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Think of the Drink

November 14, 2014

Thanksgiving is coming. I can’t tell you how glad I am that we have a family tradition. It’s really something that I almost take for granted. But if I were to stop and think about it, I would realize that it’s not going to last forever. Our annual family gathering has survived marriages, break-ups, births, deaths, and kitchen renovations.

Cousin S. and I always try to bring some ridiculously tasty cured meats and cheeses. It’s the most delicious family competition you have ever seen. And thanks to the help of Eric at The Cheese Traveler and the gang at Adventures in Food Trading, I’ve been able to come up with some pretty good stuff over the years.

Aunt N. always struggles about whether to replace one of her classic dishes and put something new on the table. Everyone has their favorite. Mine is the stuffing, but those creamed onions are pretty special too. Others really like the roasted sweet potatoes with pears. Young Master Fussy looks forward to the mashed potatoes and gravy all year.

The only thing I actually prepare over the course of the meal is the whipped cream at dessert time. I make sure that it’s glossy, smooth, and holds soft peaks. It’s a thing of beauty, let me assure you. But I’m not going to be much help if you want to know the best way to roast a turkey or which technique you should use to make fluffy mashed potatoes. That’s some other blog.

One thing that many people really stress over is what to drink. So let’s think.

There are so many schools of thought:
John & Dottie always went for old cabernet sauvignon
– Some promote zinfandel as an American grape for an American holiday
– I’ve been a proponent of the seasonality of a good Beaujolais Nouveau
Bubbly goes with everything
– Recently the NY Times was pushing hard cider
– Craft beer in large format bottles is also having a moment
– You might need a bottle of Wild Turkey, depending on your family dynamics

When my sister was in Buenos Aires and one cousin was in Sicily, I got wine from both places so we had something from their homes at the table. I’ve also taken the opportunity to share some of the better white wines from the Finger Lakes in New York.

But how did they pair with the meal? Just fine, thank you very much.

Brilliant pairings are few and far between. And there really aren’t any brilliant pairings with the traditional holiday meal. There are simply too many challenging flavors on the plate for any one wine to wow. Sweet potatoes, bracingly tart cranberry sauce, starchy potatoes, earthy vegetables, deeply savory stuffing, and comforting gravy don’t all work with the same wine, beer or cider.

Here’s what I suggest while you still have time.

Pick one food or a pair of foods from the holiday table that you would like your wine to complement. For me the choice is obvious, it would be stuffing. For others it might be turkey and gravy. Some might prefer turkey and cranberry.

In advance of the festive meal, set up a tasting at home. You’ll have to do a little preparation. But you don’t have to roast a whole turkey. Grocery stores typically sell roasted turkey breasts. You can make a small quantity of stuffing and cook it in the oven. For this experiment, your gravy doesn’t need to come from drippings, we’re just looking to find a match for its overall flavor profile.

The juice in the bottle (or not juice if you’re going the beer route) will be effectively the same this weekend as it will be in a couple of weeks. And if you sample a few different beverages this weekend, then they won’t be an unknown element when you pour them on Thanksgiving.

So many people, have so much anxiety around this issue it’s really unfortunate. Wine, beer and cider should be a source of joy and pleasure. Start thinking about what you want to drink, try a few in advance, and learn what works. Then you can relax in the knowledge that you’ve made a good choice.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Jack C permalink
    November 18, 2014 1:09 pm

    My family always has some dry rieslings on the table – they pair well with turkey and cranberry sauce and you can often find good ones for very low prices. Of course, now that I live in NY, I may have to seek out some Finger Lakes rieslings to bring to the table!

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