The Wine Whisperer: Cool wine ideas for Thanksgiving

The battle rages over what wine goes well with turkey. There are folks who say that the semi-dry whites do the best because of the goodies that go best with turkey, such as cranberry and sweet potato. There are also the conoscenti of the wine world who believe that nothing does well with cranberry, regardless of what wine you toss at it. I am somewhat mixed in my feelings about which wine goes well with turkey and the traditional side dishes, but maybe it's time to give you a little idea of where I go with the Thanksgiving feast. Here are some thoughts.

Beaujolais Nouveau — Just about this time every year, we receive a small load of the very famous French release of Beaujolais Nouveau. This wine is not "famous" because of its stellar and complex flavors — although it can be tasty — it is famous mostly because it is a persistent and yearly affair and heralds the new vintage of wine from the Beaujolais region of France.

Beaujolais Nouveau is the "new" wine from Beaujolais and it is fermented in the carbonic maceration manner, which gives the wine powerful layers of dry and very youthful fruit in the nose and palate but little else and is done with its fruity charms about a month after hitting the shelves.

I helped make this wine in Beaujolais in the early 1970s and found it to be fun but not memorable. It does, however, lend itself to cranberry flavors, cuts through thick gravies and is quite good with stuffing and sweet potatoes! This is the reason to find this little hummer and its release during our Thanksgiving holiday is a boon to the French wine industry. It is great timing. You can find these wines from major producers for less than 20 bucks.

Gewerztraminer — This might be one of the more misunderstood grape varieties around, for good reason. Many folks have been burned by this white wine grape because of the sweetness factor. Unless one looks at the alcohol level of the wine, you are apt to get a sweeter wine, which might not be what you were bargaining for.

Almost all of the American Gewerztraminers in the past 20 years or so have been sweet, so those who did not like white wine with sugar stayed away from them or went with the French Gewerztraminers from Alsace which, conversely, are mostly dry. It has only been recently that the American wine scene, spearheaded by the Oregon wine growers, has seen truly dry Gewrztraminers.

The trick to these wines is to get them at less than 14.5 percent alcohol, for a few good reasons. The first reason is that the higher alcohol interferes with the spiciness of the wine as well as with the fruit. Nothing in winedom is worse than tasting a lovely wine and ending up with the finish hotter than a blow torch! Gewerztraminer is such a delicate white wine, balancing fruit with spice and clean acidity with correct amounts of alcohol. (Zinfandel often suffers from excessive alcohol levels, as well.) It is a shame that so many of the new releases have such excess in alcohol. Keep your eyes on the levels!

Riesling — It has been my fortune to have judged many fine Rieslings in the past. This white wine is enchanting when done right and miserable when done poorly. It is my opinion that Riesling cannot afford a misstep in winemaking because there is nothing to mask a flaw in its production. Everything that holds with Gewerztraminer holds with Riesling, except that this white wine has very little spice in the nose and flavors on the palate, with the exception that there is some subtle spice in the grape itself; nothing like its cousin, Gewerztraminer.

Great Rieslings are ethereal when done well and with a big Thanksgiving dinner can add grace and elegance to the affair. Rieslings never overwhelm the palate but blend beautifully with everything on the holiday plate. There might be a little conflict with the acidity of the cranberry, but Rieslings with good fruit will do just fine.

More next week! See you then.

Share This Story