Whether you’re a vegetarian or traditional turkey maven, you’ll need a wine with enough fruit and acidity to pair with your protein as well as a variety of sweet and savory fixings, from tangy cranberry sauce to gooey-sweet yams topped with marshmallows, to green bean casserole, spicy stuffing and meaty turkey.
What makes this food-and-wine pairing event a challenge is not the turkey, which can happily pair with a wide variety of wines, but the side dishes. The side dishes surrounding your turkey will most likely contain a broad range of tastes and textures and include items with the wine-challenging components of sweetness, saltiness, and spiciness, not to mention a myriad of competing flavors.
The following guidelines will help you find the perfect wine for a holiday feast:
Choose a wine with lots of crisp, lively acidity.
Tangy foods, such as cranberry sauce or citrusy dishes will make any wine taste less acidic. To counterbalance this effect, you need a wine that has very lively acidity, that way the wine will remain balanced flavor even in the presence of acidic foods. High acid wines are also great palate-cleansers, washing your mouth clean of buttery, spicy, or meaty flavors. Simply put, high-acid wines are food-loving wines.
Choose a wine with lots of fruity flavors.
Cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes, creamed corn, yams and any other side dish calls for a wine with a very fruit-forward style, because any fruity or sweet flavor in food will diminish the fruitiness or sweetness of a wine. Many individuals choose a Beaujolais, Beaujolais-villages or even a Beaujolais Nouveau for Thanksgiving. Beaujolais Nouveau is a young wine (only 6 weeks old), grown from the Gamay grape, and is very fruity, light-bodied, and virtually tannin-free making for an extremely easy-to-drink red wine. It is best served chilled to really bring the fruit-forward and is a popular complement to Thanksgiving dinners, in part due to its annual release date and in part due to its food-friendliness.
Choose a wine with low-to-moderate tannins
Tannins are an integral part of the taste, flavor, and structure of most red wines, and the component that gives many wines their “velvety” feel. Be careful, as too much tannin can clash with salty tastes or spicy flavors in the meal and make your wine taste flat.
Choose a wine with very little oak
Like tannins, oak is a flavor enhancer of many wine styles. However, highly oaked wines can clash with some food flavors. The groaning-board meal style of most holiday feasts usually has at least a few dishes that are slightly sweet, a bit fruity, or a tad spicy—which can spell trouble when combined with oak.
Choose a wine that is moderate in alcohol
Alcohol has a tendency to clash with certain tastes and flavors. If at all possible, keep your wine choices in the moderate alcohol range. Let’s face it…turkey already has enough drowsiness-inducing tryptophan to put you to sleep.