch, numbly watching football.
These are cheap enough to accommodate a crowd, common enough to be spotted in the grocery store, fruity enough to please many opinions and light enough not to overwhelm the delicate flavor of turkey or ham (which, if we must talk about pairings, go best with Rieslings).
Beaujolais Nouveau (France) The wines weren’t available to taste at press time — they are released the third Thursday of November each year — but these light cherry-raspberry bombs fit the menu. Serve them slightly chilled for best results. Normally around $10.
Casalnova Prosecco (Italy) This Italian sparkler has fragrant aromas of pear, dried banana chips and mango that bathe your mouth in a tropical party. Light, refreshing and slightly sweet. $15. .
Cellar #8 2004 Merlot (California) Sweet, jammy black cherry, tinged with a raisin-y flavor. A slight hint of green pepper as well. A crowd-pleaser. $10. .
Hahn 2004 Meritage Central Coast (California) Perky with black pepper and soft, mellow cherry. Good value. $16. .
BV Coastal Estates 2004 Chardonnay (California) Crisper and more elegant than many California chards, with a soft oakiness, tart citrus and ripe peaches all rolled up into one. $11. .
Veramonte 2005 Sauvignon Blanc Casablanca Valley (Chile) Here’s your walking-around wine. Crisp, cool, clean and fruity, this grape satisfies a thirsty hankering. It reflects the classic profile of the grape: green grass, grapefruit and smooth yet snappy acidity. $9. .
Trapiche 2004 Pinot Noir Mendoza (Argentina) The taste of light, smooth candied cherries coated with burnt caramel sweetness, followed by a refreshingly tart raspberry thing. $7.
Camelot 2002 Zinfandel (California) If you like yours fun and dripping with candied raspberry, chocolate and cinnamon, reach for this bargain. It was a crowd-pleaser at a recent blind tasting. The revealed price made people gasp. $8.
Sterling 2004 Shiraz Vintner’s Collection (California) Smooth, elegant and friendly. Fragrant plums, spicy black pepper and jammy raspberry define its personality. $13.