As we dive headlong into this holiday season, I find myself reflecting on celebratory meals of the past where the chronic overachiever in me could be found pouring over anxiety-inducing articles suggesting that I spatchcock or sous vide my turkey, or plan a multi-course dinner complete with the “perfect” wine pairings (you really want me to pick a wine for Brussels sprouts?). And while I can look upon this me of the past with love, I can also breathe a sigh of relief knowing that sometimes (most of the time) the best meals are also the simplest.
Bottomline: spatchcock your turkey if you are passionate about doing so, but please don’t get wrapped up in trying to find the perfect wine pairings for each dish on your table. Popping a couple of lovely, versatile bottles to enjoy with the whole spread will give you infinitely more pleasure, save you money, and help preserve your sanity and keep you in the moment, because actually enjoying the communal act of sharing food and wine around a table filled with your loved ones is really what it’s all about.
If you needed that extra nudge, Wine Goddess Jancis Robinson says that “far too much fuss is made about trying to find the perfect pairing of wine and food.” And Rule #64 in Jon Bonné’s “The New Wine Rules” states that “the surgical strike approach to pairing is cruel.”
There are, however, a few things to consider when selecting wine to match with a wide variety of foods. Bonné’s advice is to take note of four things in both the food and wine—acidity, salt and spice, texture and weight, and sweetness/fruitiness—and to keep in mind that too much of any one thing will throw either the food or wine off balance. In other words, steer clear of wines that have an abundance of oak (particularly new oak), are high in alcohol or tannin, or have lots of residual sugar.
Because there is usually so much richness on the Thanksgiving table (mostly in the form of gravy and butter), I like to look for wines that have a nice amount of acidity to give the palate a break. Also, since many of our favorite holiday dishes are creamy or whipped, I like to add a contrasting texture with some bubbly.
Well, what are we going to drink?
If you are a lover of cranberry sauce with everything, like I am, a good gamay will make your heart sing. I love Beaujolais (that lovely little sister of Burgundy) and there are many great wines from this region coming into market these days. Check out Domaine Saint Cyr “La Galoche” for an infinitely quaffable and crowd-pleasing red for the table. If you want to support a U.S. winery, one of my favorites is Division Winemaking Company out of Portland, Oregon. Their 2017 Les Petits Fers Gamay Noir would be a welcome addition to any holiday meal.
For whites, I tend to stay away from the bold, creamy, oak-driven styles and aim for something bright and semi-aromatic. Riesling and chenin blanc are two of my favorite grapes for pairing with myriad flavors. Seehof Riesling Feinherb 2016 from the Rheinhessen region of Germany is loaded with zingy notes of lime zest and stone fruit and can actually hang with some of those hard-to-pair green veggies. Domaine Huet Vouvray “Le Haut Lieu” Sec is one of my favorite chenin blanc bottlings and exhibits plenty of orchard fruit, lemon, and a little honey, and is an awesome foil for an herb-roasted turkey (and pretty much everything else).
And, lest we forget, the bubbles! Sparkling wine is extremely versatile and great to pour for a celebratory feast. Crémant, or sparkling wine made in the Champagne method from elsewhere is France, is a wonderful option. One of my go-to’s is the Hubert Clavelin Brut-Comte Crémant du Jura NV. It is 100 percent chardonnay, with earthy and bright notes of citrus, apple, white flowers, and brioche. Another equally delicious but totally different style of sparkling wine for the holiday table is lambrusco (both a grape variety and a style of wine from Emilia-Romagna and Lombardy in Italy). Lambrusco is most commonly thought of as a sparkling red wine and can vary wildly in both quality and expression, so knowing your producer is key. I highly recommend Vigneto Saetti Rosso Viola Lambrusco, which is certified as organically farmed and hand-harvested from 50-year-old vines. Think violets, herbs, and red berries with an endearing effervescent character. So delicious.
Ultimately, the family is on their way to town, your friends will be arriving soon, and as you head out to tackle your grocery list and visit the wine shop, take a nice deep breath and heed these words from our wine friend, Jon Bonné: “In any case, stop worrying. There is no single perfect pairing. Drink what you like.”
Yes, drink what you like and that will make all the difference.